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5 Things You Should Know About Portland's Proposed Street Fee

Steve Novick is Portland's transportation commissioner.

Steve Novick is Portland’s transportation commissioner.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick released a proposal Thursday to charge all city residents and businesses a transportation user fee.  The money would go toward maintaining the pavement and improving street safety.

A city audit last year found that over a third of the streets maintained by the city are in poor condition, or worse.  The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) estimates that it requires an investment of $75 million a year for 10 years to address its paving backlog. Novick and Hales say they aim to collect between $40 million and $50 million a year with the new fee. Mayor Hales says the Portland City Council will hold hearings on the fee next week and vote on the proposal June 4th. Here are five things to know about the proposal.

  1. The cost: The proposed fee would go into effect July 1st, 2015. PBOT estimates about half of the funding would come from residences. Here are the proposed monthly residential rates:

    Single-Family home: $11.56

    Low-income Single-Family home: $8.09 (The low income rate would be available to families that qualify for low income discounts on city water and sewer bills.)

    Household in a Multi-Family building: $6.79

    Low-income household in a Multi-Family building: $4.75

    PBOT says these rates are based on a charge of 3.9 cents per car, bike, or pedestrian trip associated with each household.

  2. The costs to businesses would vary:

    The fee would also apply to businesses, schools, churches, and non-profits, and would vary based on PBOT’s estimate of the number of transit, car, and bike trips each business generates. PBOT has posted a calculator online to help businesses estimate their fee. PBOT is using the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Trip Generation Manual to estimate how many trips each business will generate. A gas station with six fuel meters, for example, would pay $336.47 per month.

     PBOT says for businesses that generate fewer than 5,000 trips a month, the average fee is $76. But for businesses and non-profits that generate more trips, the fee could run thousands of dollars a month. PBOT says it does  significantly discount the 3.9 cent per trip rate for business that generate more than 5,000 trips a month, to make the fee more realistic.  “We’ve already started discussions with Portland State University, Oregon Health and Science University, our school districts, our non-profits to let them know they will be subject to this fee,” says Mayor Hales.

    Commissioner Novick’s office shared estimates of how much the fee would cost public school districts in the city. The Portland Public Schools would pay almost $490,000 a year. PBOT is still in the process of calculating the estimated cost to the Riverdale and Reynolds districts. Novick noted that schools would receive a benefit from the fee, as the city plans to fund safety improvements around elementary schools.

  3. It could be the highest street fee in Oregon:

    Twenty-nine cities across the state charge street fees. They range from $1.53 a month in Corvallis to $11.56 in Oregon City — the same as Portland is proposing. “It’s a high fee because we’ve waited 14 years since we first started talking about it. It will only produce a fraction of the revenue we need to cure the backlog,” says Mayor Hales.

  4. Pavement is getting more expensive to fix all the time:

    Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick likens street maintenance to dental hygiene. “It turns out that roads are like teeth. If you don’t do regular brushing, flossing, and cleaning, then you get into root canals and extractions,” he says. Novick says treating a street that shows the first signs of deterioration with a product called fog seal costs the city $10,000 per lane mile. By contrast, grinding and paving a more seriously worn street costs $100,000 per lane mile, and replacing the worst streets costs $1 million per lane mile. “Every month, a street that we could have addressed with fog seal gets to the point where we need to address it with grind and pave. The costs are going up exponentially,” he says.

  5. Commissioner Amanda Fritz may cast the deciding vote:

    Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick have proposed implementing the fee with an ordinance voted on by the city council, as opposed to putting the proposal before voters in November. “If all we ever did is make the popular decision, and punt the difficult things to our voters, I’m not sure what value you’d be getting for our leadership. This is one of those times where you need to step up and do a difficult thing,” Hales said.

    Novick says the council will vote June 4th on the proposal. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman have suggested they will vote no, according to Willamette Week. At Thursday’s press conference, Mayor Hales suggested that the proposal has the support of Commissioner Amanda Fritz. She did not attend the press conference, and told OPB she had not reached a decision on the proposal. “As always, I will wait for the public hearing and wait for the public input. I’m hopeful we can find a way forward,” she said.