Read the original article in The Oregonian here.
With America's bridges and highways showing their cracks, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer hosted a forum Monday, Aug. 4 in Portland to discuss how Congress' political demolition derby over long-term transportation funding is affecting Oregon.
Held at Portland State University, the event brought together everyone from libertarians and labor unions to trucking companies and elected officials to discuss ways of developing a responsible, sustainable system for funding future transportation needs.
It was a healthy discussion, but not exactly groundbreaking. In fact, for anyone even casually following the ongoing local, state and national debates over transportation spending, much of dialogue was little more than a retread.
Here are five things I took away from my 90 minutes at the forum:
1. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales wants his city's highways tolled -- and pronto. Let's face it, we probably have a better chance of jet-packing to work this election year than Congress coming up with a sustainable way to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.
With that in mind, Hales thinks it's high time that drivers start paying tolls to keep the metro area's highways paved and maintained. "We call them freeways," Hales said. "Will we call them that 25 years from now?"
2. Bicyclists felt left on the side of the road. A photo of the Hawthrone Bridge's bike and pedestrian lanes was projected on huge screens for the duration of the event. But Portland bicycle advocates weren't exactly thrilled about what they were hearing from the podium. Actually, judging from the comments popping up on Twitter, it was a matter of what they weren't hearing -- love for pedal-powered commuting.
3. Steve Novick decided it was the perfect place to huck a few grenades at the press. The Portland city commissioner thinks one of the biggest obstacles to getting a Portland street fee -- and possibly other transportation-related taxes -- rolling is a "pessimism and cynicism" infecting the public. And, to a large degree, the Portland city commissioner blames "an increasingly unpleasant media environment." Novick primarily took aim at The Oregonian and Willamette Week ("which used to be a progressive newspaper").
4. The political sniping over transportation funding in Washington isn't just Democrats and Republicans. In fact, Blumeneuer, a dyed-in-the-wool Portland Democrat, said this: "The Obama administration has not been a profile in courage on the gas tax." Of course, it would have probably been hard to find anyone in the room who disagreed. At the same time, Blumenauer pointed out that the president would support a gas tax increase if Congress supported it.
5. The biggest surprise: The trucking and building industries sounded open to increased taxes to support transportation projects.