Media Room

Oregon Transportation Committee Meeting

As prepared

Good morning, Chair Baney and fellow Oregon Transportation Commissioners. I am delighted to be here with you today to speak on the importance of transportation and the essential role you play as Commissioners in shaping the future of Oregon's system.

I want to start by saying how appreciative I am that each of you has volunteered to give of your time and talent to serve on the OTC.  Our state is truly fortunate to have such a capable group of individuals advising and leading on transportation policy.  You each bring unique expertise and experience that are critical to ensuring we are building a transportation system which will serve Oregonians’ needs well into the 21st century.

Since becoming governor, I have focused on ensuring that all Oregonians benefit from our economic recovery and have opportunities to thrive. It is my job to make sure state government adds value, supporting economic growth that results in more good jobs for Oregonians.

We must make investments in education and housing so Oregonians can live better lives. But it is equally important that we make investments in transportation and infrastructure if we expect to sustain our economic recovery in every corner of Oregon.

We know that a safe and efficient transportation system is essential to getting goods to market, workers to their jobs, and creates a desirable quality of life that attracts people to our state.  And we are so fortunate that previous generations made significant investments in our state’s transportation system. It is part of why Oregon is a great place to live and work, and a great place to do business.

But we face challenges going forward that, if ignored, will only hurt the state we all cherish. 

We are no longer bringing in the revenue needed to maintain our existing transportation system. The funds to make much-needed improvements are virtually non-existent.

For example, Oregon bridges are aging quickly and many need to be replaced.  In fact, in order to keep Oregon's bridges in a state of good repair, we should be replacing or repairing 27 of them every year.  Instead, we only have the funds to repair three bridges per year.  At this rate, it would take Oregon 900 years to replace all of the bridges that need to be fixed.

Well-maintained roads cost less, and good bridges keep freight and people moving safely. 

As I’ve said before, Oregon needs a transportation package. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach agreement in the 2015 session. And now, rumors of ballot measures that repeal Oregon’s clean fuels law make action on a transportation plan before 2017 unlikely. However, I am asking you to join me and other business and state leaders in working towards passage of a transportation package in 2017; sufficient to address long-overdue maintenance, including seismic upgrades, as well as congestion in urban areas.
Congestion hurts both businesses and our quality of life as Oregonians. Over the past five years, Harry and David Corporation has been challenged by freight delays to PDX.  During their busy season, October to December, 80-100 trucks per day depart the Medford headquarters, many bound for the air freight facilities at PDX. But there are times when they’ve diverted their shipments to the Port of Oakland, California, instead of Portland, due to severe congestion and delays.  This is unacceptable.

Our system of transportation infrastructure does not reflect the expectation that our population will grow to 5.3 million by 2040.  To accommodate this growth, we must support investments in roads and bridges, passenger rail, freight rail, bicycle routes, and other transportation alternatives.  It is what our state needs, and it is what Oregonians want. 

Another challenge is the risk posed by a Cascadia seismic event. We cannot predict when a devastating earthquake and tsunami will occur. But we do know that our transportation system is not ready. A major seismic event in Medford, for example, could devastate the viaduct on I-5, effectively cutting off access to southern Oregon and California for the rest of the state.

Most bridges in western Oregon were built before modern seismic codes, and under the stress of a major seismic event, will likely fail. We expect significant landslides and highway closures will make rescue and recovery operations difficult. As part of ongoing transportation investments, we must work on those weaknesses in our system. It will help save lives and speed up Oregon's recovery.

I’d say the Oregon Transportation Commission has one of the most challenging jobs in Oregon right now – taking these challenges into account while ensuring our state’s multi-billion dollar transportation asset is safe and efficient.

You are also responsible for finding better ways for us to do business, and your work plan is a reflection of this focus.  As a Commission, your charge falls primarily into three areas of responsibility: 

First, OTC is responsible for transportation policy development and planning. You have a lead responsibility in the development of criteria for project selection, implementing executive branch initiatives, and developing strategies for integrating the various modes of transportation within our statewide system.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended the ribbon cutting for the I-5 Woodburn Interchange.  This project exemplifies the type of polices prioritized by this Commission. It includes multiple modes of transportation, took collaborative planning to pull off, and showed management discipline by coming in on budget and ahead of schedule. This exemplary outcome is a testament to your efforts.

As commissioners, I am counting on your full engagement in future projects too.  I ask for an informed assessment, using all resources available to you, as to how we best meet Oregon’s transportation needs, both now and in the future.

Second, as commissioners, you are charged with oversight and stewardship of the Oregon Department of Transportation.  To ensure responsible implementation of the OTC’s recommendations, it is essential that ODOT runs well.

I want your leadership in directing ODOT to engage an independent third party to examine the agencies management practices.  Ensuring ODOT plans, designs, and constructs projects well, and also works to lower costs and drive organizational efficiencies will go a long way toward building confidence for future investments.
If we are to ask Oregonians to step up and provide additional resources for our transportation system, they must first be confident that the resources currently available are being used responsibly.

Finally, engaging the public has been one of the hallmarks of this Commission’s work.  For nearly 20 years, the OTC has benefited from advice and insights from local Area Commissions of Transportation – not just the echo chamber in Salem.  ACT members serve as invaluable partners on regional and local transportation issues and how local issues affect the state as a whole. 

The Commission has also benefitted from advice and input from a broad range of stakeholders who work diligently in support of transportation improvement.

I would especially like to note the work of the Oregon Transportation Forum for leading a conversation in 2014 in support of transportation investments.  Its work helped support legislators’ efforts as they considered a package last session.  It is also a valuable source of diverse stakeholder perspectives, a group I will call upon for support and input as we seek future investments.

Last summer, in the spirit of engagement with Oregonians, I asked the Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel to reconvene and complete its report outlining an aspirational vision for Oregon’s transportation system. That work is currently underway and is expected to be completed by the end of March 2016.

This group of legislators, business owners, and civic leaders will outline what our transportation system could look like in thirty years, and come up with a set of short-term steps that would build toward that vision.

Essential to the success of this report will be the consideration of all modes of transportation, all regions, and ownership from Oregonians across the state. It will be an important resource in guiding your recommendations heading into the 2017 session.

There is a lot of work to do if we are to succeed in our goal of making much-needed improvements to our transportation system – work that will require the committed involvement of a variety of partners. Broad and open engagement with communities, policymakers, and stakeholders is the best way – the only way – to blaze a way forward.  Thank you in advance for your commitment to this important work.