At the end of 2015, Pendleton City Council instituted a fee that increased the city’s budget for repairing streets by 160 percent and dedicated nearly a third of its revenue toward the towns worst roads. Two years later, Pendleton’s street system is in slightly worse shape than it was before the fee was put in place.
At a Tuesday workshop, Wayne Green, the city’s associate engineer, presented a report on the pavement condition index, which measures the quality of street pavement on a 0-100 scale.
The report measured the street system’s deterioration in a number of ways:
• Across 78 miles of road, the index for the city’s road system was scored at 62, a two-point decrease from 2016 and a five-point decrease from 2013.
• Arterial streets — the city’s busiest and most well-traveled roads — were rated at a 76, considered “very good” under the index’s rating system. Collectors, the streets that connect arterials and residential/local streets, are rated “good” with a 59 rating. The lowest score, 57, is for neighborhood/local roads.
• The street system has an average remaining service life of 17.4 years, down by 0.7 from 2016.
Although Green said the city delayed many street projects this year while public works repaired and replaced aging municipal water lines, city staff has long maintained that the $481,000 the city raised through the street utility fee would slow the bleeding rather than stanch it.
Under the city’s current $781,000 streets budget, Green said the system would see its index number decrease by a half-point average each year. To maintain the status quo, the city would have to spend $1.1 million on street maintenance each year.
Growing the streets budget would require serious council discussion about how the city would find the money to bolster road maintenance.
Councilor Dale Primmer said there are still many roads in the system in need of major repair. In the southern Pendleton ward he represents, Primmer said Southwest Perkins Avenue was in poor shape before it was repaired and there are others like it that haven’t been fixed.
In Councilor Becky Marks’ Ward 1, she pointed to streets on South Hill and the Riverside areas that also need attention.
The city spends 70 percent of its maintenance money on streets in good condition because staff believes it makes those dollars stretch further. Roads in good condition typically require cheaper repairs like crack seals and slurry seals rather than the full reconstructions poor streets usually need.
At the meeting, Councilor Scott Fairley suggested the city do away with its 70-30 formula, and instead use all of its money to maintain its top-rated roads.
Regardless of how the council allocates the streets budget, the most pressing obstacle is making up the gap in funding.
Green said the city will receive more road maintenance money through increased state gas tax approved by the Oregon Legislature last month. But the exact amount the city will receive from the state is still unknown and there’s no guarantee it will fully plug the gap.
As a part of future discussions, Marks said the council could consider mounting another campaign for a local gas tax. The last time the city sought a gas tax in 2015, it was decisively rejected by Pendleton voters.
Given the previous electoral defeats at the ballot box, Primmer isn’t sure creating a new source of revenue to bolster street funding is in the cards.
“I don’t know if there’s an appetite for it,” he said. “Maybe there’s a great idea, but I haven’t heard it.”
Scouring the general fund for money to divert it toward streets might not be any easier, Primmer said, because most of its dedicated to public safety as is.
Mayor John Turner doesn’t know how the council will fill the gap, but he anticipated there would be more discussion over the course of 2018.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.