Bridge, road funding stalls in state Senate

New investment plan would create jobs, funding in sour economy

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Mt. Hood, is working to overcome a roadblock against the largest bridge and road financing plan in recent state history.

Both he and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, are in strong support of the Oregon Transportation Investment Act, also known as House Bill 2041. The legislation is expected to create 4,750 jobs in construction and maintenance that will be sustainable for the next 10 years. It will pump more than $2 billion into the economy and help repair the states’ aging highway system.

“This bill is a necessary step to fix our cracked and unstable bridges,” Smith said. “The poor condition of our transportation infrastructure threatens to further shake our already weakened economy. Every region of the state needs the ability to move goods and services. The fact is, if we can’t move goods, we can’t sell them. And if we can’t sell our products, businesses in Oregon can’t operate.”

Although the bill has already passed through the House, it has encountered opposition from a handful of Senate Democrats. Metsger, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Committee, said a dispute has arisen among his peers over a tax credit for trucking companies. He said opposition has mounted to a provision that allows commercial haulers to claim a $500 deduction for installation of “environmentally-clean” engines. However, Metsger believes the tax credit is a fair exchange that will not only help reduce pollution, but will offset a steep hike in vehicle fees. Under HB 2041, registration fees for cars and trucks will increase by $12 and title fees by $25. In addition, various other fees associated with the Department of Motor Vehicles will climb under the plan that will bond $113.6 million over the next 10 years.

“I’m hopeful this is just a bump in the road. There are a few people who feel they weren’t a part of the process and we’re trying to give them an opportunity to be heard,” said Metsger.

The issue is currently before the Senate Revenue Committee which Metsger also serves on. He is attempting to address the recent concern with the bill so that it can be approved and forwarded to Gov. Ted Kulongoski for his signature.

“This was the most important piece of legislation that I was given the responsibility for. The money will be spent all over the state and it’s an aggressive approach to our budget problems,” Metsger said.

Both Smith and Metsger won their re-election bids in November on a campaign platform that one of the keys to curing Oregon’s ailing economy was to repair its transportation system. Last September, they donned hard hats to climb down scaffolding and look at cracks along the underspan of the westbound Interstate 84 bridge in Hood River. Although the $1 million fix on the Gorge structure was repaired last fall, the bi-partisan team is concerned about the hundreds of other bridges constructed within the state between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Of these crossings, 487 now need some level of repair and 56 percent will require total replacement in the near future.

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