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ODOT sparks C.O. concern over plan to reduce services this winter due to falling gas tax dollars, rising costs

(Update: Adding video, comments from ODOT, Visit Bend)

'Things will continue to get worse' until new funding structure comes along

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Driving conditions on snowy roads around the state this winter could be more challenging. The Oregon Department of Transportation is reducing services across the state.

ODOT blames a decline in funds -- specifically in gas tax revenue. 

"(State) gas tax in Oregon is $0.38 per gallon," Kacey Davey, ODOT's Region 4 public information officer, said Friday. "So that's what the tax us right now. About 40% of that goes to cities and counties and the rest is used for ODOT budget."

"So if you look at other states, our neighbors, for instance, Washington has almost a $0.50 gas tax and our neighbor to the south in California, their gas tax is $0.77 per gallon. So we're quite low, compared to our neighbors," Davey added.

ODOT issued regional fact sheets about the reduction in service. They say, "More Oregonians are buying hybrid and electric vehicles and using less gas. Meanwhile, the cost of doing business is increasing. ODOT can no longer maintain the system at the level Oregonians need and expect."

The agency said it will be reducing services on roadside maintenance, winter maintenance, and low-volume road maintenance.

Roadside maintenance means reducing the volume in removing brush and tree debris, removing graffiti, and litter debris pickup. For winter maintenance, that means reducing the amount of sand and deicer applied to state highways.

 Key routes including I-84 and U.S. 97, along with sections of U.S. 26 and U.S. 20, will be prioritized. 

Davey said, "These reductions in services due to our unfunded transportation system are going to continue until we figure out a new structure for a budget. So things will continue to get worse, pavement will continue to decline and we'll have less services available as our money runs out."

The fact sheet states, "Some highways previously plowed four times per day will be plowed once a day, if at all" (scroll down for the Region 4 document).

At Visit Bend, where they support tourism year-round, they say the change in ODOT services won't discourage visitors from making the drive to Central Oregon.

President and CEO Kevney Dugan said, "I have full confidence that ODOT will be able to manage that, manage their budget throughout the winter months, to meet any sort of big weather events where their services are more needed than other periods of time, where we don't have large weather events."

Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell raised the ODOT announcement at the end of this week's joint meeting with Deschutes County commissioners.

"I'm afraid the biggeset impact will be on snow removal, in particular on the passes," Campbell said.

Mayor Melanie Kebler said, "This may be a moment for Central Oregon to come together and say it's not acceptable. … I want people to be safe."

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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