Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vote 'No' on Bend's road bond

Since the city of Bend is $20 million in debt, it needs to beg voters for money.

In May, they'll ask for $27 million, or about 10 percent of what is really needed to fix our current road problems.

This $27 million is a band-aid, make that a butterfly band-aid, for the open sore of Bend's beleaguered road system.

Most of the bond money will go toward installing a multi-lane roundabout at 18th and Empire. This isn't a pressing need, but city officials are pushing the roundabout because of traffic issues surrounding Juniper Ridge, the mixed-use city-owned boondoggle on Bend's north end.

Way down the list is Reed Market Road, which was identified as Bend's most urgent need 5 years ago. Since then, Reed Market is the forgotten road because the city refuses to even patch potholes on the busiest city street in Bend.

Some of the bond money would, presumably, be used to patch the potholes on Reed Market.

But, do we really need to saddle all property owners in Bend to pay at least $54 dollars a year just to patch potholes?

The answer is a big NO.

Bend rejected the common sense approach in 2009, which was a local gas tax of 3 cents per gallon. The city of Sisters adopted a local gas tax and have made enough money from its three gas stations to pay for road maintenance.

But, the petroleum industry put the heavy hand, filled with money no doubt, on state legislators to prevent any city from passing a local gas tax after the state's 6-cent increase per gallon went into effect this month. (Actually, the deal stopped cities almost 18-months ago.)

Bend is a tourist destination. Yet, tourists who drive pay no costs for any impact they have on roads here. We have no sales tax and most of the room taxes that are collected are shuttled pack to the local tourism industry to promote itself.

So, our roads take a beating. In addition, we have no new road connections to handle our ridiculous growth of the past decade. We don't have them because so little is asked of developers to provide these connectors. The road fees for new construction are a pittance of the actual cost of impact these developments have on our current road grid.

Yes, Bend needs to fix its roads. And, it needs to raise money to do so. The most equitable way to do so is with a gas tax. Those who drive, including tourists, should pay the freight. Those who ride bikes or walk or take the bus shouldn't subsidize vehicle drivers. Nor should property owners.

Yes, gas prices are rising and gas taxes further increase the cost. Oregon's state tax is 30 cents per gallon and the federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.

It's true that 48.4 cents per gallon in taxes is a lot. However, it's dramatically low when compared to the effect that cars and trucks have on our roads, cities, towns and our entire society. It's also incredibly low when compared to Europe where taxes amount to about 50 percent or greater of the cost of a gallon of fuel.

But, in America, we're used to paying less than what the true cost should be. That is a main reason why we're trillions in debt.

And, it's why our roads in Bend won't get fixed anytime soon.

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