This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.
Oregon’s top elected officials pledged to spend millions of dollars on winter road maintenance after dire warnings from the state Department of Transportation that highways would go unplowed because of a budget shortfall.
Gov. Tina Kotek, Senate President Rob Wagner and House Speaker Dan Rayfield announced Monday that the state would commit $19 million to make up the shortfall and allow the department to buy snow plows, purchase sand and salt for deicing roads and fix potholes and damaged pavement next spring.
“It’s critical that all Oregonians have a safe, reliable transportation system to get to work, school, and play,” said Rayfield, D-Corvallis. “Thanks to the work our transportation and budget leaders have invested to understand the safety and functional needs of our communities, we are able to ensure a safe winter season and ultimately, a more sustainable, equitable system.”
The announcement follows the first serious snowfall of the season. Major ski areas, including Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor near Bend, opened temporarily this weekend, but warmer weather and heavy rain washed away much of the snow. More snow is expected in mountain passes this weekend.
The state transportation department warned in October that it would cut back on road maintenance, including plowing some roads once a day or less instead of four times a day. Agency leaders cited looming budget shortfalls caused by decreases in gas tax revenue tied to Oregonians driving more fuel-efficient vehicles or driving less.
The department can begin using the money now, and it will be officially approved by the Legislature in the 2024 session.
Kotek said in a statement she plans to find long-term solutions to ensure highways meet the needs of Oregon residents, businesses and visitors. The Legislature will work on a major transportation funding package in the 2025 legislative session.
“In the meantime, I greatly appreciate Senate President Wagner and House Speaker Rayfield for prioritizing this funding now so that Oregonians can have safer road conditions this winter,” Kotek said.
The $19 million commitment includes $8 million for buying materials like deicer and salt and lifting the agency’s restriction on overtime. That would allow staff to work longer hours during storms and their aftermath.
Another $4 million would go toward replacing 10 trucks primarily used for snow plowing. The department has approximately 400 trucks, many of which are beyond service life. The new trucks will be on the road by next winter because it takes a long time to order and purchase them.
The final $7 million would be used mostly for spring repairs to roads damaged by winter freeze cycles. The agency will get $4.5 million to patch pavement and fix potholes throughout the state and $2.5 million to retrace edge lines on highways with 3,000 or fewer daily drivers next spring.
“Whether it’s July or January, Oregonians need to be able to travel safely on our highways,” said Wagner, D-Lake Oswego. “This commitment from myself and Speaker Rayfield — in coordination with our budget co-chairs — guarantees critical funding to keep Oregonians safe throughout the year.”