Fueling the Future
There's no such thing as free lunch. That doesn't mean that we aren't going to get our metaphorical lunch. Rather, it reminds us that everything has a cost. It's a relevant lesson as the City prepares to hold a public meeting about street funding on Nov. 30.
The Street Maintenance Funding Committee—who had the thankless task of assessing the best ways to pay for the repair and upkeep of Bend's crumbling roads—gets this. Monday, the group officially recommended the City pursue a fuel tax, and that's a good thing.
The proposal strikes a smart balance. It recognizes that a 68 out of 100 quality rating is unacceptable for a growing city's streets, and aims for an increase of five points over five years. It understands that infrastructure funding is one of the primary reasons we have taxes, wisely linking the cost of road repair to usage. And it accepts that the City's general budget should reflect the priority that it places on this maintenance, calling for a larger portion to be spent on streets in the near term.
Currently, deferred maintenance has put the City behind to the tune of $80 million. With 30 percent more miles of road to upkeep than ten years prior, the City needs to not only address the growing neglect of our current streets, but also plan and prepare for the maintenance of new roadways that may come with Bend's future growth.
Investing in this infrastructure now is not only badly needed, it's also financially prudent. According to the City, every dollar spent now saves $5-$12 in future rehab or replacement costs. That's a solid return on investment. The alternative? Watch our already D grade streets begin to fail and the cost to repair them skyrocket.
We are hopeful that when the City Council decides whether to put a (likely 5 cents per gallon) gas tax on the March ballot at its Dec. 2 meeting, it will recognize the wisdom of the Street Maintenance Funding Committee, make the only sensible call, and support the tax.
But that's when the battle will really begin. Local fuel suppliers have vowed to fight a fuel tax and will likely have more resources to throw behind their position than the thousands of average Bendites who traverse these roads daily en route to work and school. Fortunately, locals seem to understand the importance and impact of road maintenance, and have shown majority support for the tax through surveys conducted by DHM Research.
As we look to the future, we urge City Council to also adopt the recommendations of the committee, echoed by the convening organization Bend 2030, and make multimodal improvements a priority. We support the committee's suggestion to spend $2.6 million in SDCs on multimodal projects—bike lanes, sidewalks, and the like—and to find a secure funding source no later than September 2017.
Anything less punishes residents who use lower-impact modes of transportation and makes the work of maintaining our roads that much more difficult.
While alternative transit may not yet be a strong part of Bend's culture, they need to be. Given the current conditions of the City's sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus routes, however, it's not surprising that more people aren't ditching their cars.
The Street Maintenance Funding Committee is on the right track and, for that, deserves the Glass Slipper. We can only hope that the City, and voters, will follow suit.