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The case for optimism: A message from OTC chair Pat Egan
01/04/2012
A decade ago I had the privilege of working as Governor Kitzhaber’s transportation policy advisor.  When I started that job, I thought transportation would be an easy subject to master; like most people, I fancied myself an amateur engineer and assumed that figuring out what roads to build would be pretty simple.  I quickly learned that I actually knew precious little about transportation, and that the topic is a lot more complicated, and a lot more fascinating, than I ever imagined.

It is with much greater experience—as well as with a greater sense of humility—that I take on the role of chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission.  Having worked in transportation for much of the last decade, including at the Port of Portland and on Governor Kulongoski’s Transportation Vision Committee, I have a better sense of what I know and what I don’t know—and I fully admit that the latter category is much larger.
 
You’ve probably heard about the negative trends affecting transportation funding.  State Highway Fund revenues are falling short of expectations, federal funding is at risk, and ODOT’s construction program is falling off as we wrap up delivery of the OTIA III and Recovery Act programs.  Although the Jobs and Transportation Act projects are still in front of us, unless something changes in the overall revenue picture, the condition and performance of Oregon’s transportation system will start deteriorating over the long term.

Pat Egan
 
I fully acknowledge these worrisome trends.  I know what challenges lie before us, but I bring a sense of optimism and opportunity to my role as chair.
 
I bring a sense of optimism because I know what we can achieve.  My optimism is fueled by having worked in transportation during the lean years of the 1990s—when a decade passed without any increase in transportation funding—and seeing the incredible level of support transportation has enjoyed from the Oregon Legislature and Congress over the past ten years.  We have lived through a decade of investment —from the three rounds of the Oregon Transportation Investment Act, to the Recovery Act, and Jobs and Transportation Act, to four rounds of ConnectOregon. 

Through these programs we’ve rebuilt hundreds of failing bridges, removed major freight bottlenecks from our highways, helped expand the Portland metro region’s world-class transit system, improved our ports and rail links, and built vast networks of trails and bike lanes.  And we have more to come in the next several years, as ODOT launches dozens of JTA projects that will make major improvements to our highways.
   
Over this past decade, we’ve built strong support for transportation investment by showing how infrastructure improvements can enhance Oregon’s economic competitiveness and build stronger communities.  Just as important, governments at all levels have built support for transportation by delivering projects efficiently so that the public can quickly see tangible results of increased investment.
 
I also bring a sense of opportunity to my role as chair.  Transportation’s long-term multi-modal funding challenges are a major potential limitation that we have to prepare for and incorporate into our planning, but these challenges also present an opportunity to improve the way we do transportation in Oregon.  We will need to look hard at our investment strategies and find new management practices and ways to collaborate across all levels of government to stretch scarce resources as far as possible.  These funding challenges also provide an opportunity to engage the public in determining where we go next and to communicate the value of additional investment. The public expects us to be efficient and smart about how we deploy their dollars.  Making these changes will also build necessary support for any potential new revenue.
 
I am not suggesting blind faith.  I am asking, though, that those of us who care about transportation embrace the future with a genuine positive outlook.  Our track record demonstrates that is warranted.  I look forward to working with all of you to continue building a stronger Oregon.