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Kulongoski Looks to ’09 to Fill Holes in Road Funding

Tue September 04, 2007 - West Edition
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A dispute between cities and businesses over what road construction projects need funding around the state could mean the money will not be available until the 2009 legislative session.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has promised to throw his weight behind the issue in 2009 after business and local government leaders failed to convince state lawmakers to set aside $350 million for road projects this session.

Transportation “will be a top issue for the governor in the 2009 session,” Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kulongoski, said Aug. 3.

“Education and health care will always remain a priority,” Taylor said, but she added the governor “does believe it’s time for transportation to come to front stage.”

Kulongoski has had some success moving transportation packages through past legislative sessions. The state invested more than $2.9 billion in state roads and bridges under the Oregon Transportation Investment Acts I, II and III, passed in 2001 and 2003.

And Kulongoski on Aug. 8 signed the $100 million ConnectOregon 2 bill, a follow-up to the $100 million ConnectOregon package that the 2005 Legislature passed to pay for rail, marine and aviation projects.

But he so far has not gone to bat for a comprehensive transportation funding package that includes money for maintenance and repair as well as new and expanded roads.

The state faces a $1.3 billion per year budget shortfall and needs $4 billion for new and expanded roads, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The 24-cent state gas tax has not been increased since 1991, and maintenance costs outstrip inflation.

Legislators, meanwhile, have been wary of charging taxpayers more money for roads while gas prices continue to rise.

“The message wasn’t well received this session; lawmakers weren’t ready to act,” said Jonathan Schlueter, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, one of four business lobbies that asked the 2007 Legislature to pass a $350 million funding package for 10 highway projects across the state.

Lawmakers scuttled the proposal, in part because of a division between the business community and local and regional governments over what types of projects a funding package should pay for.

“Everybody has a different idea right now” of how to spend the money, Clackamas County Commissioner Lynn Peterson said.

The business lobbies say large road projects would ease congestion, estimated to cost the state $1.7 billion a year by 2025, according to a study paid for by the Portland Business Alliance and the Oregon Business Council.

Meanwhile, cities and counties, facing reduced federal timber receipts, want road maintenance and repair to be the focus of a funding package.

“The business community, dominated by the freight community, is pushing for expansion projects, but that idea is unfortunately a nonstarter in an urban community,” Tom Miller, chief of staff for Portland Commissioner Sam Adams, said.

“It’s important to make the renewed investment in transportation statewide, but we need to do it in a way that makes sense,” Miller said.

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