Did you hear? Portland's roads are congested.
That's terrible news for your car commute, but decent news for the city, which now has millions more than expected to fix roads and make safety fixes on city streets.
In its first full year, Portland's 10-cent gas tax hauled in nearly $20 million, well over the $16 million that was estimated when voters approved the tax in
November May 2016.
According to state figures, the City of Portland collected $18.58 million from gasoline purchases within city limits in 2017, and another $1.28 million in (non-heavy truck) diesel purchases, for a total of $19.86 million.
It's a mixed blessing of sorts. Obviously millions of extra dollars is a positive for a Portland Bureau of Transportation that has struggled to pay for basic upkeep, but suddenly feels "flush" with cash, as BikePortland reports the bureau now does. (That's not just because of the gas tax, but because of a new commitment to infrastructure funding by Mayor Ted Wheeler, and an enormous state tax package that will result in money for transportation projects).
Update, 1:35: It doesn't appear that "flush" comment sitting well with some within PBOT. After reading this post, the bureau sent along a statement suggesting that the employee, an asset manager named Emily Tritsch, got "a bit too exuberant" in her comments.
"It is an exaggeration to say that we are flush," PBOT says. "These new funds will help us implement many needed maintenance and safety improvements on Portland's streets, sidewalks and bike lanes in this and the coming years. But the fact remains that we still face a very significant gap between the available funds and our total maintenance needs."
If the revenues continue, the city would have roughly $16 million more than expected at the end of the 10-cent gas tax's four-year life (officials are expected to push for a renewal), meaning PBOT can fund more of the priorities it promised to focus on under the tax.
But the revenues also represent roughly 40 million more gallons of fuel than expected purchased within the city, which means growing Portland is driving and burning more fuel than anticipated.
Former City Commissioner Steve Novick, who championed the gas tax, calls the extra money "both good and terrible news," since the windfall means higher carbon emissions. "People are driving too much."
Brendan Finn, chief of staff for Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman, chocked the numbers up to an increase in population.
"Our numbers don't show an increase in mode split," says Finn, referring to data that track what percentage of the population drives, takes transit, bikes, etc. "What we do see is an increase of vehicles. There’s just more people here. That’s the main reason why roads are more congested."
Portland's passage of the 10-cent tax in 2016 was a significant moment. Portland leaders over the decades have been routinely flummoxed in their efforts to shore up new revenue for transportation. Novick ultimately found success with the gas tax, but his earlier efforts, with then-Mayor Charlie Hales, to institute a "street fee" rubbed citizens and business groups the wrong way.