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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland congestion is a statewide economic concern.Oregon Gov. Kate Brown confirmed that traffic congestion in the Portland area is bad and getting worse during her State of the State speech last Friday.


“Congestion. If it seems to take a lot longer to get anywhere in the tri-county area than it did five years ago, that’s because — it does. Traffic delays in the Portland metro area are rising. Currently, each commuter will waste an extra 52 hours each year fighting traffic,” Brown told a packed gather at the City Club of Portland’s weekly Friday Forum.

Brown promised she will introduce a transportation funding package to the 2017 Oregon Legislature help reduce the congestion, and called on those in the audience to help pass it.

“Each of you has a role in making this happen. Your job is to hold us accountable. Insist that your elected leaders take action in 2017 to address this mind-numbing congestion that degrades our quality of life,” Brown said.

Brown’s statements followed the release of a survey that found traffic congestion in the Portland area is affecting the entire state’s economy. The survey was conducted during a series of regional forums held around Oregon by Brown’s Transportation Visioning Panel. It identified Portland’s traffic congestion as the top transportation-related economic challenge.

The results of the survey were presented at a summit meeting of the panel in Salem on April 5.

“When asked what’s impacting your economy, (they answered) congestion in Portland,” Oregon Transportation Commission chair Tammy Baney told the panel. “Isn’t that amazing?”

“Everywhere we went when asked what is impacting your region’s economy in terms of transportation, everyone said, Portland area congestion,” continued Baney, co-chair of the panel and a Deschutes County commissioner. “It is universal across the state. It is just killing the ability of folks to get goods to market all across the state.”

Several transportation bottlenecks in the Portland area were identified as needing work to help relieve the congestion, including portions of I-5, I-205 and Highway 217.

Other transportation-related needs identified in Portland and around the state include improved transit and alternative transportation connections, such as bike and pedestrians paths.

Details of Brown’s upcoming transportation funding package have yet to be released. A package in the 2016 Oregon Legislature died during a partisan dispute over the so-called Clean Fuels Program, which Democrats passed over Republican opposition. The program intended to encourage lower-carbon fuels is expected to increase gas prices without generating any additional funds for transportation projects.

During the April 5 meeting, Baney also said the state has yet to award a contract for a consultant to review management practices at the Oregon Department of Transportation. Brown requested the review last November to reassure lawmakers of ODOT’s ability to effectively spend the additional funds it will receive if they pass a new transportation funding package. Some lawmakers said they needed assurances in 2015 after ODOT stumbled on the Columbia River Crossing and other projects. With less than 10 months to go before the 2017 session, it’s unclear whether the review can be completed on time.

According to the Capital Insider, Baney said a seven-member oversight committee had received a response from a consultant to conduct the review earlier this year. But instead of accepting it, the committee decided to rewrite the scope of the review and reissue the request for a consultant to conduct it.

Baney did not say how the scope was changed, but that it could have been scaled back. She had originally pitched the idea of a broad performance audit, covering everything from management to contracting practices, in a letter to Brown in December. But after last week’s meeting, Baney described the upcoming review as covering a “snapshot” in time.

The Capital Insider is a subscription newsletter published by the Capital Bureau of the Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group.

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