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Meaningful answers to most of these and similar questions take more than a few sentences. But a few points in the limited space afforded here may at least provide some background for further discussion. Part of the statutory charge to the five members of the Oregon Transportation Commission is to make sure the transportation funds the Department of Transportation manages are spent only for transportation projects and are spent wisely. “Spent wisely” is a subjective term; more on that below and in future columns. My experience so far with ODOT leaves me certain it is expending the state and federal transportation funds in complete compliance with state and federal requirements barring the use of fuel tax revenues and vehicle-related fees for non-highway purposes. Interestingly, however, the “silo effect” that results from these well-intended limitations sometimes rules out consideration of potentially more effective solutions to a particular transportation problem. At least in some cases, expanding highways or building new ones can end up being more costly in terms of budgets, as well as lifestyle impacts, land consumption and air quality, than developing our new urban areas in ways that tend to limit demand for roadway capacity and foster busing, biking and walking. But funding for transportation facilities other than highways is extremely limited. Sometimes, the inflexibility of the transportation funding silos even requires expenditures on new roads at the expense of funding for critical maintenance on existing highways.

Insufficient and inflexible funding sources for meeting growing transportation needs are not problems unique to Oregon. But Oregon’s high dependence on transportation as a mainstay of our economy makes it important for Oregon to make the smartest possible transportation decisions. We need to become — and, in the world of companies that transport goods, to be known as — a leader in developing transportation policies, programs and funding mechanisms that respond to the foreseeable realities of significant demographic changes, declining gas tax revenues, constrained land availability, and stricter air pollution limits.

About David Lohman Appointed to the Oregon Transportation Commission in January 2008, David Lohman is a lawyer in private practice in Medford and Ashland. He served as Director of the Port of Portland’s Policy and Planning Department from 1992 to 2003 and was the Port’s delegate to Metro’s Joint Policy Committee on Transportation. He also served as Deputy Director of the Oregon Economic Development Department from 1987 to 1991.

About the Oregon Transportation Commission Appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oregon Senate, the five-member Oregon Transportation Commission meets monthly to set state transportation policies and oversee ODOT activities. Commissioners’ compensation is $30 per day for OTC meetings.

odotmovingahead.com

September 10, 2010

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