SW Corridor light-rail plan: Neither shorter, skinnier

Civic Affairs

Planners reject losing lanes on Barbur or stopping line in Tigard

A MAX train in Portland (Portland Tribune file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The people responsible for planning, pitching and completing a 12-mile light rail project through Southwest Portland dealt with the three B’s Monday night: Barbur Boulevard, Bridgeport and budget.

BARBUR BOULEVARD: The Southwest Corridor Project Steering Committee buried the plan to remove two lanes for cars and trucks along Southwest Barbur Boulevard. That idea was born of a need to cut dollars from a proposed preliminary project budget.

The mayor of Tigard, Jason Snider, said he couldn’t live with fewer lanes. There also was significant public opposition to “skinnying” Barbur to fewer lanes; a proposal that saw little support.

BRIDGEPORT: TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey announced at the Committee meeting and public hearing in the Tigard Public Library, “It’s Bridgeport or bust. If you don’t play big you don’t win big.”

Snider had briefly backed a plan to run a light rail line only as far as downtown Tigard. His fellow Steering Committee members from Tualatin, Durham and Washington County, along with Kelsey, insisted on Bridgeport as the southern end of the line.

“It’s the north star of the project,” Kelsey said.

BUDGET: Just four months ago the project was reported to be $462 million dollars over the $2.4 billion proposed budget. It was the effort to balance the budget that generated cost-reduction plans to “skinny” Barbur Boulevard or to only go as far as Tigard.

Though both options for reducing the budget are off the table, Kelsey told the Steering Committee that the $462 million shortfall has been slashed and is currently, “somewhere south of $100 million due to significant effort outside these microphones.”

The savings were mainly achieved by betting that voters will pass a multi-billion dollar transportation funding measure in November 2020.

Kelsey thanked Metro Executive Lynn Peterson for adding $125 million to increase the “ask” for Southwest light rail in that measure to $975 million on next year’s ballot.

A critic of the Southwest Corridor Project, John Charles with the Cascade Policy Institute, said he doubts the voters will pass that measure. “The Steering Committee doesn’t have an actual finance plan; it is just hoping voters will give TriMet a billion dollars next year in a bond measure. But every light rail bond since 1994 has been defeated; why do supporters think 2020 will be different?” he wrote.

Councilor Robert Kellogg of Tualatin said of the last four months, “It’s been a roller coaster. To go from a project that’s fully funded to one that’s $460 million over budget to one that’s now $100 million over budget. On a two and a half billion dollar project to get to $100 million shortfall is positive. We’re close and will be working to find additional resources.”

Portland’s elected representative on the Steering Committee, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, said that a narrower Barbur Boulevard “is not feasible at this time,” but seems not to have abandoned the idea of a shorter line. “It would be ideal to get to Bridgeport but I would hate to see this become an ‘all or nothing’ thing,” she said.

Leah Robbins with TriMet reminded committee members and the hundred or so people in attendance that it’s “still early on the timeline. There are many years to go” before trains on the region’s sixth light rail line could possibly start running in 2027.

Nevertheless, Kelsey was optimistic that the Steering Committee would give final approval at its Monday, Nov. 18, meeting to the project recommendations discussed Monday night.

“We’re on the nine-yard line. We’ve gone 91 yards but sometimes the last nine yards is the hardest,” he said.

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