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Trib OpEd: Oregon needs to gear up for transportation

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the Business Tribune in Transportation Now! on May 12 and can be viewed here.

Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington all passed transportation bills before we did

The Oregon State Legislature stepped up in 2017 to pass the most comprehensive and largest transportation package in our state’s history. With the implementation of this bill over the next decade, Oregon will invest $5.3 billion to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Passing the bill was a huge win. But the real work is just beginning.

The structure of the bill included accountability mechanisms and benchmarks to ensure the efficient use of taxpayer resources.

But there will be challenges. In fact, “challenges” may be understated. We may be facing a significant, if not perfect, storm as the implementation phases begin.

With Oregon’s strongest economic recovery now underway, after the worst downturn in 80 years, the public-private team that will need to build our future transportation system will need to adjust. In light of Oregon’s recovery, we have our work cut out for us to successfully implement this bill and produce the transportation system improvements Oregon’s citizens need and are paying for.

On the construction side, our industry’s job is to find and train the skilled workers necessary to do the work. AGC is doing its part to address worker shortages, but it will take a significant effort across an entire coalition of interests to make real progress.

Because Oregon was the last Western state to pass an infrastructure package of this magnitude, (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington all passed transportation bills before we did) companies began to move teams of workers out of Oregon to other states where the work was being done.

So, Oregon needs to gear up, getting our companies back into a position where they can deliver the new transportation projects that will be rolled out and funded over the next decade.

In the 2018 short session, the Oregon legislature approved Oregon Department of Transportation’s request to fund the hiring of 111 new project delivery positions whose primary focus would be to budget, plan, engineer, and guide the construction of the projects to be funded. Fortunately, the legislature recognized what ODOT needed, and funded the request. That will set the stage for the agency to have the people they need to manage these costly and complex projects.

Over the years, contractors and key transportation agencies — whether federal, state, or local — have had a strong working relationship. We have joined with these agencies to plan and construct these critical infrastructure projects. The partnerships we have enjoyed over the years now need to rise to an entirely new level.

One of our strategies must be to refocus yet again on making the relationships we have even stronger and even more effective. Contractors have every reason to want to work closely and collaboratively with government at every level to successfully design, plan, and build these projects on time, and on or under budget. Public support of additional state and local infrastructure investments in the future may rely on how this one is handled.

To continue to support Oregon’s growth, we must continue to make the necessary investments in our infrastructure over the longer-term. Successfully gaining the support for additional, sustainable, and longer-term funding well into the future will require public agencies and the private sector to strengthen and continuously improve their partnership.

We will need to plan, budget, and construct the projects that are funded at a high level of quality, on time, and on or under budget. This is a test of a true partnership. Future legislatures will be watching closely to make sure the public’s resources are well-spent.

Now that Oregonians, through their elected representatives, have stepped forward to invest in their transportation future, AGC and its partners are determined to do our part to get the job done.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors, Oregon-Columbia Chapter. He can be reached at 503-685-8305 or by email at:

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