City Road Improvement and Funding Committee rolls on

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - Drivers around town are keenly aware the condition of Cottage Grove streets ranges from good to fair to poor to failing. Funding, building, and maintaining streets are ongoing challenges for leaders of American cities – large and small.

There are just over 45 miles of paved streets and nearly five miles of gravel roads inside the city limits. A combination of the local gas tax, state, and federal funding totals $1.325 million. This allows the city to budget $900,000 per year to perform street maintenance and $425,000 for capital projects. However, the revenue to meet on-going needs has been insufficient for decades, resulting in the current $28.9 million backlog of improvement, maintenance, and preservation projects.

A perfect storm continues to challenge cities that depend heavily on gas taxes to pay for road projects. The major factors include population growth creating greater usage, higher fuel economy vehicles, heavier vehicles using streets not designed for them, and the social trend to transition from gas to electric vehicles.

Last May, responding to public feedback demanding local roads be improved, the City Council created a committee with a long name and a big assignment. The Ad Hoc Street Improvement and Funding Committee held its first meeting on May 25 and, as of last week, has met seven times.

It is a diverse group that includes the Mayor, Councilors and eight citizens. The citizen members are local business leaders and residents, who range in age from a high school student to members who are in their 80s. Women make up one-third of the committee and two live outside the city limits. They represent a wide variety of perspectives: Youth Advisory Council, bicyclists, road paving contractor, Chamber of Commerce president, auto repair owner, service providers, and retired individuals.

The committee met throughout the summer learning in great detail about how roads are rated, constructed, maintained, and funded. Originally, the committee’s charge was to have a recommendation to the Council by August 14, to allow time to place a street funding measure on the November ballot. In their discussions, committee members agreed the earliest date to go for a vote is May of 2024.

On August 14, Committee Chair Amber Bahler presented its work to date. The Council granted a request to allow them to meet until a recommendation was completed and ready to present to the Council.

Bahler said, “We’ve had lengthy discussions about how to be equitable with our street funding options, as it will be a sizable long-term investment if citizens truly want improved streets. We’ve also explored creative ways to achieve cost savings.”

Public Works & Development Director Fay Stewart is pleased with the committee’s progress.

“The committee has received a great deal of information and their work to find a solution to improve city streets is progressing well,” Stewart said. “Finding a solution is complicated and very challenging, as the costs to improve the streets is substantial and a single solution won't work. The committee is working through all the options, both short term and long.”

Reminiscent of a Road Maintenance and Funding 101 college class, Stewart said committee members have learned about current street conditions, street projects completed over the past seven years, future projects, current street fund revenues and expenses, projected future funding, street maintenance, legal requirements around the Americans with Disabilities Act, election law, campaigns, and polling.

Committee members have also taken a comprehensive look at funding mechanisms such as, bonding, property tax, utility fees, gas tax, state and federal funding, employee income tax, road use fees, and options to go to the legislature to allow road maintenance and improvement districts to capture more of the users of the City’s street system.

As an avid cyclist, who arrived in Cottage Grove via bicycle in 1974, Robert Reetz said his time serving on the committee has been valuable to him and he is thankful to be part of the solution to address the widespread citizen complaints about the condition of local roads.

“I appreciate the ability to be informed and otherwise interact with others who also share my interest in good quality roads, safe transportation, and upholding housing values,” Reetz said. “The hard part is in finding palatable funding solutions and addressing this in a fair manner as we all have some "skin in the game’.”

Mayor Candace Solesbee believes each person on the Ad Hoc committee has been invaluable in moving toward a solution to much needed road improvements.

“Everyone has their own personal perspective, and ideas on how the city should move forward with this massive, ongoing project,” Solesbee said. “We are progressing toward a suite of possible solutions, which will then receive input from the voters. It is a slow process, but we are optimistic. With approval of constituents, Cottage Grove could see their roads improve exponentially.”

The committee will continue working on its recommendation to the Council. Once the draft recommendation is completed, a public outreach effort will be made, via a town hall meeting and focus groups, to hear what taxpayers will support or not support. The committee will take the public input, adjust the recommendation, and present the final recommendation to Council.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 27, at City Hall.

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