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Normal road revenue of $15 million to drop by 15%, cuts expected for county transportation department, officials say.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Cornelius Pass Road, portions of which are maintained by Multnomah County, is shown here in 2013. The COVID-19 revenue crunch will mean less money to fill potholes on county-owned roads in East Multnomah County cities like Troutdale, Corbett and Fairview, as well as in unincorporated areas west of Portland, such as Dunthorpe.

The normal road budget of approximately $14 million to $15 million is expected to drop 15% as the global pandemic has curtailed commutes and leisure travel — meaning less gas tax revenue pumped into government coffers.

"We will be laying off people, which we haven't done in a long time," said Mike Pullen, spokesman for the Multnomah County Transportation Division.

Pullen said driving is "starting to pick up" presently, but "we had a huge decline in the spring. That's money we're not going to make up."

That could mean a bumpy ride along the county's 250-plus miles of roadway, including the eastern stretches of Sandy Boulevard and Halsey Street, as well as Military and Scholls Ferry roads to the west. The county doesn't maintain roads within Portland or Gresham city limits.

The county is now seeking input on residents' transportation priorities via an online survey.

"You don't want to postpone too many of the maintenance activities," Pullen said, "or you might have to rebuild the whole paved surface."

While new infrastructure projects — called capital projects — are primarily paid for with grants from the state or feds, maintenance work is funded by the local gas tax, which is 3 cents on the gallon in Multnomah County. That's on top of the federal gas tax, 18.4 cents per gallon, and the Oregon state gas tax of 36 cents per gallon.

The county also collects a $19 yearly fee for each registered vehicle, set to increase to $56 a year in 2021, but state law restricts the spending of that money for bridges.

Pullen said the county is considering not mowing as much brush along its roadways, perhaps only near intersections. The Transportation Division could ask the county's five-person Board of Commissioners for a loan — as it has done in the past when building projects go over budget — but Pullen said that's not necessarily on the table for ongoing maintenance.

"This isn't unique to Multnomah County. This is something every transportation agency in the whole country is dealing with," Pullen said, noting that the city of Portland's transportation bureau already has implemented furloughs.

Zane Sparling
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