A couple of things can be said about the highway and tax package the Oregon legislature came up with Wednesday. One, it could have been done a whole lot sooner if the Democratic majority had not wasted time with its ill-considered low-carbon fuel program. And two, the package includes safety improvements on death alley, the segment of Highway 34 between I-5 and Corvallis in Linn County.
The package repeals the low-carbon law the Democrats enacted over much gnashing of Republican teeth when the session began. It substitutes something else, also intended to lead to less carbon emissions from motor vehicles but apparently more feasible and less expensive. "Apparently" because the new program is not that easy to comprehend at the first or second reading of the 73-page bill that includes it.
As presented to the special Senate committee on transportation Wednesday, the package also raises fuel taxes and motor vehicle fees without any reference to carbon. An increase is necessary because the state highway fund needs more money to take care of all the roads and bridges that need fixing, expanding or shoring up.
As for Highway 34 from the freeway to Corvallis, the bill calls for improving safety by, among other things, building a frontage road between Peoria and the South Corvallis Bypass and adding a median barrier and "rumbles" to prevent cross-over crashes. This should make all of the thousands of people using that road just a little less exposed to a fatal head-on. (Wednesday's head-on crash on the highway near Tangent shows just why a median barrier is overdue. Two young men died when their pickup crossed into the westbound lanes and ran into a dump truck, the state police said.)
Elsewhere, the bill calls on ODOT to add third lanes in both directions of I-205 between Stafford Road and Oregon City, and it authorizes the transportation department to do so in partnership with private enterprise and to consider imposing a toll to pay for the work. Easing traffic on 205 would help everybody in the valley who can't avoid the misfortune of having to drive to the Portland Airport now and then.
But as for tolling, that freeway was built largely with our federal gax tax money. So charging extra for using it needs more public debate than it has received so far. (hh)