CRC Funds Move to Maintenance, Create Local Jobs

Evan Manvel

While Kerr Contractors would likely have done little or no work on the CRC, the company will likely bid on upcoming projects.

Following up on the need to consider opportunity costs (trade-offs) in transportation investments, Wednesday's Daily Journal of Commerce had this story:

The Columbia River Crossing project’s demise could come with a silver lining for the construction industry. That is because $116.6 million that the state expects to receive in federal money – previously allocated to pay for two years of debt service on the CRC – could be reallocated to eight highway projects around the state.

Presuming the Oregon Transportation Commission signs off next week, that's $116.6 million that will be creating local jobs across Oregon, instead of paying off Wall Street lenders. That's just this year; hundreds of millions more could be reallocated in the years to come, funding even more road repair projects.

What do local businesses tell the Journal?

Keeping the dollars in the state will be great for construction, said John Rakowitz, director of public and strategic affairs for Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. “There’s a huge amount of complicated work that goes into getting projects ready to go.”...

The projects, if approved, will create more opportunities in a very competitive marketplace, said Alan Aplin, vice president of Woodburn-based Kerr Contractors... While Kerr would likely have done little or no work on the CRC, the company will likely bid on upcoming projects.

Instead of spending millions more for lobbyists and $200-an-hour German consultants, our dollars can go to Oregonians.

While the CRC was a two-mile project in Oregon (and one to three in Washington), the maintenance projects cover over one hundred miles of bridges and roads across the state. They include:

The news comes on the heels of a report earlier this week from Smart Growth America, "Repair Priorities 2014." It found Oregon needs to spend $425 million each year on maintenance to keep its roads from further deteriorating, but is only spending $159 million. That shortfall has been noted by ODOT Director Matt Garrett, who also said:

"it costs eight- to 12-times as much to reconstruct pavement in poor condition as it does to do preventive maintenance or minor rehabilitation on pavement while it is still in good condition."

And, of course, roads in poor repair also cost drivers. According to TRIP, "Driving on roads in need of repair costs Oregon motorists $710 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $256 per motorist."

The Smart Growth America report noted Oregon is significantly behind many other states in dedicating funds to maintenance. North Dakota, for example, invested 94% of its highway funds in repair from 2009-2011. Nebraska, Michigan, and Maine each spent more than 85% of their funds on repair.

Oregon diverted 37% of its funds to road expansion, contributing to a drop of roads in good condition from 54 to 43% from 2008 to 2011. North Dakota, in contrast, increased the percentage of roads in good condition from 55 to 65%.

The report also reports on what happened in Wyoming:

"Concerns about financial commitments have prompted the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to halt road expansion altogether and focus investments exclusively on repair. The Wyoming state legislature recently passed a fuel tax increase to fund a number of road and bridge repair projects, with the goal of maintaining WYDOT’s roads in their current condition at the time of the bill’s passage."

When it comes to making maintenance a top priority, Oregon has fallen behind Wyoming, North Dakota, Michigan, and a dozen other states.

The CRC's demise allows us the ability to refocus our efforts and dollars on the public's priorities of maintenance, safety, and choice - saving drivers money, saving the state money, and creating local construction jobs. The Oregon Transportation Commission should take the first step next week and sign off on these projects.

A larger responsibility lies with legislators as they consider a 2015 transportation package. That package should ensure Oregon is at least as advanced as Wyoming and North Dakota when it comes to keeping Oregon's roads in good repair. Starting by fixing what we already have is simply good financial and environmental stewardship.

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