City leaders announce plans for Portland street fee

City leaders announce plans for Portland street fee »Play Video
Mayor Charlie Hales said it's time to stop talking about improving streets and time to start doing something about it. (KATU photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland city leaders on Thursday announced plans for a new "transportation user fee" to pay for street maintenance and safety improvements.

“Our streets in the city are in declining condition,” said Mayor Charlie Hales. “We have resolved to stop talking about it and do something about it.”

Most homeowners can expect to pay $11.56 per month (nearly $140 per year), but businesses will pay more. The amount charged depends on how many trips properties generate, Hales said. Churches, schools and nonprofits will also need to pay.

Discounts will be offered for low income homes under the proposed plan.

The city has an online fee calculator on its website.

“These funds are going to transportation. They’re going to focus on maintenance and safety,” said Hales.

The proposed plan will use close to half the revenue for safety projects, like sidewalks and crosswalks, while slightly more than half will be used for street maintenance.

“Our streets are deteriorating and there are too many places where kids are trying to get to school without sidewalks,” said Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the Bureau of Transportation.

Half the funds will come from residents while the other half will come from non-residential sources, like businesses and universities.

Hales and Novick say street maintenance and safety needs cannot be addressed with existing gas tax revenues alone. City leaders asked the public for input on transportation priorities and options for raising money as they developed a proposal for the city council to consider.

The street fee was the "least unpopular option" to pay for maintenance, Novick said.

“The costs are going up almost exponentially, that’s why we feel a sense of urgency,” said Novick.

Portland will be the 29th city in Oregon to adopt a similar transportation fee.

“We’re not doing anything radical here,” said Hales.

The Portland City Council will take up the issue next week.

The fee would go into effect in July of 2015. It would appear on water and sewer bills.

Novick estimated the fee will bring the city up to $50 million per year.

“If the voters are really mad at us, we’re both up for reelection in 2016 and they can throw us out,” he said.