ODOT using $124 million in federal relief funds to shore up work amid lost revenue

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Oregon Transportation Commission on Thursday approved spending $124 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding provided by Congress at the end of 2020 for Oregon roads.

Recognizing that gas tax revenue for roads declined as people have stayed home during the pandemic, Congress provided $10 billion in relief funding for roads nationwide.

The federal money can be used for both construction projects and operations and maintenance activities, such as plowing snow, patching potholes and carrying out other activities, by the Oregon Department of Transportation and local governments to keep roads safe and open to traffic.

ODOT estimates that Oregon will see its State Highway Fund revenue fall by about $225 million in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and resulting recession, so the federal funding will make up about half the lost revenue.

“We’re grateful that Congress recognized the pandemic’s impact to transportation agencies across the country and took action,” said Robert Van Brocklin, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission. “This funding will help keep Oregonians safe by reducing cuts to critical road maintenance.”

Funds set aside for local governments

The commission set aside $56 million for local governments—45% of the funding—based on the city and county share of the State Highway Fund. Some local governments have made layoffs or service reductions in their road programs, and others are cutting back on projects due to lost highway fund revenue. Cities and counties will receive funding directly for road operations and maintenance costs, and metropolitan planning organizations will distribute funding within urban areas. The Port of Hood River and Port of Cascade Locks also received funding to make up for lost toll revenue that would have been invested in the Hood River Bridge and Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River.

“The Association of Oregon Counties appreciates the partnership of ODOT and the commission in ensuring equitable distribution of federal relief funding to local governments,” said Coos County Commissioner and AOC President Melissa Cribbins. “This critical funding will support counties in connecting Oregonians to local economies and bridge the gap for counties that faced budget deficits, delayed projects, and workforce challenges as a result of the pandemic and recession.”

Oregon county road departments are responsible for the majority of Oregon’s public road system with over 32,000 road miles and over 3,400 bridges.

How ODOT will use the funds

The commission approved providing ODOT $68 million divided between two programs:

  • $36 million for operations and maintenance on state highways. This funding will allow ODOT to reverse some of the cuts it is planning to maintenance services due to COVID-19 funding losses and a long-term budget shortfall.
  • $32 million to make the state highway system accessible for Oregonians with disabilities, part of ODOT’s program to address more than 20,000 curb ramps that need to be upgraded to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The relief legislation also includes $225 million for public transit in Oregon, on top of significant funding provided under the CARES Act earlier in 2020; in total, Oregon has received more than half a billion dollars in federal public transportation relief funding to help cover lost revenue and higher costs to provide bus and train service. Most funding from the December 2020 relief package will go directly to the large urban transit providers, and ODOT will receive $2.8 million to distribute to rural transit service.