Investing in transportation will benefit working people

By Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain

Every day another 80 people move to the Portland metro area. Oregon’s population has grown by over 275,000 in the last six years. Whether you live in Bend, Medford, Eugene or Portland, our roads are approaching capacity. A 15 minute daily commute in 2012 is now 20 to 30 minutes — and growing longer. In Portland, the I-5 curves, 217, I-205 and I-5 at the Coliseum are major traffic choke points — not to mention the 100-year-old I-5 Interstate Bridge between Portland and Vancouver that can back up traffic for miles. Any disruption or accident or construction can easily double commute time. Not only are our roads at near capacity, they are in disrepair due to lack of maintenance and increased use by a ballooning population.

Tire-pounding pot holes not only dot our side streets, but are now invading main thoroughfares, highways and interstate routes. Thirty-four percent of Clackamas County roads are rated at poor or worse. The average lifespan of an asphalt road is 26 years. Ongoing maintenance can almost double their lifetime, but we must invest in that maintenance to get the most out of our roads.

Damaged roads mean damaged vehicles, which is driving up costs for working people just trying to get to their jobs each day. Congested roads mean that businesses are spending more on fuel and drivetime, which can increase the cost of the goods we buy at grocery stores. That’s moving our economy in the wrong direction, and it’s time to take action.

After a failed attempt at increasing transportation funding during the 2015 Oregon Legislature, two Democrats and two Republican leaders (Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene; Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay; Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas; and Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario) have brought forth a transportation package that will invest $8.2 billion into Oregon’s transportation infrastructure over the next decade. Our lawmakers spent over a year developing this bipartisan plan. They traveled across the state listening to the concerns of Oregonians who spoke up about unsafe road conditions, the need for public transit expansion, and concerns over ever-increasing commute times. In both rural and urban communities across the state, it’s clear there is work to do — and that work will help move our economy forward.

Proposed projects are outlined for almost every Oregon county. That means across the state, over the next 10 years, we have a real opportunity to create jobs, ease compressive choke points, and improve transportation infrastructure. Unless our Legislature takes action, transportation choke points in the Portland metro area will continue to drive up costs for farmers, manufacturers, and businesses across Oregon. Unless the transportation package is approved during this legislative session, the increased commute times, which impact both workers and businesses, will only get worse.

Oregon’s union movement can step into the driver’s seat to make sure this important proposal makes it through our Legislature. Whether you are in Klamath Falls, Ontario, Astoria or Portland, our legislators need to hear from union members who are ready to see real investment in Oregon’s transportation infrastructure.

Call your legislator, send them an email, or schedule a meeting and tell them that transportation funding is important to you and your community.  To find out who represents you and how to contact them, head to oraflcio.org/salem.

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