Pass bridge-road bills.
It took five months of intense negotiations between Gov. Ted Kulongoski, state legislators, the trucking industry and the motorists' lobby, but those talks have produced the most aggressive response to Oregon's transportation problems in more than a decade.
A consensus has emerged on a two-bill package that would provide $2.5 billion over 10 years to repair or replace aging and cracked highway bridges and provide money for state, county and city highway and street repairs. The package - House Bill 2041 and HB 2367 - isn't perfect, but it's badly needed. The House and Senate should pass it and send it to the governor for his signature.
The need for a massive bridge repair program is clear. The Oregon Department of Transportation has already placed load restrictions on 78 bridges, causing large trucks to detour around them. Among the load-limited bridges are the Interstate 5 bridges across the Willamette and McKenzie rivers in the Eugene-Springfield area.
The repair work would be paid for through a variety of fee increases. The car registration fee would rise to $54 every two years from its current $30. Vehicle title transfer fees would also increase, to $55 from $30. Single license plate fees would double to $3 from $1.50, and the fee for double plates would go to $6 from $2.50. The instruction driver permit cost would rise to $18 from $13. Truck registration fees would also increase, and the weight-mile tax paid by trucks would rise by 9.9 percent.
In all, the package will generate $114 million a year that would be used to retire $1.6 billion in bonds for bridge repair and some $900 million in bonds for highway and road projects. The bills would also create and estimated 4,750 construction jobs, which should be a boon for Oregon's economy. Contracts for the repair work would likely go out for bid next spring.
The Register-Guard's David Steves reported Thursday that $1.3 billion of the money raised by the two measures would be used to fund bridge repair, $300 million would pay for local bridges on freight routes, $371 million would be provided to cities and counties for road maintenance, and $500 million would pay for other projects, such as freight transportation needs.
The House Transportation Committee held an all-day hearing on the two bills Wednesday. If it's approved in that committee, it will be referred to the House Revenue Committee. If approved there, it will head to the House floor for a vote. If approved there, the package would head to the Oregon Senate.
Some complain that the package should contain more increases for the trucking industry, which critics say cause most of the damage to the state's bridges. That's an argument for another day - the Oregon Constitution already requires a fair apportionment of road costs between trucks and other vehicles. The Legislature's current goals are to address the urgent repair needs of Oregon's bridges with a proposal that can obtain enough votes to pass. The negotiations leading to HB 2041 and HB 2367 were big steps toward accomplishing both goals.