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Oregon Legislature will try to ease Portland's traffic problems

Sen. Rod Monroe (right) discusses transportation priorities with KATU's Ian Parker.

Oregon lawmakers are determined to pass a bill this session that will address the Portland area’s growing traffic problem.

A special committee of seven senators and seven representatives, the Committee on Transportation Modernization and Preservation, toured the state this summer to hear what Oregonians want in a 2017 transportation funding package.

Their unanimous desire, according to Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland: Money to repair roads and bridges, and get traffic under control.

“The voters were telling us the same thing, whether we were in Hillsboro, Ontario or Medford,” Monroe said, “that traffic problems are immense, that our roads and our bridges need repair, that every community needs more money invested in transit.”

Monroe, who is one of the Democrats on the special committee, said business owners in rural parts of Oregon recognize how Portland’s congestion affects their bottom line.

“This is an export state,” Monroe said. “Most of the export comes from the rural areas, from eastern Oregon, but it comes right through [Portland].”

Monroe added that Oregonians, particularly in rural areas of Oregon, were looking for a massive investment in transportation in general.

“Every place we went in this state they said don’t go small – go big. Let’s do something that’ll really solve the problems,” Monroe said.

Priorities for addressing Portland traffic, according to Monroe: Adding lanes to I-5 and 205 to eliminate “choke points” on both highways.

“The major freeways ought to be three lanes each direction all the way and not have those choke points like Abernathy Bridge to Stafford Road and so on,” Monroe said.

When asked, Monroe added that the package may also include funding for additional lanes on Highway 217.

Reducing bottlenecks on highways was also in Gov. Kate Brown’s 2017-2019 recommended budget.

Monroe also told KATU about 30 percent of the funding package would likely be devoted to transit. He cited Tigard as a city that would benefit from expanded transit funding.

“We cannot afford to fail”

Monroe admits passing a transportation funding bill will be a difficult task for the Legislature; the last time that body was able to do it was in 2009.

“The package that we’re looking at now must have not only Republican support, Democrat support, business support, labor support, but also has to have support both in the House and in the Senate,” Monroe said.

Despite the daunting task, Monroe believes a funding package can pass in 2017, as long as legislators are willing to compromise.

“I’m willing to compromise on almost anything,” Monroe said. "We cannot afford to fail."

He added that Democrats may have to compromise on building new roads and emissions standards, while Republicans may have to stomach tax increases to pay for the package.

While Monroe couldn’t put a price tag on the funding package, he did say the state would likely pay for it through increases in the gas tax, weight-mile tax, and registration fee increases.

The Oregon Legislature’s 2017 session begins Feb. 1. Monroe hopes a transportation funding bill will be introduced by April.

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