7/26/2014

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Politics

US transportation stalemate may cost Oregon

US transportation stalemate may cost Oregon
FILE -- Workers pave the westbound lanes of I-84 during a previous weekend closure. (Image from an ODOT video)
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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A stalemate in Congress over transportation funding threatens to delay highway projects slated to begin next year, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said this week.

ODOT warned that the state may need to spend as much as $110 million to cover the federal share of highway work now underway, although the money would eventually be repaid. U.S. House and Senate committees took steps Thursday to avoid that, but the move would only provide enough money to last into early next year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has warned states that it will begin rationing transportation aid in August unless Congress boosts transportation funding. For years, revenue from gasoline taxes that have traditionally fueled the Highway Trust Fund has been falling short of covering transportation spending. The federal gas tax was last raised in 1993, and new fuel-efficient vehicles use less fuel.

Federal gas tax revenues alone would cover only about 70 percent of the federal money Oregon is used to getting, said Travis Brouwer, assistant director of ODOT.

Congress is divided over whether to boost transportation spending with general revenue, and if so, how to pay for it.

The bills approved Thursday would ensure sufficient funding for current projects and avoid the need for the state to essentially lend money to the federal government, Brouwer said. They would not, however, provide enough money to allow the state to seek bids for work slated to begin next year.

"It's a short-term solution that doesn't really solve the long-term problem, which is that there is no certainty about federal funding in the future," Brouwer said.

The Senate version of the compromise was brokered by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, and the committee's senior Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Both the House and Senate measures would extend transportation funding through the election, but they differ in how they'd pay for the additional money.

Oregon's state highway funds are tied up in maintenance, ODOT operations and debt service on previous projects, so the federal transportation dollars are the state's primary resource for new construction projects, Brouwer said.

Oregon's 2015 construction plans are outlined in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan.

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Online:

Oregon's Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan: http://1.usa.gov/1lYoAJ0

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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