The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently issued a report describing the deteriorating condition of Oregon highways. The authors estimate that the cumulative cost to the state economy from poor roads will be $94 billion by 2035.
At the same time, the Portland City Council is considering a new local income tax to pay for road maintenance and safety, citing a lack of adequate funding.
While road maintenance is indeed a problem throughout Oregon, the public is unlikely to approve new road taxes. The primary reason is a lack of trust. During the past 15 years, Portland has squandered vast amounts of money on fads like streetcars, light rail, bioswales, and “road diets.” At the state level, ODOT spent nearly two decades and $180 million on a silly bridge-with-light-rail proposal to Vancouver, Washington that is now dead.
These projects were mostly aimed at getting people “out of their cars.” Yet the reality is, regardless of how people travel, more than 99% of all trips take place on a road. So road maintenance needs to be the top priority with existing transportation dollars.
New methods to pay for transportation infrastructure will eventually be needed, but politicians need to re-earn the public’s trust before that can happen.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President & CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.