While Bendites agree the roads are in need of repair, it could be an even bumpier road ahead if new funding solutions aren’t fully supported by the community.
Bend 2030, a nonprofit dedicated to community collaboration to achieve a better future, presented the findings of an online community survey on transportation at Wednesday’s Bend City Council meeting.
According to the Bend 2030 survey, which was taken by 1,687 Bend residents, there was strong support for a fuel tax and a studded tire fee to help solve Bend’s growing transportation challenges. This information complemented the survey results DHM Research presented to councilors earlier this month. In the survey conducted by DHM Research for the City of Bend, 76 percent of survey takers said they would support at least a 5-cent fuel tax to fund transportation improvements.
However, Bend 2030 Executive Director Erin Foote Marlowe, encouraged councilors to consider a comprehensive transportation package that would include different revenue streams for the funding of streets, safety and transit before putting a fuel tax on the ballot.
“We have done our homework in the community on what Bend is looking for when it comes to transportation and we are very confident that this community is interested in a full package, not a one-off question on a ballot about streets,” Marlowe said.
Currently the pavement condition index – a rating that measures the health of the streets – is not up to par in Bend, which is impacting livability.
The budget for street preservation has been increasing, said Bend City Manager Eric King, but the costs of materials and labor is increasing at a much higher rate creating a large gap in funding.
“We’re able to do less and less maintenance, and as a result, the condition of our roads is deteriorating,” King said.
An additional $2.5 million would be required to stop the bleeding and keep the roads in the condition they are in now, King said. But in order for there to be improvement, which was one of council’s goals, the price tag would be even greater. For example, to improve the pavement condition index from 69 to 74, would cost about $6.8 million. The target would be to eventually achieve a pavement condition index in the 80s.
One of the ways to achieve additional revenue would be by implementing a fuel tax. Other funding suggestions from the Bend 2030 survey included a tourism tax on food and beverage and a transportation utility fee. King said 32 cities in Oregon have a local gas tax and 31 cities have a transportation utility fee.
Vic Martinez, chairman of Bend 2030 Board of Directors, said he’s concerned just a straight fuel tax would result in strong opposition.
“We want to partner up with that opposition right now to see whether or not we can work in partnership and develop a comprehensive plan that benefits the community as a whole,” Martinez said.
In order for a fuel tax to make it on the fall ballot, which is estimated to have better voter demographics to pass this kind of a tax, councilors would need to make a resolution by August 5.
“If it’s worth doing, there will be plenty of potholes next spring,” said Bend City Councilor Casey Roats. “Nothing about trying to hit the right election sounds good to me at all. I would assume, take our time (and) have a really good proposal… This feels really rushed and it feels like we’re headed right for a cliff.”
Councilor Victor Chudowsky agreed, saying there will only be one chance to have voters approve a fuel tax so the argument needs to be compelling that a tax is needed.
“I would rather address all these concerns that I know are out there in the public,” he said. “In the real world, when a campaign happens, each gas station is going to have a sign in front of it and every time somebody goes to fill their tank, they’re going to see this sign accusing us of raising their taxes.”
Chudowsky also cautioned if the state fuel tax were to rise, a local fuel tax could put an even bigger dent in our citizen’s wallets.
Mayor Jim Clinton and councilors Sally Russell and Roats volunteered to work on the concept of a transportation package over the next three weeks.
Transportation is the last leg of the stool of infrastructure in Bend, Marlowe said.
“We’ve dealt with water, we’ve dealt with sewer. Now, it’s time for transportation. We have a history of which kind of method of engagement works best … Let’s take the time to reach out to the key stakeholders so that we do transportation right. It’s too important, considering how much growth we’re about to see.”
Marlowe said Bend 2030 and the City are working together to put together a one-sheet outlining transportation needs and funding sources, which would serve as an outline for the transportation package and the foundation for the community conversation.
“We’re really pleased to see unanimous support for this proposal to engage new stakeholders for this transportation package. The city is clearly interested in seeing a wide variety of needs met,” Marlowe said. “We’re excited to see the buy-in and are looking forward to seeing if other partners are committed to finding something that works better for the whole community.”