The Portland City Council released a proposed ordinance on Thursday, May 22 that would impose a new street fee on households, businesses and nonprofits, as well as public schools. The new fee is intended to help pay for an aging network of roads that are said to be in disarray.
“Our streets in the city are in declining condition. We have resolved to stop talking about it and do something about it,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
The structure of the new fee is designed to raise funds from everyone who contributes to traffic or benefits from the infrastructure. This includes cars, trucks, transit and even bicyclists and pedestrians.
“We surveyed the public to see which method [of raising the needed funds] was most preferred,” said Portland Commissioner Steve Novick in an interview. “This proposed method received 50 percent of the support.”
The proposed ordinance, if it is approved by the city council, will go into effect in July 2015 and is not expected to get a vote from the public unless forced by a petition. Rather, the city council opted to have voter input into how the money would be spent.
The $50 million that is expected to be generated annually will fund a back log of road improvement projects, as well as projects to make Portland’s roads and intersections safer for pedestrians.
Novick held a press conference on May 22 in Southeast Portland near a busy street where he said, “One of the reasons we’re here today is that if you look out at 34th [Avenue], there’s cars whipping around curves at high speed.
“Both Grout and Tucker-Maxon schools are in this area. This is the kind of place we want to put in something, like a flashing beacon, to help those kids get across safely.”
The method for calculating how much each person or organization will pay can be found on the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s website, which says that rates for locations are based on “nationally accepted standard estimates for trips generated.” Homeowners can expect to pay up to $138 per year, with about a 30 percent discount for low-income homes.
Homeowners with small businesses will receive a discount, so that they will only be charged for their business and not the home as well. Businesses will be expected to pay based on building or property function and then by size of that building
Scott Gallagher, the director of communications for Portland State, shared an estimate of how much the Portland street fee will cost the university.
“[The] current estimate is $153,000 in the first year, which begins July 2015. It escalates annually based on some inflationary measure.”
The fee has seen growing opposition since its introduction, and there is already a Facebook page opposing the proposed ordinance called “Stop Portland Street Fee.” The page had more than 1,400 likes at press time.
When asked if this fee places an increased burden on an already burdened population such as college students, Novick replied, “It’s a user fee and treats streets like sewer and water.
“It’s a graduated system, so organizations that produce a large amount of trips will be charged less per trip than a household that produces fewer trips, he explained.”
Other public organizations within Portland have estimated much higher costs. Portland Public Schools has estimated their annual cost at just under half a million dollars.
Other school districts within Portland city limits would also be charged the fee, bringing the total estimated cost to school districts in Portland to over $610,000, according to figures provided by the city.
“If we only charged residential properties, then only people who live here would pay for street maintenance,” Novick said. “But if we charge businesses and non-residential property, non-residents who commute into the city and also use the streets will also pay for their maintenance.”
Proposed uses for the revenue generated would include safety improvements on pathways to schools, like sidewalks, crosswalks and other safety projects.
“The worse a road gets the more it costs to repair it, so the longer we wait, the more it will cost,” Novick said.
Update, 12:35 p.m., June 3: The city council vote on the street fee has been postponed until November.