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Ten-cent per gallon tax, which funds Fixing Our Streets program, will be back on Portland ballot in 2020

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Cars line up at a traffic light on Sandy Boulevard in Northeast Portland.Portland's transportation bureau is running late — missing its own deadlines to fix ruptured roads and sidewalk gaps using money from Portland's gas and semi-truck taxes, government auditors say.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation created the Fixing Our Streets program after residents and elected leaders approved two new funding sources in May, 2016.

First, voters gave the thumbs up to a 10-cent per-gallon gas tax, which will expire in two years. But since Portland's lone Jubitz truck stop on North Vancouver Way was exempted from that fee, City Hall also enacted a tax for vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds.

Auditors say the heavy vehicle tax generated $1.8 million in its first year — about $700,000 less than predicted. In response, the City Council voted last November to remove a rule requiring commissioners to raise the tax if it missed such revenue goals.

"Heavy vehicle owners did not pay their share," concludes a summary of the city audit, which was published Wednesday, May 29.

PBOT also received poor marks for providing "incomplete, inconsistent and outdated" information to the volunteer oversight committee. That said, chief auditor Mary Hull Caballero found that most of the completed street projects are on budget and consistent with what was promised at the ballot box.

Despite the bumps in the road, a spokesman for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees PBOT, says her team will "enthusiastically implement" the audit recommendations:

"Yes, the plan is to ask voters to reauthorize the local gas tax in 2020," said Eudaly's chief of staff, Marshall Runkel, in a statement to the Tribune. "We have a major street maintenance problem. Without the local gas tax, we will fall even farther behind."

PBOT went on the defensive ahead of the audit, blasting out several press releases touting Fixing Our Streets' successes. The bureau's interim director, Chris Warner, says the agency will complete 20 projects this year, including the $9 million Foster Streetscape project, as well as starting another 21 projects involving sidewalks, street repairs, safer routes to school and new bike lanes.

"We were especially gratified to see your conclusion that the projects were consistent with those promised to voters and that most projects were on budget," Warner said. "We will take your recommendations under consideration and work to implement them effectively."

Fixing Our Streets

Here are the key findings from a recent city audit of the transportation bureau's pavement program:

• Of the 59 projects sold to voters, 38 were scheduled to start before 2019. In reality, only 12 have begun — and just eight are done.

• Of the eight projects finished through 2018, four were on budget, two were over budget by a combined $1.2 million, and two were completed under budget by $300,000 total. PBOT says the initial prices were estimates, and notes that finding buried streetcar rails triggered costly unexpected changes.

• The Fixing Our Streets oversight committee did not provide timely annual reports to the Council and received inaccurate financial data; its members said they wanted to do more to monitor construction impacts for business owners and residents. PBOT blamed a new project management software, e-Builder, for inconsistencies and said it does not have a system to assess the community impact of road work.

• While leaders swore to use 56% of the Fixing Our Streets fund for street repair — and the rest for safety projects — that distinction was difficult to maintain, as state and federal laws mandate safety features, such as Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, when rebuilding roads. PBOT says tactile yellow curb ramps can cost $5,000 to $20,000 each.


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