Roads: No money for maintenance? Or misplaced priorities?

By Rob Zako
December 31, 2023

BEST will be at the table representing taxpayers in Lane County.

ODOT snowplow
ODOT snowplow crews were out in force to deal with the latest snowfall. Source: Bill Bartlett, (Sisters) Nugget Newspaper

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) says they are “out of money.” They say they are “forced to scale back maintenance and services around the state.” That could mean fewer crews to clear roads after a crash, plow snow during storms, or fix potholes and broken guardrails. Indeed, Governor Tina Kotek, Senate President Rob Wagner, and House Speaker Dan Rayfield recently announced $19 million in special funding to help restore winter maintenance services.

ODOT blames their budget woes on improving fuel efficiencies and greater use of electric vehicles, which are lowering gas tax revenues. They say Oregon’s current funding structure is not designed to finance a modern, multimodal transportation network. They have been planning for a future without a gas tax.

Meanwhile, truck drivers say they are paying more than their fair share to maintain the state’s highway system. They are asking for the weight-mile tax on heavy duty trucks to be slashed by a third—or for a 30-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax on cars and light duty trucks.

But critics accuse ODOT of perpetrating a “snow job”: mega-projects and their cost-overruns, not maintenance, are the cause of ODOT’s budget woes. Nearly every major project undertaken by ODOT has ended up costing at least double its initial estimate

For example, the State of Oregon recently committed $1 billion to replace the aging Interstate-5 bridge over the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. Critics assert that it would cost “$2.50 to deliver just $1 in value to users of the facility.”

In the face of completing claims and priorities, the Legislature in 2025 is looking to address Oregon’s transportation funding needs.

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