Getting Transportation Right

By Steve Schopp

Nearly 8 years ago, the media reported “there is no more clear illustration of our ability to meet the needs of growth than our failure to address our transportation needs. Within the transportation arena we are facing utter chaos.” Since that time the taxpayers have spent around $10 billion in the state and locally on transportation. Yet, the present state of affairs finds roads still crumbling, bridges deteriorating and congestion growing heavier.
The billions weren’t spent to deal with Portland’s $422 million in street maintenance backlogs, $650 million in infrastructure repairs, 100 year-old fire hydrants, obsolete emergency communication systems, and crumbling streets and bridges. Instead, we had a tram to OMSI going in as bridges in Minnesota were collapsing, light rail built regardless of voter opposition, more street cars and more subsidized development.
Once again transportation is at the top of the state’s agenda, so they are asking the taxpayers to once again pay for road and bridge repairs and traffic congestion. Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams has been called “bold” to seek a city gas tax increase. Recognizing elected officials are not willing to go back to the voters for yet more transportation tax increases they’re suggesting a business coalition to back elected officials.
If tax dollars are once again mandated there is not evidence that any of the roads, bridges or congestion problems will be mitigated. In fact it appears history will repeat. In full light of the current infrastructure crises Portland city officials have persuaded the legislature to fund their “highest priority” with $250 million in lottery backed bonds—a new light rail line including a light rail bridge over the Willamette.
It all comes down to the philosophy of elected officials. Elected officials who have the decision-making power over the tax dollars answer for addressing congestion is to “not own a car, use a transit pass, and a membership in a car-sharing program or owning a bike”. Looking to them for a common sense approach to fixing congestion seems to be a mute point. As taxpayers, the answer can not be to simply provide more money. Instead, we should look at how the money is spent and who is making the decisions.

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