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Efficient mass transit boosts economy, quality of life

Every day in our region, people from all walks of life depend on mass transit and our system of highways, roads and bridges. From getting to work or to the doctor to getting parts to factories and finished goods to market, our transportation system literally paves the way for our quality of life and the health of our economy.

We all agree on the need to take care of the system we have, and we all want to get where we need to go more quickly, safely and easily despite a growing population. To succeed, we need to invest in maintaining and improving our streets, bridges, transit, sidewalks, trails and bike lanes.

Safe, well-maintained roads, bridges and transit are a big part of what distinguishes us from developing countries. They are an essential part of a modern economy. Our businesses are better able to recruit and retain workers if their employees can get from home to work and back again without getting stuck in traffic.

They can more effectively attract young talent if we have a range of appealing, affordable and convenient transportation options. And our businesses gain a competitive edge when our freeways don’t look like parking lots.

Our success locally, regionally and at the state level hinges on federal transportation investments. Unfortunately, the federal dollars critical to ongoing and new projects alike may be cut off as early as Aug. 29.

The fact is, while the federal gas tax rate has remained the same, cars have become more efficient and we are driving less. While this is a positive policy outcome, it highlights the problem of relying on the gas tax in its current form to pay for decent roads, bridges and transit service. More importantly, construction and maintenance costs have grown by about two-thirds while revenues have declined. Our current system can’t keep up.

That’s why it’s encouraging that members of Congress, such as Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, as well as Sens. Chris Murphy and Bob Corker, have introduced legislation to create a stable, dedicated revenue source to keep all of us moving.

All of the bills address challenges around the federal gas tax. The Senate proposal would address gas tax challenges while also providing significant tax relief to families and businesses.

As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has committed to preventing the fund from running out of money this summer. Both the House and the Senate committees passed stopgap measures last week to continue the program until May 2015.

These different proposals still must be reconciled. Sen. Wyden deserves our backing not only to address the impending crisis, but also to seek a secure and stable solution that helps us continue to invest in the critical roads, bridges and transit systems our economy needs to thrive.

Just like our parents and grandparents invested in the roads, bridges and transit systems we enjoy, now it’s our turn to pave the way to a healthy and strong future for our families. I urge you to support efforts in Congress to make the most of the transportation system we have and to ensure our children have the transportation system they will need in the future.

Craig Dirksen is a Metro councilor and is chairman of Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation. Pam Treece is executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. Sandra McDonough is president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance.



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