Oregon DOT says Highway Trust Fund patch will fund projects through part of summer

Congress’ short-term patch to the Highway Trust Fund will allow the Oregon Department of Transportation’s construction projects to proceed on pace through the first part of the summer, said Shelley Snow, ODOT spokesperson.

The extension also will ensure that contractors are paid for their work on federally funded transportation projects.

Congress passed a measure late last week to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through the end of July.

However, Snow said the uncertainty surrounding long-term funding means ODOT will adopt a conservative approach as it develops the 2018-2021 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which will allocate Oregon’s federal funding six years into the future.

“I think we’re like most states in that it’s hard to plan six years in advance when you don’t know what kind of funding you will have in six weeks, but we’re all dealing with that uncertainty and we keep moving forward on many fronts.” Snow said.

According to ODOT’s website, the state has 75 projects planned for summer 2015.

While there had been some discussion in Washington about extending the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the calendar year or federal fiscal year in September, this two-month patch presented Congress with a simpler option.

Like many states, Oregon depends on the Highway Trust Fund to fund road, bridge and transit projects.

Oregon is taking steps to become less reliant on federal dollars by instituting a first ever volunteer road usage charge system for transportation funding.

The bill authorizes ODOT to set up a mileage collection system for 5,000 cars and light commercial vehicles beginning July 1. For those who volunteer to participate, the Road Usage Charge Program, also known as OReGO, will assess a charge of 1.5 cents per mile and issue a gas tax credit as warranted.

This will not be another pilot program but rather the start of an alternate method of generating fuel tax from specific vehicles to pay for Oregon highways.

While lawmakers, politicians and stakeholders have expressed displeasure that Congress has once again opted to patch the Highway Trust Fund, some feel confident the extension provides a window that will allow the debate on long-term transportation funding to continue for two more months before Congress will again be required to either identify additional revenue or cut transportation funding.

Several pieces of legislation have been debated in Congress, but to date, there has been little agreement on how to pay for a reauthorization that spans multiple years.