An audit released June 17 by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office found that due to declining revenue from the state and federal gas taxes, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been increasingly reliant on short-term bond funding for transportation projects and administration, and therefore risks damaging the agency’s internal ability to develop a long-term plan to meet the state’s growing infrastructure needs.
It is estimated that by 2030, Oregon will need nearly $6 billion in order to replace and repair the state’s roads and bridges, and that by 2040 maintenance costs will reach $7 billion.
In response to the rising cost of transportation improvements, ODOT instituted a plan to decrease staff by five percent over five years and utilize a greater number of temporary workers. According to the audit, temporary workers, while less expensive to employ, signify a loss of institutional knowledge and skills necessary to assist with transportation infrastructure projects. With more than one-third of ODOT’s staff eligible for retirement over the next five years, auditors cautioned the agency to focus on building staff skills.
Currently, Oregon has a state gas tax of 30 cents per gallon, which was last raised in 2009. The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. Bonds make up 40 percent of ODOT’s $1.9 billion 2013-2015 budget. To compensate for flat or uncertain funding, the state has begun exploring alternate methods to generate revenue for transportation infrastructure projects. In 2013, the Oregon legislature passed a bill to explore the effectiveness of a vehicles-miles-traveled (VMT) tax. Starting in 2015, the state is launching a voluntary program that will allow 5,000 drivers to participate in a mileage-based user fee system instead of paying the traditional fuel excise tax.
To read more of the Secretary of State’s audit and ODOT’s response visit: http://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2014-12.pdf.