This week, Portland officials are navigating a switchback trickier than the Terwilliger curves.
They’re telling residents the city needs more money to fix its roads, even as they passed a $515 million general fund budget June 19 that continues a pattern of doing less for Portland’s streets.
Over the past decade, City Hall has not allowed spending on road repairs and maintenance to keep pace with its overall transportation budget.
Had road repairs kept pace with that budget, a WW analysis of spending records shows, the backlog would be $36 million less than it is now.
That’s a small bite of the $910 million needed to update the city’s streets, but it’s also the result of shifting priorities, moving more money toward streetcars, light rail and the Sellwood Bridge replacement—and away from basic road work.
Meanwhile, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick started a new round of public hearings this week, trying to build public support for a street fee that would raise about $50 million a year for street projects.
Hales and Novick say the Portland Bureau of Transportation needs new money to fix the nearly billion-dollar backlog of paving and sealing needed on city streets. And they blame that huge shortfall on a lack of funding.
The mayor earlier rejected more money for sidewalk construction and pedestrian signals in the current budget, saying he believed crossing off those items would reinforce his message that the city had to find new ways to raise cash to meet its transportation needs.
Yet their plan has gone nowhere, and Hales and Novick have already delayed their street-fee proposal after public anger flared at the idea.
“Money from the gas tax and parking is not enough for basic transportation needs,” Novick said at a May 29 public hearing. “The gas tax has become a more problematic source of revenue as people are driving more fuel-efficient cars. That’s good for the environment but bad for our bottom line.”
All of that is true—but it’s not the whole story.
GENERAL FUNDS DEDICATED TO TRANSPORTATION
In the past decade, the City Council hasn’t altered the portion of the general fund it dedicates to transportation.
2014-15 DISCRETIONARY REVENUES
The Portland Bureau of Transportation gets most of its discretionary money from the gas tax and paid parking.
PBOT’s discretionary revenues have risen significantly in the past decade, while spending on street preservation has not.