Why do we need OReGO?

Why do we need OReGO?

April 23, 2015 | Michelle Godfrey, ODOT Communications

You may be wondering: why do we need this OReGO thing anyway?

There are actually many good reasons.

For one, funding for transportation maintenance and construction has been declining in Oregon and around the country since the 1990s. That’s because fuel-efficient vehicles use less gas, and thus pay less in gas taxes that go to maintaining and improving Oregon’s roads. That’s good news for the environment, but it spells trouble for our roads and bridges.

Oregon’s transportation system is in good condition today because of investments we’ve made over the last decade. But federal funding, including the Highway Trust Fund, is drying up. That has a big impact on Oregon. ODOT has addressed the short-term loss for now, but all states have to tackle the long-term funding problem for good.

Another good reason for OReGO is the increasing cost of construction materials. It’s been dramatic. Sure, we all know everything costs more over time. You can only buy about half the bread, coffee, orange juice or milk today that you did in 1993.

Well, same goes for road construction materials—only it’s worse. Inflation for consumer products has been fairly modest the last couple decades. But construction material costs have gone way up in comparison. The same money that bought a ton of reinforcing steel in 1993 only buys 900 pounds today. The money for 10 cubic yards of concrete in 1993 now only buys you five.

Meanwhile, time doesn’t stand still and things wear out and fall apart. People still drive on roads and bridges whether they pay a gas tax or not. And that impact takes a toll.

Today, Oregon’s lucky: most state highway bridges are rated as “non-distressed.” But roll forward a few years and the needs of our aging system will swamp the resources available. Unless something changes with state or federal funding, Oregon will have just a fraction of the money we need to keep our bridges in good shape.

It’s kind of a big deal. If bridges deteriorate, detours caused by weight restrictions would cause delays for truck freight, which means higher costs of transporting goods to market. That not only raises your grocery bill, it hinders industry growth, brings our economy to a grinding halt and could mean fewer jobs in your area. Truck detours also increase greenhouse gas emissions and impact the livability of communities that would see more truck traffic rumbling down Main Street.

The same goes for highways. Right now, 78 percent of state highway lane miles are in fair or better condition. Not bad. But to maintain these conditions, ODOT needs to pave about 400 lane miles each year. We only have enough money in the state Highway Fund to pave about 250 miles each year.
So shrinking revenue means pavement conditions will keep declining rapidly. And because of decreased funding, ODOT will have to focus on preserving our interstates and other lifeline highways. Conditions on less-traveled highways will suffer.

The killer, literally, is that if we let our bridges and highways decline, safety will suffer. Poor roads create hazardous conditions such as hydroplaning, and vehicle damage from potholed pavement. Crashes will increase, causing property damage, injuries and deaths.

So why not just fix roads and bridges later, when (if!) we get the money? Well, if we let our bridges and roads deteriorate, bringing them back to good condition costs lots more than keeping them in good shape to begin with. We would save a lot of money—and lives and property damage—if we just keep our roads in good condition instead of letting them go downhill.

It’s a good bet this is what the Oregon Legislature was thinking when it created OReGO with Senate Bill 810 in 2013. Legislators saw how fuel-efficient vehicles, over time, would lessen our dependence on gas and diesel. And they knew that funding for Oregon roads still depends mainly on the state gas tax collected at the pump.

The gas tax was easy and effective when Oregon first created the idea back in 1919. And it has remained the primary source of road funding ever since. Talk about staying power. But now, a century-ish later, Oregon’s state fuels tax is 30 cents a gallon, with up to 8 cents more in city and county taxes, plus 18.4 cents collected by the feds. That adds up to 56.4 cents a gallon in taxes, depending where you buy. How much longer can we afford that?

Think about it: the year Oregon created the nation’s first gas tax was the same year the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol—you know, Prohibition. It goes to show that not all decisions made 100 years ago should last forever. We can change our minds as society and technology evolve.

OReGO is part of that innovation. If we understand why we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, shouldn’t we also reduce our transportation system’s dependence on the sale of those fuels? While we’re finding alternative ways to power our cars, shouldn’t we also find a better, more efficient way to fund our highway system?

That’s what OReGO is all about—a new alternative that is a simple, technology-based, modern and fair way to ensure Oregon’s roads are safe for you and your family, long into the future.

Just…wink!…don’t mix your 18th Amendment with your Senate Bill 810.

(No, really. Be safe out there. Don’t drink and drive. Duh.)

One thought on “Why do we need OReGO?

  1. Brad Miller says:

    If the over-arching goal is to increase funding for highway maintenance and repair then why would it not be much easier to simply raise the gas tax?

    In 1993 the gas tax was raised from 0.22/gal to 0.26/gal and to 0.30/gal in 2011. Had the tax/gal been indexed to the cost of living in 1993, the gas tax would now be approximately = 0.42/gal. This would result in ODOT collecting a very significant 40% increase in revenue.

    How do we get there? Simply raise the gas tax 0.04/gal for each of the next 3 years while indexing the tax to the cost of living. This modest amount would be imperceptible when compared to the 0.35/gal swings in a month we just experienced.

    By simply raising the gas tax, we eliminate the need for creating a “Rube Goldberg” type bureaucratic tax collection system. The revenue collection system for the gas tax/gal is already in place.

    Until the proportion of very high mileage vehicles or electric vehicles becomes significant, maybe just charge a small surcharge on the registration fee. (Of course this sours the motivation to buy these type vehicles)

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