What Happens in the 2015 Legislative Session?

Rob Zako moderates the essential OTRAN listserv. He posted this a few days ago and has graciously given his permission to have it cross-posted here – Chris.

Whether the Columbia River Cross is still alive or dead—there are mixed reports, but the sense I am hearing is that a loss of $850 million in federal funding for light rail has or will kill the project—we are seeing a push for a major transportation funding package in the 2015 Oregon legislative session.

For example, the Oregon Business Association is releasing the legislative priorities. #3 on their list is transportation and infrastructure.

For example, as I reported in October, ODOT is soliciting transportation “needs” from its area commissions on transportation (ACTs) to assemble list of transportation needs. If Lane County’s list of $600 million is representative, then “needs” statewide come to about $6 billion.

The general outlines of the conventional wisdom are clear: As Oregon has pretty much shot its wad (bonded) its transportation funding for the next 20 years, the little remaining funding is now going to smaller projects around the state. There is pent up demand for the big projects, the major highway projects that reduce congestion and allow truck freight to move more freely. Given politics in D.C., there is faint hope that the Feds will come to the rescue any time soon. Lacking any new creative ideas, one can expect a push for increasings in gas / vehicle registration / weight-mile taxes to fund a package of roadway projects. The main debates will be about the details of the new taxes, what new projects will get funding, and lining up the needed votes in the Oregon House and Senate. The playbook is similar to that six years ago when then Governor Kulongoski wanted a transportation legacy and gave us the 2009 Jobs and Transportation Act (House Bill 2001). The difference is that Governor Kitzhaber 2.0 has shown himself to be quite skilled at bringing people together for grand bargains, and that Kitzhaber has bigger priorities than transportation: education, health care reform, jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Transportation *might* fall under the umbrella of reducing GHGs, but it depends on how it is framed.) As with the CRC, one can expect business and labor to line up behind a suitably “balanced” transportation funding and jobs package.

Absent some clearly outlined and well supported proposal for shifting our transportation priorities form the practices of the 20th century to the new realities of the 21st, this is likely how things will go down. I may be wrong, and there may already be behind-the-scenes discussions that could result in a more balanced package.

The game is afoot. Who’s in? What are your ideas?

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