ODOT funding reaches dire state of affairs


Last updated 10/17/2023 at 9:44am

“The bottom line is, we’re out of money,” said Oregon Transportation Commissioner Julie Brown following a meeting this summer.

The Commission reviewed an updated finance plan draft for the projects slated for funding by tolls. The current plan includes the possibility of dipping into funds set aside for projects scheduled for the next three years.

The Locust Street roundabout will not be affected by the funding crisis as the monies have been allocated and secured by prior budgets Sisters City officials say.

Some aren’t so certain.

“If it’s bad as ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) says, couldn’t they cite a state of emergency and move money around, pulling it from us?” said Joel Wiggins, a regular at a morning coffee group in Sisters.

ODOT Central Oregon Region Manager Bob Townsend assured the Sisters City Council at Thursday’s Sisters City Council workshop that the roundabout funds are secure — but any overruns could require intervention from the City or Deschutes County (Click here to see related story.).

The two most affected projects are the I-205 Improvement Project’s Tualatin River Crossing construction and the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project in the Portland metro area.

Travis Brouwer, the assistant director of revenue, finance, and compliance at ODOT, shared his doubts about the future.

“How can we get the resources to move forward on several billion dollars-worth of projects? The reality is that we’re going to have to do that in a phased manner over time; there’s simply no way we can bring all the resources to bear and move all of those forward at the same time,” he stated.

Without intervention, ODOT says it will run out of cash before the end of the 2023-2025 biennium having already drawn down much of its reserve fund. By 2029, the agency projects a $680 million deficit. The agency spends more than $5 billion per biennium, with $1.5 billion going toward roadway and bridge maintenance and repair.

“We can’t run a deficit of that size, or any size,” said Brouwer.

ODOT says that if new monies aren’t found, it will have to slash basic maintenance services. That could mean fewer crews to clear roads after a crash, plow snow during storms, or fix potholes and broken guardrails.

Locally that could mean several unwelcome scenarios such as Highway 242, the McKenzie Highway — important to Sisters tourism — possibly having to let mother nature melt the snow rather than blowing and plowing for the road’s reopening at the start of each summer. If that scenario were to play out, it could be July before the road might be passable.

More worrisome is the level of plowing and sanding that could be affected on the Santiam Pass, critical for commerce and essential to Hoodoo ski operations, to say nothing of the safety implications of less frequent snow and ice removal.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will collect just over $7.3 billion in total revenue during the 2023-2025 biennium.

ODOT also receives some funding for specific purposes from payroll tax, cigarette tax revenues, general funds, lottery funds, and a variety of transportation-related permits and fees.

About $1.4 billion (19 percent) of total revenue flowing through ODOT is distributed to Oregon cities, counties, and other agencies. This leaves about $5.9 billion remaining for ODOT’s operating budget and ending balance. This amount, plus the beginning balance of $0.3 million, becomes the total revenue for our operating budget and ending balance.

The problem is the structural change in our driving. First, all cars and trucks are more fuel efficient. Miles per gallon in sedans and SUVs have doubled since 2005 and now sit at 31.2 mpg.

Electric and hybrid vehicles in Oregon are growing in use and there are now 70,000 EVs on the road, a dramatic increase form 38,000 just two years ago. EVs pay no gas tax, on which ODOT is dependent.

Then, with more remote work since 2020 and regular gas persisting at over $4/gallon in Oregon the last two years, more and more drivers are staying off the road.

Motorists may have to pay more for the privilege of driving. Everything from license plate fees to registration and title fees may have to rise to help ODOT deal its shortfall.


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