We hate to say we told you so…wait, strike that, we actually kinda like it: “ODOT says road projects may need to be cut.”
Oregon transportation officials say they may have to scale back plans for highway work because revenue from road users is coming in more slowly than expected. Cash-strapped drivers are using less gasoline, so they’re also paying less in gas taxes—and that means Oregon stands to lose $150 million or more in federal funding, officials warn.
Just last week, we released a new report showing that gasoline consumption in Oregon and Washington has been pretty much flat since 1999, while vehicle travel flat-lined in 2002. In short, people are driving less; and it’s not just the recession. We warned that these trends could wreak havoc on highway financing. And in only one week, we’ve had 2 confirmations of those warnings.
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First came Washington’s official transportation revenue forecast, predicting declining gas consumption as far as the eye can see; and now ODOT is saying they need to cut their road budgets because people are driving less than they expected. Yet despite a decade-long lull in traffic growth and widening shortfalls in gas tax revenue, multi-billion dollar, car-centered megaprojects—the Columbia River Crossing, Seattle’s deep-bore tunnel, and the SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington—still dominate the Northwest’s transportation debates.
I just have to put this question out there: do we really have a realistic plan to pay for all these big highway projects? Or were our financing plans based on assumptions that seemed reasonable a decade ago, but are now badly out of touch with reality?