SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A federal transportation bill signed Friday by President Barack Obama includes help for several Oregon transportation projects.

The Oregon Department of Transportation says state and local highway funding will increase by 5 percent to $507 million in the first year, with additional hikes over the next four years. Oregon will also get a boost in transit funding. The money is not earmarked to specific projects.

Obama signed the five-year, $305-billion bill a day after it was overwhelmingly approved by Congress to address the nation’s aging and congested transportation systems. The bill is the first long-term transportation plan approved in years, ending a cycle of short-term fixes that have repeatedly rescued the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency.

All seven members of Oregon’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the legislation.

ODOT Region 4 spokesman Peter Murphy told NewsChannel 21, “It will take a while for this to filter down to the local level, but we have a list of ‘shelf ready’ projects. But as this is a long term funding package, it likely will go to our Area Commission on Transportation for setting priorities.  That’s our usual process.”

ODOT news release:

SALEM – Oregon Department of Transportation leaders thanked Oregon’s congressional delegation today for passing the $300 billion “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or FAST Act (HR 22). FAST Act reauthorizes federal surface transportation policy and funding through 2020. The five-year funding act is the first long-term reauthorization in over a decade.

FAST ACT funding

FAST Act provides stable funding with modest increases to states over the five year life of the bill. In the first year of the FAST Act, Oregon’s federal highway funding shared by ODOT and local governments will rise by five percent to $507 million from the current $482 million. Funding will then rise by about two percent per year until the bill’s final year.

“I would like to thank all members of Oregon’s congressional delegation for their votes in favor of FAST Act,” said ODOT Director Matthew Garrett. “In particular, I thank Congressman Peter DeFazio for the incredible work he has done on behalf of Oregonians on this bill. Oregon will receive $325 million more over the next five years than we would have if Congressman DeFazio had not been in a continuous position of leadership on transportation policy in Washington, DC. I would also like to thank Senator Ron Wyden for his hard work on the final agreement.”

New freight programs

FAST Act creates two new programs designed to help address the movement of freight. The “National Highway Freight Program” will provide annual funding to states for addressing freight projects on the highway system. ODOT is set to receive an additional $80 million over five years through this program, which will help the state address highway issues that impact Oregon’s trade-dependent economy. The “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program” is a new competitive grant program for so-called “megaprojects” that cost over $100 million. ODOT, local governments, ports and tribal governments will be eligible to apply for this new funding.

Funding alternatives

FAST Act also launches a competitive grant program for states to demonstrate alternatives to the gas tax as a revenue source for surface transportation projects. Oregon has led the way in exploring new ways to fund transportation with the first-in-the-nation road usage charge program, OReGO. FAST Act could support efforts in Oregon and around the country to address the challenges facing the gas tax as vehicles become increasingly fuel efficient.

“We are excited that Congress has recognized the value of a road usage charge as an alternative to the gas tax,” said Jim Whitty, director of ODOT’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding. “This new grant program could help support expansion of the OReGO program and similar approaches elsewhere to take the next steps toward transforming the way we fund transportation nationally.” A total of $95 million in alternative funding grants will be made available to states by the FAST Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley release:

– Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced several key benefits for Oregon included in the federal transportation bill passed by Congress late last night. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Banking Committees, Senator Merkley advocated for Oregon’s priorities and fought to make sure that Oregon’s roads, bridges and transit districts would receive much needed support and investment in the final bill. 

“Our state and local transportation departments need a long term transportation bill to plan their major infrastructure projects and put people to work. This bill provides that certainty and will both create good jobs and build a stronger infrastructure for our economy,” said Merkley. “Additionally, this bill will make a much needed investment in improving our roads, bridges and transit systems here in Oregon.”

The Highway Transportation Funding Act of 2015 was the first long-term transportation funding bill passed by Congress in more than a decade.  By providing a five year roadmap for a broad range of transportation investments, state and regional transportation and transit departments will be able make longer term plans and investments that have been waiting pending clarity about federal government funding. 

The transportation bill also included a critical provision to reauthorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which expired in June after conservatives in Congress blocked its reauthorization. The Export-Import bank is an essential tool for many small businesses and manufacturers throughout Oregon and the nation. In June, Senator Merkley visited Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, a Milwaukie, OR, employee-owned manufacturer, that has expanded its overseas business using Export-Import Bank financing.

Key elements of the transportation bill that will impact Oregon include:

Flexible funding for New Start projects: The bill will continue to allow state and local governments to use federal transportation funds to help pay for new transit projects. There was a risk that this provision would be cut from the final bill but Senator Merkley worked to keep this provision intact. This provision was essential in the past to key projects in Oregon, including the recently-opened Tilikum Crossing bridge, and without it new projects like TriMet’s SW Corridor project would not be completed.

High Priority Corridors: The final transportation bill includes eight new High-Priority Corridors, including two in Oregon. These corridors include Interstate 205 and the Highway 99 Newburg-Dundee Bypass. This designation provides projects with preferential consideration when applying for discretionary grants such as TIFIA and TIGER.

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