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Governor plans long-term route to better roads.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Oregon's bridges are safe. But your wallet might not be.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Thursday that he and other state and local leaders want to spend the next year drawing up a long-term plan to expand and repair the state's transportation infrastructure - and to devise a way to pay for it.

The Democratic governor announced the plan the same day that he received the state's report on the condition of 45 steel deck trusses - those with the same design as the one that collapsed this month in Minneapolis. The report found minor fatigue cracking caused by wear and tear, as well as rusted supports and rutted decks. But the new round of inspections found no imminent safety risks.

State Department of Transportation officials briefed Kulongoski and officials from the Oregon Transportation Commission, the Legislature and Portland-area local governments in a meeting that also involved a discussion of how state and local leaders should take care of the state's aging transportation infrastructure and the capacity needed to handle growth in the coming decades.

By 2030 Oregon's population is expected to increase by 41 percent and the volume of freight moving along its highways and through its ports will jump by 80 percent, the governor said.

The most recent bid by state leaders to significantly boost revenue for infrastructure improvements failed. The 1999 Legislature approved a nickel-a-gallon gas tax, along with truck and passenger vehicle fees. The package would have raised $160 million a year for transportation projects. But opponents referred it to the ballot, where the measure was shot down with 88 percent voting "no" in 2000.

Despite the drubbing, Kulongoski said a gas tax probably would be part of the discussion. Vehicle registration and trucking fees also will be in the mix, transportation and political leaders said at the news conference, along with more long-shot possibilities such as the mileage fee being tested by volunteers in the Portland area and tolls on new bridges and highways.

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, said he was more optimistic about raising transportation taxes or fees this time, given leaders' commitment to involving citizens in the decision-making. That was lacking in 1999.

"We learned from that experience that this is a discussion that the public has to play a role in," he said.

Kulongoski said the Minneapolis disaster prompted this month's inspections. The findings weren't surprising; preliminary results three weeks ago found no serious concerns.

Kulongoski said Oregon has been "ahead of the curve" on bridge safety. Worries about cracked, aging spans prompted the Legislature to allocate $1.3 billion for repair and replacement of bridges that had reached or neared the end of their 50- to 70-year life span. That effort has been under way for six years.

The governor said Oregon's strategy of coming up with just enough money through a combination of fee increases and borrowing to pay for the most pressing needs wouldn't cut it.

"If we limp along like that, we're never going to resolve this," he said.

Kulongoski said he wanted the Legislature to work with his office, the Oregon Transportation Commission, local governments, the public and business leaders on identifying Oregon's long-term transportation needs and methods for paying for them. He said the Minneapolis bridge collapse was not an influence on this issue.

Rep. Terry Beyer, D-Springfield, agreed. She was chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee and worked on a late-in-the-session effort to raise the issue, which failed to gain enough traction to move through the Legislature.

Beyer will head the committee during the interim leading up to the 2009 session and will work with her Senate counterpart, Metsger, to work up proposals for the next regular session.

With the push still in its early stages, few details were available as to the scope of the effort, the possible projects or the amount of additional transportation revenue required.

Kulongoski made clear, though, that, if the state is to work on the needs of the next decades, rather than the next few years, the scale will be far greater than that of the past two decades' spates of fee- and borrowing-financed infrastructure projects.

"Because long term, you're going to see a much larger effort on funding to get us through that particular period of time," he said.


For more information on the bridge inspections,

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Title Annotation:Government; Kulongoski asks officials on all levels to craft a way to fund future transportation projects
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2007

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