TIGARD, Ore. -- Would you be willing to pay more at the gas pump to keep road improvement projects going?
Oregon's Department of Transportation says it may have to delay projects statewide next year because of uncertainty about federal funding.
The agency points out that the federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993. The tax helps fund road construction projects throughout the state.
Starting next year, road improvement projects may either be temporarily stopped or slowed down. The state says it needs federal money to keep those projects going, and the federal pot of cash that pays for them is running a $15 billion annual deficit. By the end of the summer that fund is expected to be tapped out.
The state says it's using its money to pay off debts and maintain highways, which is why it's so reliant on the federal cash.
Congressman Peter DeFazio, of Springfield, has introduced a bill that would get rid of the federal gas tax and replace it with a tax on barrels of oil. Some say that might still lead to higher gas prices.
Local lawmakers say they're very concerned about this issue. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office says it’s a top priority and that several options are on the table, though an aide for Wyden says a gas tax hike is likely to be a non-starter in Congress.
Below are statements from other local legislators on this issue:
“Our number one priority should be creating good, middle-class jobs, and there are few better ways to do that than investing in infrastructure. Investment in our roads and bridges creates good jobs in the short term and is a critical ingredient in the recipe for long-term growth. Letting the Highway Trust Fund go broke would be absolutely unacceptable. Not only new projects are at risk, but also current projects across the state. Delaying those projects would be an enormous waste of funds and a loss of much-needed jobs. This is the wrong direction to go. I’m going to keep working with Senator Wyden and with all my colleagues to find a path forward and ensure we keep folks on the job this summer and fall.”
-U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, (D) Oregon
“We’re going to see delays and even cancellations of ongoing and new projects in Oregon and across the country if Congress can’t find a way to fund our roads and bridges. To solve this, Oregonians deserve more than gimmicks. That’s why I’ve been working with the US Chamber of Commerce, AAA, labor unions, small businesses, and truckers as well as transit and cycling advocates to find a stable, fair funding source that will keep our roads drivable and our citizens at work.”
-U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, (D) Oregon
“The pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund is a serious threat to our economy and to our workforce. Transportation infrastructure projects are good for the growth and posterity of our region, and are also responsible for thousands of construction jobs. One potential solution to this looming threat is an infrastructure bank, which would provide loans for new transportation projects; however I am open to all options to help bridge the funding gap. Congress must act to develop a solution to ensure that the transportation department will have funding for future projects.”
-U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici, (D) Oregon