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Proposal would expand use of road money for bike and other projects

Proposal would expand use of road money for bike and other projects »Play Video

SALEM, Ore. – Should money from Oregon’s highway fund be used to pay for alternative transportation projects? That’s the question state lawmakers plan to take up.

On one side of the debate are people like Gerik Kransky of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. We met Kransky at the Waud Bluff Trail in Portland to talk about the idea.

“This trail was funded with a $3.2 million grant,” he explained.

Kransky wants to see more trails like it.

“Building a project like this allows people to say, ‘I think I’m going to ride my bike to work today,’” he said.

But even in a bike-focused city like Portland, money for these projects is hard to come by. That’s where a proposal in Salem called HJR 9 comes into play.

In 2012, about $1.1 billion was paid into the state highway trust fund. That money came from gas tax revenue or fees collected by the DMV. The money is currently allocated only to roads projects.

Under the plan proposed in HJR 9, that money could also be used for alternative transportation projects that will “prevent or reduce pollution and congestion created by use of motor vehicles.” That includes bike-related projects.

“We’re opposed to any further dilution of the state highway fund,” said Mike McArthur, the executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties.

McArthur argues highway funding is thin to being with as gas tax revenues decline.

“We’d have more deterioration of the roads we have now,” he said. “We’re not keeping up with what we’ve got.”

McArthur said he supports bicyclists and owns three bikes himself, but argues more bikes do not necessarily take cars off the roads.

“We need to find a dedicated source of funding for the bike and pedestrian sorts of paths that are not associated with roads,” he said.

This same idea has been floated before and shot down before. Still, Kransky hopes for the best this time around.

“If you’re allowed to use some of those funds to build a project that gets people off the road then you reduce traffic and you reduce congestion for people who do drive,” Kransky said.

The latest proposal will be discussed in a public hearing this coming Monday at 3 p.m. in Salem.

Even if it passes the Legislature, it would still require a statewide public vote because it requires changing the state constitution.