Hundreds of Portland's roads in poor condition, 'scathing' audit finds

Hundreds of Portland's roads in poor condition, 'scathing' audit finds

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The mayor calls the audit scathing: Hundreds of Portland’s streets are in fair or poor condition.

The reason? City officials have spent only a fraction of the cost on road maintenance that they should have for more than a decade.

According to an audit released on Tuesday, more than 2,000 miles of paved roads have fallen into poor or very poor condition. The city has allocated about $10 million a year to road maintenance, compared to the $85 million a year that’s necessary to restore the streets to better condition, the audit found.

About 60 percent of the Rose City’s arterial streets are in fair or better condition, below the city’s target of 80 percent of the roads being in at least fair condition. As for neighborhood streets, only 53 percent are in fair or better condition.

In all, 44 percent of the city’s streets are considered poor or very poor, according to the audit.

One Portland resident, Larry Walker, knows all too well what the lack of money has done to his neighborhood street in Southwest Portland.

KATU interviewed Walker about the road conditions in 1998. We talked to him again on Tuesday, inquiring whether the street – a segment of 60 miles of unpaved road -- has gotten better.

“No, it has gotten quite worse,” Walker said.

At the time of Walker’s concerns 15 years ago, a KATU investigation found Portland was nearly 500 miles behind in paving roads. Meanwhile, the city was facing a $5 million shortfall in road maintenance.

Then-Commissioner Charlie Hales said: “Every year that goes by, the concern by citizens is going to go higher, but the bill to fix the problem is going to go stratospheric.”

On Tuesday, now-Mayor Hales admitted city officials have done little to tackle the road woes in the last decade.

“I’m sorry to say that I was prophetic when I said that because it has gotten worse and the council in the last decade plus has not got on top of this problem,” Hales said.

Asked whether other large projects, such as Portland’s street car and Oregon Health & Science University tram, took attention away from road maintenance, Hales said there needs to be more of a balance between projects and maintenance.

City officials said they are unsure where to drum up the funds to pay for extra road maintenance. Both the city’s auditor and mayor said the city must develop a strategy to pay for the necessary repairs.