Costly for business A crucial, overdue Oregon bill addresses highways

A troubling report by a Boston research group tells you everything you need to know about the big transportation package that’s winding its way through the Oregon Legislature. The report concluded that worsening traffic congestion in the Portland area was harming business in the state.
Intel, for example, had to move up its last shipment departure time by two hours because of increased afternoon congestion between Washington County and Portland International Airport. Missed flights were crippling production across the globe and causing costly operational changes, the report found.
It went on to catalog an appalling list of congestion-caused losses suffered by Sysco Foods, OrePac, Providence Health Systems, Portland General Electric and other major employers in the Portland market. And here’s the capper: The study, commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance, was conducted four long years ago. Since then, too little has been done to address the problem, while congestion in and around the city has only grown worse.
That’s why the 2009 Legislature must pass some version of the ambitious transportation bill that’s likely to go to the floor of the House and Senate this week. The $300 million-a-year package of taxes and fees for road construction and repair projects is an economic imperative in a state that hasn’t made such a sizable infrastructure investment in more than a decade.
The years of neglect helped create the costly headaches for companies such as Intel and Sysco. Oregon now suffers double-digit unemployment – nearly the highest among the 50 states – and must get moving on a long list of transportation projects that, by the way, would put thousands of people to work while beginning to address the congestion problem.
The bill would help relieve bottlenecks at key intersections on the Sunset Highway and interstates 5, 84 and 205. It would begin work on the much-needed Sunrise Corridor. And it would help pay for rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge in Portland.
Magnify those jobs by similar projects across the state. It adds up to a crucial investment in Oregon’s future as well as an aggressive economic stimulus.
Not everyone sees it that way. Environmentalists and the bicycle lobby are lining up against the bill because it tilts so heavily – we would use the word “necessarily” – toward motor vehicles. Truckers are likely to oppose it because it would increase gas taxes by 6 cents. And some local officials are grumbling about it because it would ban cities and counties from enacting new gas taxes for four years.
What may matter most is what Oregon/Idaho AAA thinks of the bill. The organization has yet to declare whether it would support the gas-tax increase if it’s referred to voters.
Representing about a half-million motorists in Oregon, AAA has considerable clout. The group should use it wisely and get behind this legislation.
The Oregonian, Portland

 

Joe Rutherford