Wyden fears more fees if Federal Highway Trust fund goes unfunded

Wyden fears more fees if Federal Highway Trust fund goes unfunded »Play Video
Oregon's U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (left) and Jeff Merkley attend a meeting on transportation funding in Portland, Ore. Friday, May 30, 2014.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sen. Ron Wyden foresees some difficult choices ahead for people in the Northwest if the Federal Highway Trust Fund goes unfunded this summer.

The Highway Trust Fund, which is used to pay for important repairs of roads and bridges, is having a tough time staying in the black. It has needed billions of dollars in monetary boosts to keep it solvent over the past decade.

Republican leaders in the House are proposing tying the Highway Trust Fund to the U.S. Postal Service. The plan would limit deliveries on Saturday, to pay for more roadwork.

Wyden says roads are critical to Oregon's economic future.

"The reality is -- all over our state the key to economic growth is transportation. Oregon is a long way from a lot of the major markets. Trade is responsible for one out of every six jobs in our state, he said."

Wyden worries if important roadwork isn't done, our economy will suffer.

"You can't get the products to ports and shippers without transportation," he said.

But if the Highway Trust Fund goes unfunded, Wyden predicts tough choices ahead. Those include state taxes on roads.

"We're going to have to look at some other options in the short term," said Wyden.

He says Oregon already has something in the works.

"Oregon has pioneered a new concept where you pay for what you use," he said, talking about the pay-per-mile idea, where drivers would have a chip installed in their vehicles to track their mileage. But it has some drawbacks.

"The challenge there before you go ahead with it is to resolve some of the privacy concerns," said Wyden.

As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden will be leading bipartisan meetings next week to look at various options on how to fund the Highway Trust Fund. He calls it "urgent."

But he also thinks people understand they may end up on the hook for more, to keep business moving.

"Oregonians understand there are no free goods and services," he told KATU. "They're tough choices. What they want to see is some common sense brought to this issue."