Home News Local News

Eastern Oregon cities hoping for dollars from transportation package

Hermiston and Pendleton have plans for whatever new transportation revenue comes their way.
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on May 19, 2017 8:05PM

Legislators may be talking about relieving Portland traffic jams as they design an $8.2 billion transportation funding package, but Eastern Oregon cities are looking forward to what they anticipate will be some extra cash for their communities too.

“We’re curious how it will all fall out,” said Bob Patterson, Pendleton’s public works director.

The plan that is shaping up would raise $8.2 billion over 10 years via a combination of gas taxes, fee increases and other revenue streams. The money would be used for transportation infrastructure projects across the state ranging from bridge repairs to widening highways.

Patterson said Pendleton currently gets $32,000 for every penny of the gas tax, and the package lawmakers are considering would raise the gas tax by 14 cents. If the current gas tax formula holds — 20 percent to cities, 30 percent to counties and 50 percent to the state — Pendleton could get a helpful boost in funds for repairing and preserving its streets.

“(Street maintenance) adds up to $2.4 million a year we should be spending,” Patterson said. “We’re currently at $800,000. We’re a third of the way there. So anything will help.”

Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan said in the past, funding for transportation projects has fluctuated unpredictably from biennium to biennium depending on the whims of the legislature. The result, he said, is that cities have to go begging for money every two years with no idea of what they might get.

“If we can plan five, six, seven years down the road, we can be a lot more effective,” he said.

Morgan said whatever the final formula ends up being, cities hope it will provide some more stability in funding.

Hermiston’s top priority for whatever funding comes the city’s way is a multi-million dollar project to widen and improve First Place from Highland Avenue to Geer Road, creating an alternative to Highway 395 and placing traffic signals at First Place’s intersection with Highland and with Orchard avenues. The Orchard intersection in particular creates a major bottleneck blocking the fire station and police department when school is getting out in the afternoons.

“That’s going to take a lot of design work and creativity,” Morgan said.

He said it was a “really demoralizing defeat” for the city to be told in the past that there weren’t enough Oregon Department of Transportation funds available for Region 5 (covering most of Eastern Oregon) to fund even a portion of the project.

As legislators craft the transportation package they hope to pass before the end of the 2017 session, they are working off of a $5 billion wish list compiled from cities, counties and state agencies. The list includes pavement and bridge repairs, widening existing roads and bridges, new streets and seismic upgrades.

The three biggest traffic congestion-relief projects the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization is looking to fund are $450 million for an overhaul for I-5 near the Rose Quarter, $450 million to widen I-205 in Clackamas County and $98 million for Highway 217.

Portlanders will see the biggest effects from those projects, but the city will be expected to front half the cost, and residents will also contribute more toward the transportation package via a series of tolls the state plans to implement around the metro area as one of package’s revenue streams.

And, as Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner) pointed out in a committee work session Wednesday, getting freight trucks through the Portland area faster does benefit Eastern Oregon too.

“If we can clear out that bottleneck at I-5, you help the Port of Morrow and Port of Umatilla boom,” he told the group.

In addition to Portland-area tolls and raising the gas tax, the plan being compiled by the committee would also add a 0.1 percent payroll tax, increase title fees by $40, increase registration fees by $40, add a 5 percent tax on new bicycle sales and a 1 percent tax on new vehicle sales.

A report put out by the Association of Oregon Counties estimates the new transportation package would result in Umatilla County receiving about $19.4 million in new revenue over the course of five years, assuming the state continues to send 20 percent of the gas tax revenue to counties. According to what the county provided to AOC, about $12 million of that would likely go toward pavement preservation. The rest would go toward repairing the county’s 20 bridges deemed “structurally deficient,” maintaining the county’s 904 miles of gravel roads and repairing storm damage.

The Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization plans to examine a draft of the transportation package put together by legislative council during a May 31 work session, with the legislature voting on the bill sometime in June.


Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.


Share and Discuss


User Comments