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PORTLAND-The Portland City Council in June approved a new road fee in an attempt to fill an annual $4.9-million hole in the transportation budget created by stagnant gasoline taxes and eternally degrading roads. The fee, a supplement to systems development fees, was much watered down from its original version, but it was still too much for opponents.

Elections officials this week certified petitions that will force a public vote on the issue in May, despite the council’s vote. The council can repeal the fee rather than let the public vote, but politically it may be better to let the people decide, say some insiders, because if it is voted down, elected officials can point vote when people call to complain about road conditions and say they tried.

The fee was originally based on standard trip generation models for particular types of development. As such, the fees ranged from $398 a month for a 3,890-sf fast-food restaurant to $1,500 a month for the owner of a 500,000-sf office building. But following complaints from the biggest trip generators — hotels, gas stations, big-box retailers and fast-food chains — a less costly expensive was approved.

The original fee would have generated about $65 million over five years. The revised fees would raise an estimated $59.7 million over the same period, helping to pay for maintaining heavily-used streets like the transit mall, paving gravel roads in residential communities and improving school crossings, among other things.

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