It's too early to make any broad pronouncements, but worth noting that the four-year, 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax Portlanders approved in November is outperforming projections.
Former City Commissioner Steve Novick and his partners in a broad coalition sold the tax on a promise that it would raise $16 million per year—a little more than half of which would be spent on maintaining Portland's beat up roads, while the rest paid for safety improvements.
Well, the first quarter of the year suggests we could be in for millions more. State revenue reports show that Portland raked in $4.78 million from January to March, a pace that, if it holds, puts the city on track for scooping up more than $19 million.
Of course there's no telling what will happen. Did the oppressive rains of recent months make people drive more rather than riding their bikes? Or should this be seen as hopeful, given that the city was shrouded in ice during a couple weeks in January? The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), which gets to spend the money, isn't making any assumptions.
"We have to be careful, it's three months," says PBOT spokesperson John Brady. But he notes: "If we can bring more road repair and more safety projects to Portland, that would fantastic."
Along with the gas tax, Portland also instituted a new four-year Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, in order to capture cash from the semi trucks whose activity takes a dramatic toll on road conditions. That tax is estimated to bring in $2.5 million a year. Brady tells the Mercury that PBOT doesn't have initial revenue figures yet.
One obligatory observation: An extra $3 million or so a year would be great for the city's streetscape, but still amounts to a tiny drop in the bucket.
As we noted in endorsing last year's gas tax, estimates suggest that Portland would need to spend upwards of $100 million a year for a decade to get its roads in acceptable condition. That won't happen. Even an ambitious plan by Mayor Ted Wheeler to dump $600 million into infrastructure maintenance in the next 20 years won't get us there (and there's no telling if Wheeler's plan will move forward).