Roads, Bridges, Vehicle Fleet Quickly Deteriorating
While many of us hunkered down at home and in our offices during and after last week’s seemingly never-ending snowstorm, our DOT workers were out diligently working to keep the roads clear. This a recurring theme, of course, and like all state agencies, they’ve been forced to do more with less.
Here’s what Commissioner Clement wants lawmakers and the public to know about the upkeep – and lack thereof – of roads and bridges they use daily
• Since 1991, the DOT has reduced staff by 22 percent, or 430 positions. In that time, the amount of traffic on the roads has increased 30 percent.
• The number of miles plowed in an average snowstorm would equal nine trips to Alaska and back.
• If the Legislature does not increase the DOT’s budget and Clement is left with a $48 million deficit, he will have to eliminate up to 700 positions or a combination of positions and programs.
• The number of “structurally deficient” state bridges will reach 175 by 2016. Clement said he doesn’t have the money to repair bridges and reduce that number.
• There is $500 million worth of turnpike projects that won’t be completed without more money. That includes a $195 million plan to widen I-93 in Bow and Concord.
• Thirty-seven percent of the state’s roads considered to be in “poor” condition equal the number of miles between Concord and Fargo, N.D. And the DOT is investing its limited dollars in the state’s other roads instead because it costs $50,000 a year to improve a mile of a “good” or “fair” road and $1.1 million a mile to do the same for a poor road.
• A federal program that brings the state $140 million to $150 million for road work expires in September. “If Congress doesn’t come together with another . . . program, that’s going to cause us problems,” Clement said.
• The $30 surcharge on car registrations the 2010 Legislature repealed raised $45 million for the DOT in one year.
You’ve probably heard the story many times by now: our roads and bridges are deteriorating and the DOT is running out of short-term financial fixes to support the highway fund. Last year, there were several legislative efforts to raise money for the highway fund, but each ultimately failed. (For her part, Gov. Hassan has been supportive, and visited with plow drivers last week.)
That has left DOT Commissioner Chris Clement in a position where he has repeatedly had to make his case for adequate funding. In an interview with Concord Monitor editors, Clement said he’s not going to give up.
“I’m going to keep communicating the need,” he said. “I’m going to keep going out there and presenting just the facts.”
Peg Smith, a highway patrol foreman for the DOT and president of Chapter 17, praised Clement’s efforts.
“He’s not afraid to tell it like it is, and, of course, he’s absolutely right,” Smith said. “The commissioner has a commitment to his community, as we all do at DOT. When he first came on as commissioner I told him, ‘The only thing you have to do is get us a working budget, we’ll take care of the rest.’ ”
While Smith and her DOT colleagues have worked diligently to maintain the quality of our roads and bridges, she said she’s seen the decline.
“I’m watching roads, bridges and the vehicle fleet deteriorate rapidly,” she said. “What is really sad is knowing how much money is being wasted trying to postpone repairs and new projects.”
She noted that the price of asphalt and other necessary construction materials continue to skyrocket.
“The cost of finishing the I-93 widening will continue to climb the more it is put off,” she said.
Keeping the vehicle fleet running is becoming a costly problem, too.
“Replacement parts for the aging vehicles are becoming harder and harder to find because the vehicles are so old,” Smith said. “This month, I’m averaging one vehicle a week being towed to the shop because of breakdowns.”
Ultimately, funding for the DOT will come up again this legislative session. A bill in the Senate would raise the gas tax, with additional revenue going to the highway fund. Another bill would legalize a casino, with some revenue going to the highway fund. A Monitor editorial suggested still another idea, one which Oregon has adopted: taxing drivers for miles driven rather than gas purchased. Whatever we do, it’s clear something needs to be done if we still want to have roads to drive on.
“Invest in our transportation future,” Smith said. “Imagine what your life would be like without it.”