Oregon transportation infrastructure has rocky future

Prosperity-projectBy Oregon Prosperity Project,
Bumpy Roads Ahead: Why Oregon’s Transportation Infrastructure has a Rocky Future

Did you know that there are over 71,500 miles of roads in Oregon? That’s a lot of miles; in fact, if they were stretched out into a straight line, they would go around the equator of the Earth almost three times.

There are more than four million registered vehicles in Oregon, driving on – and wearing out – Oregon’s roads. That doesn’t count the thousands of additional out-of-state drivers who also utilize Oregon’s roads, particularly the I-5 corridor from Washington to California.

Oregon’s economy is highly dependent on its transportation system; it connects rural areas to centers of commerce. It provides a means for moving goods from Oregon’s large manufacturing sector, hauling timber, and transporting agricultural products both across the state and to export markets. And it allows Oregonians to get to work and school, travel, and to enjoy the natural beauty found across the state.

But the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has released its 2014 report about Oregon’s roads, suggesting their future is in jeopardy.

Using a computer modeling system, ODOT analyzed the economic impacts of deteriorating roads in the next 20 years if its funding continues to lag. The results suggested that higher transportation costs from bad road conditions could lead to 100,000 lost jobs and a $94 billion decline in Oregon’s GDP by 2035.

For every Oregon driver, ODOT estimated an additional $380 per year in car maintenance costs, in the future, under current road maintenance spending; bad, rough roads lead to more tire wear, worse fuel efficiency, and damages to suspension systems.

At current spending levels, ODOT suggests that it cannot work on modernization projects, like adding lanes on busy roads or expanding busy intersections.

So, what’s causing ODOT’s funding problems?

In the past 10 years, average fuel economy for passenger vehicles has improved by 25% in the U.S. That means drivers can buy less fuel to drive the same distance. Better fuel economy leads to reduced CO2 emissions, improving environmental quality. But it also results in lower gas tax revenue.

Oregon’s statewide gas tax has been $0.30 per gallon since 2011, when it increased from $0.24 per gallon in 2010. But, since 2011, the gas tax revenues have decreased by 4%. Meanwhile, vehicle registrations have increased by 1.2%.

More drivers are on the roads, causing more wear-and-tear, but there is less gas tax money to put toward them.

ODOT’s 2015-2017 proposed legislative budget is $4 billion, about $88 million less than what was approved for the 2011-2013 legislatively approved budget. That’s a significant amount of money. But, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s 2014 audit of ODOT, Oregon will have to invest an additional $7 billion into replacing and repairing infrastructure by 2030.

The Oregon Resilience Plan’s 2014 Seismic-Plus Report found that 138 Oregon bridges need to be replaced, and another 580 bridges need to be retrofitted or repaired to mitigate the impacts of earthquakes. Fixing, rebuilding, and replacing Oregon’s bridges alone would cost more than $4 billion.

While infrastructure repair is very expensive, it can help to prevent even larger loses to Oregon’s economy in the event of an earthquake, mudslide, bridge collapse, or any other catastrophic event that cannot be repaired quickly and leads to impeded traffic and commerce. Allocating funding for these repairs and updates, while expensive for today, can help Oregon’s economy thrive in the future.

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