Proposed VRF ordinance has first reading

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sponsored by: Department of Land Use & Transportation, Administrative Services/Office of the Director Division

Timber Road Culvert collapse, Dec. 2016The first reading of an ordinance calling for a $30 annual vehicle registration fee (VRF) to offset some of the maintenance funding shortfall and improve transportation safety was conducted during today's [Sept. 6] Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Under proposed Ordinance 817, the County VRF would only go into effect if the state Legislature fails to pass a 2017 transportation funding package that provides additional County revenue equal to or greater than $8.1 million annually –the County's share of revenue generated by a $30 VRF –in the first year.  

"Road, bridge and culvert maintenance and repair costs are outpacing available road funding nationwide," said Andy Duyck, chair, Washington County Board of Commissioners. "From a safety perspective, we simply can't wait for a state or federal funding package to support road maintenance funding at a level that will keep travelers safe. A $30 VRF will allow us to partially address the problem by prioritizing our most critical safety needs and maintaining pavement at its current level." 

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held during the Board meeting 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in the auditorium of the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, 155 N. First Ave., Hillsboro. 

The price of safety

An estimated $4 million per year is needed to maintain the County's pavement at a "good" level. In addition, 54 culverts need replacing at a cost of $6.5 million. Eighty-one bridges are deficient;of those 14 are weight limited. The total cost of bridge repair/replacement is $120 million.

Beef Bend culvert failureThe County has had to defer preventative maintenance and repairs, which has created safety issues on many roads. Examples include the collapse of aging culverts on both Timber and Beef Bend roads last December. The Timber Road culvert collapsed minutes after a school bus drove over it. 

Request from the public 

In July, representatives from citizen advisory committees, area chambers of commerce and the Westside Economic Alliance testified at meetings and sent letters to the Board, asking for a $43 VRF – the maximum allowed under state law – to improve road safety. The board opted for a $30 VRF, which will address the most critical needs only, while limiting the financial impact on vehicle owners. 

"We are mindful of the fact that voters did reject, by a narrow margin, a 2014 ballot measure that called for a $30 VRF," Duyck said. "Given that, the Board was reluctant to move ahead with a $43 fee, but agreed that something has to be done. The maintenance funding shortfall hasn't gone away, and it is creating significant safety issues. We would be remiss if we didn't take action to keep our roads safe for all travelers." 

Under the proposed ordinance, the VRF would cost the average vehicle owner $2.50/month and would generate an estimated $13.5 million in revenue. This revenue would be split 60/40 between the County ($8.1 million) and the cities within the County ($5.4 million) as required by state statute. All funds received by the County would be used only for local maintenance to improve the safety and condition of County roads, bridges and culverts. 

Increasing needs, expenses

Washington County's road maintenance funding comes primarily from the state gas tax and vehicle fees and the County gas tax, which are not keeping pace with increasing maintenance costs.Fuel sales per registered vehicle have been declining, due to hybrid and electric cars, and fewer miles travelled per vehicle. At the same time, maintenance costs have increased significantly. For example, asphalt paving increased about 370 percent from 2004-2014, according to the ODOT. Other examples: 

  • Bridge construction increased about 200 percent
  • Chip seal emulsion increased about 120 percent
  • Aggregate (base rock) increased about 50 percent 

"We don't have sufficient funds to meeting these increasing costs," Duyck said. "From a safety perspective, we simply can't continue to delay road maintenance any longer without putting travelers at risk." 

If implemented, the County VRF would be collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles in conjunction with state registration fees starting July 1, 2018. The fee would be $30 per year for most vehicles;$17 per year for motorcycles/mopeds;$10 one-time fee for trailers eligible for permanent registration. 

For more information, visit the Washington County road maintenance funding education website: KeepRoadsSafe.org.  

Washington County is committed to planning, building and maintaining a great transportation system, ensuring the safety of all roadway users, and operating the County roadway system in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner.

Media Contact:

Melissa De Lyser, Communications Coordinator
503-846-4963
melissa_de_lyser@co.washington.or.us