Oregonian: TriMet abusing overtime?

Mentioned earlier in the open thread, but today the Oregonian‘s Joseph Rose is reporting that excessive overtime at TriMet is resulting in severe operator fatigue–a factor which led to an incident in 2011 where a Yellow Line train crashed into the buffers at the Expo Center station. (The driver apparently had dozed off).

Go read the article.

Rose reports that among other things:

  • Drivers have been known to work 18 hours or more during a 24 hour period; the average shift length is 9.2 hours.
  • One operator worked over 70 hours per week–for the entire year–during the just-ended fiscal year.
  • Numerous other incidents, including the crash between an empty bus and a Beaverton railroad signal, have been blamed on fatigue.
  • The agency has been threatened with ODOT sanctions with regard to MAX operator scheduling practices.
  • ODOT does not regulate bus driver hours, however; and the Federal Government (including the FTA) does not regulate this aspect of transit hardly at all.

There’s lots more damning stuff in the article. Go read it.

This is disturbing, obviously, given the agency’s public commitment to safety after the 2010 bus accident where a bus making a turn ran over several pedestrians (who had a green signal) in a crosswalk, killing two. The operator in that incident was fired, and many proclaimations about the importance of safety issued forth from Center Street.

How did we get here?

While TriMet and ATU757 are for the most part on bad terms these days, the subject of overtime is one where the agency and at least some of its operators are in agreement.

Drivers–some of them–like overtime. You’ve no doubt hear the stories of bus drivers making six-figure salaries; this is accomplished by working busloads of overtime, which pays time-and-a-half or possibly even double time. TriMet likes overtime–a huge parts of an operator’s compensation is the benefits package, and this is a fixed, per-employee expense (benefits cost the same for full-time employees, regardless of how much OT is worked). The apparent fact that letting a driver work 70 hours/week is apparently cheaper than hiring a second driver to put in half those hours ought to tell you something.

And of course, given the poor relations between the agency and the union, changes to work rules (including limitations on overtime, and/or use of cameras to monitor operators while driving) are unlikely.

Rose’s article focuses on the safety problems posed by these operational practices–but it almost seems to be a sign of a bigger problem: the agency, operationally, appears to be stretched too thin. We’ve all seen, and commented on, declining reliability at TriMet, a double-whammy for riders on top of service cuts. I’ve seen similar things numerous times in the private sector–a company, faced with financial problems, resorts to budget cuts and layoffs. But frequently, rather than scaling back all aspects of the operation by X% in response to an X% budget shortfall, a business will attempt to “limit the damage” by various means, including:

  • Use of overtime to mitigate productivity losses caused by the layoffs–the remaining staff are expected to “pick up the load”. This is often worse in the private sector, where the additional workload is uncompensated, particularly for those employees who draw a salary rather than an hourly wage (though in retail, there are many tricks to “encourage” hourly employees to put in some work off the clock).
  • Focusing attrition on support staff rather than the “front-line” workers who perform the public-facing or revenue-bearing functions.
  • Forgoing risk-mitigation expenses as a luxury that can no longer be afforded, and hoping (and praying) that the shinola doesn’t hit the fan.

In the case of TriMet, it appears that in an attempt to preserve service hours, greater cuts were made to functions such as dispatch, maintenance, fare inspection (though here TriMet is making up for lost time), customer service, and anyone else in operations who doesn’t drive a bus or train. (There is, of course, the question of capital projects and senior management. Some of these folks are paid by grants that cannot be diverted to operations, but almost certainly not all of them…)

68 Comments

68 Responses to Oregonian: TriMet abusing overtime?

  1. Charlie
    January 6, 2013 at 12:04 am Link

    This country needs socialized healthcare so badly. It is utterly absurd that paying 30 hours of overtime is cheaper than hiring another driver.
    (Not to mention, some of us unemployed people might like to take over some of those hours)

  2. Michael, Portland Afoot
    January 6, 2013 at 12:29 am Link

    Ed Borasky, @znmeb on Twitter, said he thinks a lawsuit would be necessary to persuade TriMet to address this, since they haven’t already.

    It’s strange that the obvious additional risk of crashes and therefore lawsuits from this practice isn’t a countervailing incentive for the agency and/or its workers to be more concerned about road safety. But that’s the effect you might expect from an agency that’s self-insured (as TriMet is, which probably reduces the chance that outside experts will identify sources of risk that management don’t want to acknowledge) and from an agency whose tort liability is capped by state law at $600,000 per claimant.

  3. EngineerScotty
    January 6, 2013 at 12:40 am Link

    Had I a $400M operating budget and a liability limit of $600k, I’d self-insure too. :)

    @Charlie,

    Obamacare does come fully online next year, but the exchanges are mainly of benefit to the poor. One of the political problems (of many) faced by the Obama Administration is that those of us with good private healthcare (collectively speaking) were not eager to lose it in exchange for a possibly-lower-common-denominator public health plan.

    Obamacare does include an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” health plans, but that does not kick in until 2018.

  4. dwainedibbly
    January 6, 2013 at 8:33 am Link

    Just because somebody clocked in for overtime doesn’t mean they actually worked it. I wonder if TriMet can link those hours to actual runs made. If not, I have to suspect that there is some timecard fraud going on in some of those extreme cases.

  5. Ron Swaren
    January 6, 2013 at 11:10 am Link

    How many late night runs of Tri Met are needed. I got so tired of a Tri Met bus going by until 12:30 am ( with usually two people on it)I asked TriMet to cut it back. Between the Tri Met late night bus and the noisy mufflers on the bar hopper cars it’s just too much. (This isn’t a commercial street).

    But again, for those who didn’t read it Community Transit (Everett WA) is looking towards achieving a 25 percent increase of riders, Sure this is a suburban commute system, and county wide (not city) transit, but maybe there are some lessons:
    http://edmondsbeacon.villagesoup.com/p/community-transit-seeks-25-percent-more-riders-without-adding-more-service/944399

  6. al m
    January 6, 2013 at 12:11 pm Link

    While TriMet and ATU757 are for the most part on bad terms these days, the subject of overtime is one where the agency and at least some of its operators are in agreement.
    ~~~~>The union has nothing to do with handing out work assignments. It all comes from management.

    TriMet likes overtime–a huge parts of an operator’s compensation is the benefits package, and this is a fixed, per-employee expense (benefits cost the same for full-time employees, regardless of how much OT is worked). The apparent fact that letting a driver work 70 hours/week is apparently cheaper than hiring a second driver to put in half those hours ought to tell you something.
    ~~~>This is not something unique to Trimet, it is common all over the country now. The best example of employers trying to shirk their responsibility for citizens is the rise of the Temp agency. Low pay and no benefits is what employers seek now. It’s all about the money, Trimet execs will blow millions on anything but drivers.

    and/or use of cameras to monitor operators while driving
    ~~~~>The 3000 series have camera’s pointed at operators and audio. Why that was not disclosed in the story is curious.

    There is this game of ‘showmanship’ going on between the union and the company. The power rests with the company not the union. The company is ultimately responsible for every single thing that happens there.

    This country needs socialized healthcare so badly. It is utterly absurd that paying 30 hours of overtime is cheaper than hiring another driver.
    ~~~>Agreed

    Ed Borasky, @znmeb on Twitter, said he thinks a lawsuit would be necessary to persuade TriMet to address this, since they haven’t already.
    ~~~~>In case you haven’t been paying attention, Trimet has a way of ignoring/distorting/subverting courts of law.
    There is supposed to be a board of directors, unfortunately they are sock puppets, then there is a governor, but what good is that hack?

    It’s strange that the obvious additional risk of crashes and therefore lawsuits from this practice isn’t a countervailing incentive for the agency and/or its workers to be more concerned about road safety.
    ~~~~> It’s taxpayers money, Mcfarlane and crew all get their paychecks on schedule, the only people that lose is the tax payers and no government official cares about them.

    Obamacare does include an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” health plans, but that does not kick in until 2018.
    ~~~~> I guess nobody really pays attention to any of this but myself. We don’t have a Cadillac plan anymore. $3500 deducatable 20% coverage is not cadillac. And everyone (over 1/2 the drivers) on Kaiser can not be called Cadillac.

    If not, I have to suspect that there is some timecard fraud going on in some of those extreme cases.
    ~~~>Possible but not of any serious consequence. There is a lot of time sitting around waiting for a run to be assigned however for the people in the 100k list who are all on extra board i believe.

  7. al m
    January 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm Link

    Furthemore, there would be negotiations going on right now if Trimet stopped trying to keep everything secret!

  8. Portland Transit Lane
    January 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm Link

    Just look this link folks. I broke down the numbers even further. This is for full time drivers, but drivers have runs that are well over 11 and sometimes 12 hours! http://portlandtransitlane.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/trimet-overtime-for-the-wicked/

  9. EngineerScotty
    January 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm Link

    Al: The union has nothing to do with handing out work assignments. It all comes from management.

    I’d disagree, partially. While TriMet scheduling isn’t done by union official, a few things are apparent:

    * Work rules permit the excessive overtime.
    * Operators are willing–and able–to sign up for the hours.

    I’m curious: What if the ATU were to instruct its operators to refuse to work more than, say, 10 hours of OT per week? Would such a demand be accepted by the operators, and could it be enforced, and would it be legal if not negotiated with TriMet? (My uninformed speculation is that this would effectively be equivalent to a work-to-rule order, and thus legal for the union)? To put it another way: refusal to work OT might be a smart negotiating tactic, assuming that workers who like the extra money didn’t block the tactic.

  10. al m
    January 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm Link

    What if the ATU were to instruct its operators to refuse to work more than, say, 10 hours of OT per week?

    ~~~>Well you just said it all. There is supposed to be a boycott on overtime to pressure the company.

    The bottom line, and Mcfarlane is aware of this, is that there is no solidarity at Trimet.

    Everybody is in it for themselves.

    Now mechanics and signal guys have some solidarity, but not the operators.

    And that’s why in the end Mcfarlane will get his way.

  11. al m
    January 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm Link

    And for the record, a system that costs $100k to keep a bus on the road is certifiably defective.

    Serious structural problems with the way transit is handled in the USA.

    Trimet is not unique to this structure, you see the exact same structure in many us cities.

    But the structural problem with government extends far beyond transit..

    Our government, which has stopped working for its citizens quite some time ago, needs to prioritize what waste it should fund.

    At the top of the list is the $720 Million Each Day war machine.

    Transit (trimet) does not hold a candle in terms of government wasteful spending in the big scheme of things.

    It’s easy to pick on bus drivers since its such a disrespected profession.

    But the whole thing is a hoax if you understand the context of the scam.

    Unfortunately very few people understand they are being conned with these phony issues.

    The government has plenty of $, they just don’t want citizens getting it.

  12. al m
    January 6, 2013 at 8:15 pm Link

    While public transit is shrinking. intercity transit is BOOMING.

    Greyhound has added niche services such as Express buses, which offer luxuries like leather seats and Wi-Fi, and Yo!, which operates between Chinatowns in New York and Philadelphia.

  13. Ron Swaren
    January 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm Link

    “While public transit is shrinking. intercity transit is BOOMING.”

    Exactly. Which is why we don’t need another multi billion dollar boondoggle, HSR being one of the latest goofball ideas making the circuit.. How does HSR serve Eastern Oregon or Washington? Everything is Eugene-Portland,Vancouver, etc.

    Ottawa is now the next Canuck city to use double decker buses (after Victoria and Kelowna, BC.)
    This would work connecting Portland to suburbs on a h-i-g-h-w-a-y. Such as St. Helens-Scappoose- Linnton, Washougal-Camas-Vancouver, Troutdale-Fairview-Gateway, or Sherwood-Tualatin.

    And I saw that MegaBus has expanded into the South now, too.

  14. Chris I
    January 7, 2013 at 6:31 am Link

    HSR is great in areas that can support it: high population density, appropriate distances, high use of public transit. Electrified trains have the same benefits that MAX has over the bus: lower operating costs, lower travel times, reduced environmental impacts, and higher rider capacity. Portland – Seattle has the ridership base to justify 125mph service, but probably not much more. Eastern Oregon will never be served by high speed trains.

  15. Ron Swaren
    January 7, 2013 at 9:35 am Link

    With all due respect, I feel a big issue attendant to transportation proposals around here is the lengthy city planning; the committees, the hearings, the petitions, etc. Seriously a lot of us have better things to do, and would rather see a solution implemented without a lot of fuss.

    Community Transit didn’t do a lot of planning with their new double tall express service. I can’t even get a report out of them!!!! But they are going to figure out to to increase ridership, and improve the financial picture of the agency, even if they don’t make stops in close in Seattle neighborhoods.. They have a “We got our people. Let’s just go!” kind of attitude. It works.

    In Portland it’s always Kum-Ba-Ya time.

    Since people usually have something else to do while riding I don’t see cutting the transit time down just a little more worth hundreds of millions more. Some of Oregon Passenger Rail improvements will be good for freight. But where is the reason to get locked into tens of billions for passenger rail; when the rest of the area has practically no service at all.

    So:
    No to CRC
    No to more light rail
    No to HSR

  16. EngineerScotty
    January 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm Link

    A petition in response to Rose’s expose:

    http://oregoniansforsafetransit.nationbuilder.com/

  17. Bob R.
    January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm Link

    TriMet posts new job listing, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not?

    Job Opening: Manager, Safety Assurance Programs & Training Services (continuous)

  18. al m
    January 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm Link

    TriMet posts new job listing, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not?

    ~~~>Hire a bureaucrat, the usual Trimet stupid response.

  19. Erik H.
    January 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm Link

    There is, of course, the question of capital projects and senior management. Some of these folks are paid by grants

    If these Capital Projects folks are paid for by grants, then by definition they should be term-limited employees that are not entitled to permanent employee perks. You know, thinks like insurance, pensions, etc. They are temp workers.

    Strangely, when I look at TriMet’s employee roster I see a lot of Capital Projects employees who have been with the agency for years and years and are getting benefits. CLEARLY they are not paid for by grants, and it’s time to clean the house. A mass firing is in order. And for those who say I don’t have a heart – my employer just did that last week to every contractor we had. We lost a lot of good people. But when the budget is tightened, it’s time to do more with less. That means doing more service with buses. And hiring more front-line workers, not more paper-pushers and coffee makers.

  20. EngineerScotty
    January 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm Link

    It is entirely possible, Erik, for an employee’s salary to be grant-funded without the employee being a temp. In some cases, general fund monies can be used to pay for their salaries in between grants; grant monies can also be structured to provide interim coverage.

    To what extent this is wise, is a good question. I think it would be useful to have a cleaner separation between TriMet ops and major capital planning, for numerous reasons–transparency being a big one–but to the extent that capital projects employees ARE grant-funded, laying them off won’t do much good. It might be cathartic, particularly if you consider interruption of future major projects to be a good thing, but it probably won’t help with the short-term revenue issues.

  21. Nick theoldurbanist
    January 8, 2013 at 8:59 am Link

    So that’s why Trimet concocted the Powell BRT project: To keep its planning cronies employed?

  22. EngineerScotty
    January 8, 2013 at 10:31 am Link

    So that’s why Trimet concocted the Powell BRT project: To keep its planning cronies employed?

    Probably no more so than TriMet operates busses for the purpose of keeping bus drivers employed.

    :)

    (The folks I’m talking about are TriMet employees, doing their jobs; not about external design firms who are engaged on an as-needed basis, and might better fit the description of “cronies” if you suspect that such engagements are the result of pork-barrel politics rather than legitimate need).

    You can make a similar claim about any R&D organization. In the high tech industry, wherein lies my day job, there are many examples of failed projects–which either failed to get done at all, or do not meet the financial or organizational goals that justified their funding. And yes, occasionally senior executives will float the suggestion that some projects are done just to keep the staff busy (and/or increase the prestige of a department or of its managers), and yes, sometimes projects are done for reasons beyond (or other than) the good of the company as a whole.

    But the solution to that problem is not to lay off the R&D staff and use temporaries; domain knowledge is an important and valuable asset for R&D teams to have. Companies that contract out R/D are limited in how effective they can be, particularly if they want to do anything complicated or innovative. The solution to that problem is competent management with its eye on the stove, something which unfortunately is in short supply in both the private and public sectors.

    Now, if you think that getting TriMet out of the rail business is a desirable thing to do, then laying off the engineers and planners who are knowledgeable about rail would be a good way to salt the earth for future rail projects. TriMet’s in-house expertise on the subject is quite good (and TriMet is also pretty good at running capital projects; certainly they have a better track record than ODOT) and were this capability eliminated, it probably would take the agency a decade or two to rebuild it from scratch.

    TriMet does already outsource the design and engineering of its major capital projects; having an entire engineering firm in-house wouldn’t make all that much sense. But planning is done in-house. Outsourcing the front-end planning is expensive, and only makes sense for agencies which do few capital projects. It also makes the organization more at risk for being screwed over by unscrupulous contractors–competent planning staff can at least check the work of outside firms. But then again, if you think capital projects ought to be rare, eliminating TriMet’s capacity to do them would be a way to accomplish that goal.

    Just don’t think that it would free up gazillions of dollars for operations.

  23. EngineerScotty
    January 8, 2013 at 10:31 am Link

    So that’s why Trimet concocted the Powell BRT project: To keep its planning cronies employed?

    Probably no more so than TriMet operates busses for the purpose of keeping bus drivers employed.

    :)

    (The folks I’m talking about are TriMet employees, doing their jobs; not about external design firms who are engaged on an as-needed basis, and might better fit the description of “cronies” if you suspect that such engagements are the result of pork-barrel politics rather than legitimate need).

    You can make a similar claim about any R&D organization. In the high tech industry, wherein lies my day job, there are many examples of failed projects–which either failed to get done at all, or do not meet the financial or organizational goals that justified their funding. And yes, occasionally senior executives will float the suggestion that some projects are done just to keep the staff busy (and/or increase the prestige of a department or of its managers), and yes, sometimes projects are done for reasons beyond (or other than) the good of the company as a whole.

    But the solution to that problem is not to lay off the R&D staff and use temporaries; domain knowledge is an important and valuable asset for R&D teams to have. Companies that contract out R/D are limited in how effective they can be, particularly if they want to do anything complicated or innovative. The solution to that problem is competent management with its eye on the stove, something which unfortunately is in short supply in both the private and public sectors.

    Now, if you think that getting TriMet out of the rail business is a desirable thing to do, then laying off the engineers and planners who are knowledgeable about rail would be a good way to salt the earth for future rail projects. TriMet’s in-house expertise on the subject is quite good (and TriMet is also pretty good at running capital projects; certainly they have a better track record than ODOT) and were this capability eliminated, it probably would take the agency a decade or two to rebuild it from scratch.

    TriMet does already outsource the design and engineering of its major capital projects; having an entire engineering firm in-house wouldn’t make all that much sense. But planning is done in-house. Outsourcing the front-end planning is expensive, and only makes sense for agencies which do few capital projects. It also makes the organization more at risk for being screwed over by unscrupulous contractors–competent planning staff can at least check the work of outside firms. But then again, if you think capital projects ought to be rare, eliminating TriMet’s capacity to do them would be a way to accomplish that goal.

    Just don’t think that it would free up gazillions of dollars for operations.

  24. Jim Lee
    January 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm Link

    It was worth posting at least twice, Scotty.

    If only for comparison of ODOT and TriMet on capital projects.

    We have fair differentiation between the two public entities on parallel projects in the local environment: TriMet’s transit bridge and ODOT’s replacement of Sellwood.

    (Yes, Sellwood is notionally a MultCo project, but ODOT calls the shots: if CRC is a $2 billion fraud, intentionally bloated from a bridge replacement to a major freeway reconstruction, then Sellwood is the same ploy at 1/10th scale, for it was perfectly possible to replace the inadequate old bridge for well less than $100 million, rather than the $300 million plus enforced by ODOT.)

    I followed both projects during the pubic processes: Vera Katz and Rob Barnard for TriMet, with Seymon Tryger as hired engineering consultant, versus Deborah Kafoury and Mike Pullen, with Ian Cannon as in-house engineering advisor, all MultCo employees. Deborah Kafoury is not Vera Katz; Mike Pullen is not Rob Barnard; Ian Cannon is not Seymon Tryger.

    Parallel incidents show how things worked.

    The “wave-frame” design, floated by a “bridge architect” early in TriMet’s process, clearly had serious problems; according to theory of structures it appeared to me to be 3 times heavier than necessary. So I asked Rob Barnard if I could check the technical calculations on which it was based; next day they were in my email inbox, in metric engineering units and in German. In fact the “wave-frame” outweighed a classical 19th century railway arch bridge not by a factor of 3, but by a factor of 10! Rob and Vera let me make a brief presentation to their committee, with architect and German engineer in attendance. Later I suggested to Seymon Tryger that the “wave-frame” was fundamentally flawed and could not be built. He agreed. I do not know, but would like to think that I helped turn the technical tide toward the cable-stayed structure now under construction, which is, per my original estimate, 1/3rd the weight of the “wave-frame.”

    In contrast, at an early meeting in MultCo’s public process, when I politely suggested to Mike Pullin that his ideas of function, design, and aesthetics of bridges bore no relation to the real world of materials, engineering, and cost, he even more politely told me to sit down and shut up.

    This is not entirely personal: TriMet is getting twice the bridge for half the price.

    MultCo, taking marching orders from ODOT, spread a veil of illusions over its public process, effortlessly defeating inconvenient truths as such arose, for which Mike Pullen, an inordinately skillful public relations professional, deserves enormous credit.

    A bit of backstory: I cut my technical teeth at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, under the aegis of a fine Portland, lad, Bill McLean, inventor of Sidewinder, Polaris, and much else. I was not good enough to make a career there, but kept eyes and ears open. China Lake was the nation’s preeminent weapons laboratory, and kept defense corporations from defrauding the country by the deceptively simple ploy of being much better than the “private sector” in every way.

    No one got rich at China Lake, but the country was superbly served. At least until Ronald Reagan took over.

  25. al m
    January 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm Link

    I really don’t understand why so many people find the need to defend the pork at Trimet.

    Trimet has strayed way beyond its original ideals, which used to be providing decent transit to the citizens.

    They have indeed become a land use planning organization and have acquired all the bureaucratic wheels that come with that.

    All of that has a direct correlation with the dysfunction we see now.

    Trying to do to much they have stretched themselves to thin and now we have a huge mess on our hands.

    Before the rise of the internet they may have been able to keep all the negative information from getting out . (See Joe Rose on Trimet obstructionism) but now there are people that are watching their every move who are not part of their economic circle of dependence.

    Being a government agency they have been able to get away with all this nonsense.

    Government has not been responding to the needs of the citizens, and Trimet is no exception.

    Government officials own the government, the citizens are nothing.

  26. Bob R.
    January 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm Link

    Tongue-in-cheek analogy:

    Modern medicine has strayed way beyond its original ideals, which used to be providing decent care to the sick.

    They have indeed become a preventative care organization and have acquired all the bureaucratic wheels that come with that.

    But seriously, some of us believe (with good reason!) that effective transportation options go hand-in-hand with land-use planning. The two are in fact inseparable.

    Whether (and how much) that should be TriMet’s responsibility, rather than purely an operating responsibility, is up for debate. But to take on some planning function is not necessarily mission creep.

  27. al m
    January 8, 2013 at 4:13 pm Link

    Mission creep?
    I like that….
    Ya I am aware that those in power positions prefer the land use functions of Trimet over the transit delivery option only.

    But as you can see, Trimet ridership as compared to other modes has DECREASED since Trimet spun itself in that direction.

    People don’t ride Trimet, (unless they have to) the question is why?
    (we know the answers)

  28. al m
    January 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm Link

    Trimet needs to read and understand THIS!

    Everything they have done is the opposite from what the article describes.

    A strong mass transit system needs frequent and reliable service to maintain its ridership, and the ability to reach job centers across a metro area (not just in the central business district) helps too. But even systems that meet these requirements struggle to attract new riders in cities with high levels of car ownership. After all, a car offers frequency, reliability, and job access too.

  29. EngineerScotty
    January 8, 2013 at 6:09 pm Link

    Neil McFarlane has now ordered an audit of TriMet’s use of overtime.

  30. EngineerScotty
    January 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm Link

    Neil McFarlane has now ordered an audit of TriMet’s use of overtime.

  31. Ron Swaren
    January 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm Link

    Jim Lee say:”(Yes, Sellwood is notionally a MultCo project, but ODOT calls the shots: if CRC is a $2 billion fraud, intentionally bloated from a bridge replacement to a major freeway reconstruction, then Sellwood is the same ploy at 1/10th scale, for it was perfectly possible to replace the inadequate old bridge for well less than $100 million, rather than the $300 million plus enforced by ODOT.)”

    And, Jim, I would like to know what is proposed to deal with increasing traffic on SE Tacoma? It will only get worse. How is METRO’s little (1.3b) MAX line to Milwaukie going to attract enough Clackamas Co. commuters out of their vehicles?

    (There could have been something similar to Seattle’s Aurora Ave Battery Street tunnel combined with a rebuilt Sellwood bridge)

    How do they propose to fund additional length needed to Oregon City?

    So what will solve the increasing traffic congestion on SE Tacoma? Bike apartments? I doubt anything will. It’s going to be every man for himself looking out for increased traffic on SE Tacoma.

  32. Chris I
    January 9, 2013 at 6:23 am Link

    The Sellwood bridge should have been built south of the current alignment, and connected directly to HWY 224. Unfortunately, I think the folks at Waverly would have objected…

  33. Lenny Anderson
    January 9, 2013 at 9:11 am Link

    Tacoma is a local street and should be put on a diet to slow traffic and make it safer for the Sellwood community.
    If people don’t like the drive thru there, they can move, get a bike or ride the new MAX.

  34. Ron Swaren
    January 9, 2013 at 9:58 am Link

    Lenny that’s missing the point.

    It’s not the people who “drive thru there” It’s the people who either cross the Sellwwod bridge because it is the closest facility to get across, or are coming from perhaps Damascus or Sandy or Clackamas and need to get to somewhere on the west side. I am not arguing whether there shouldn’t be alternatives to people from those areas driving. I am suggesting that the Milwaukie MAX is probably not going to be sufficient to affect the traveling habits of those far flung reaches of the SE METRO area.

    And now, there is no financially reasonable plan to extend MAX to Oregon City, where at least it would have a fair shot.

    I also think what we need is a bridge between Oak Grove and Lake Oswego,on Oak Grove bv. Shortcuts benefit all. And connecting these two areas would enhance the respective economies.

  35. JHB
    January 9, 2013 at 10:07 am Link

    I don’t expect traffic on Tacoma to get any worse than current conditions, unless the road is widened. During rush hour, there is simply no more room for additional vehicles. The amount of traffic on Tacoma, and on Johnson Creek Blvd, is self limiting at this point at least during rush hour. Many people who would like to use Tacoma or JCB postpone their trips, take alternate routes, or take alternate modes due to the congestion.

    Traffic itself it is the ultimate traffic calming tool.

  36. Bob R.
    January 9, 2013 at 10:45 am Link

    Re: Extending 224 across Waverly.

    This is a fine alternative to Tacoma widening. It would disrupt far fewer structures and businesses, and provide a more direct, convenient connection for longer-distance Clackamas County commuters. It could land somewhere in or near Dunthorpe.

    This project would have the advantage of being at least 50% within Clackamas County, and I’m sure that Clackamas County residents would be willing to fund at least 50% of it.

    Re: Oak Grove Blvd. to Lake Oswego

    I grew very near Oak Grove Blvd., just across the street from the river, and I think it’s a very practical idea. Although I think you’d find opposition from residents from a little town near the river which is not Oak Grove. I hear there’s a lake there which would be nice for Oak Grove residents to visit. I wonder if they have fishing? :-)

    This project would also have the advantage of being 100% within Clackamas County, and I’m certain that Clackamas County residents would be willing to foot a substantial portion of that.

    I do present some deep sarcasm here, but only about attitudes and funding. The connections proposed are actually quite logical, and could help knit communities on the east and west banks of the river in much the same ways as Portland’s many bridges help knit the city together.

  37. EngineerScotty
    January 9, 2013 at 11:36 am Link

    A legitimate complaint about the Sellwood Bridge:

    If Tacoma is a local street–and it is–then why are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent in what is essentially a local bridge?

    A good argument can be made that the Sellwood Bridge should either a) be a more regional facility, providing a more direct connection between OR43 and OR99E/OR224 without the need to go down Tacoma Street (and ideally this would include regional transit infrastructure), or b) not built at all–convert the existing bridge to bike/ped use, and call it good.

    But the time for that discussion is long past; the new bridge is being built as we speak. C’est la vie. The new bridge will (hopefully) benefit transit in the future–if and when TriMet starts to run busses across it (or possible Streetcar extensions), preferably including a crosstown line connecting SW Portland and/or Beaverton with SE and/or Clackamas County; but without any additional infrastructure, any transit services will too have issues with traffic on Tacoma Street.

    WRT an Orange Line extension to Oregon City: Until Clackamas County decides it WANTS such a thing, and the prevailing attitude (reflected in recent election results) is that it does not; it ain’t going to happen. Eventually, it may–Oregon City itself is probably more than willing (if not eager) to have a MAX service, and as the present Tea Party zeitgeist grows old and dies off, I expect the present concern about “Portland creep” to eventually do he same. But we’re talking decades before any more LRT construction (beyond MLR) happens in Clackamas County.

  38. al m
    January 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm Link

    Neil McFarlane has now ordered an audit of TriMet’s use of overtime.

    ~~>That’s an internal audit and we have already witnessed how their ‘internal’ departments function. Coverup and distort.

  39. R A Fontes
    January 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm Link

    Yes, Lake Oswegans would probably be generally opposed to a full-service bridge to Oak Grove.

    According to a traffic study done for Foothills planning, the primary intersection which is at State (Hwy 43) and A is already at capacity. It will get worse after the new Sellwood Bridge is completed since traffic on the current structure is running about 20% below what it was before the weight limits were imposed almost a decade ago.

    Traffic used to back up into Multnomah County three hours or more every week night. The weight limits, aging populations in LO and West Linn, replacement of Portland jobs with those in Washington County, and telecommuting have combined to minimize congestion in downtown LO. Add to the new Sellwood Bridge traffic from SOWA and Foothills development and we could easily get back to the nightly gridlock of the 90′s. Throw an Oak Grove – LO bridge on top of that? I don’t think so.

    A Caruthers style transit/cyclist/pedestrian bridge might get a warmer reception, particularly from Dunthorpians who would see MLR into LO as a preferred alternative to a resurrected streetcar extension. If the 78 crossed the Willamette then PCC Sylvania and Washington County points become much more viable transit destinations for Clackamas County and SW Multnomah County residents.

  40. Ron Swaren
    January 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm Link

    “Traffic itself it is the ultimate traffic calming tool.”

    Tacoma St. will turn into a mess—-because MAX will not get enough people out, the new Clackamas Commissioners will promote the old formula of suburban growth and pull out of METRO as much as they can, The neighborhood association will not allow any more than two travel lanes, and population density will increase in the area. Even if they eventually get the Springwater trail out of the neighborhood and confined to the OPRR right of way, no one will want to go out of their way to get on it, and wintertime use will be limited.

    A better density strategy would be in the Tacoma/99E junction, and south, because there is lots of land and Johnson Creek could be a connecting greenway. This would be good for lower cost highrises because: 1. It is on the MAX corridor 2. On Hwy 99E 3. On the Springwater Trail 4. Is close to Milwaukie (actually is part of Milwaukie). 5. Has views of Willamette River area in Milwaukie If lower floors were commercial or even industrial space, that would get possible dwelling units above the noise from the UPRR, 99E and MAX. And this could all be above a greenway along Johnson Creek.

    ” But we’re talking decades before any more LRT construction (beyond MLR) happens in Clackamas County.”

    So, then going another six miles to Oregon City would be cost what? DO you see why METRO is losing trust?

  41. JHB
    January 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm Link

    Ron: “Tacoma St. will turn into a mess”

    This confuses me… isn’t Tacoma St a total mess right now? Traffic barely moves on Tacoma during both the morning and evening rushes. I don’t understand how it could get worse than this, from a through commuters perspective. I guess the rush could extend earlier and later in the day.

    But as a resident and not a through commuter, I’d personally rather live near stopped traffic than speeding lanes.

    Outside of rush hour Tacoma St functions fine as a relatively low speed neighborhood main street.

  42. dwainedibbly
    January 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm Link

    I think it’s interesting that the overtime issue is coming to light at the same time that TriMet and ATU are getting into contract negotiations. Certainly this hurts the drivers in the eyes of the public. The fact that the decidedly anti-Labor Oregonian is involved makes me wonder about the timing.

  43. EngineerScotty
    January 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm Link

    Were Clackamas County commissioners to withdraw from Metro (which might make some folks in Portland happy–it would probably ensure that Tom Hughes is no longer Metro President after 2014), they would find that Metro is not the entity holding the brake on suburban sprawl.

    The real junkyard dog is the state LCDC.

    Ask Molalla.

    Ask Damascus.

    Molalla, recently, tried to expand its UGB to include lots of suburban sprawl (likely to goose its tax base), and was shot down by LCDC. But at least Molalla has a functional city government, unlike the three-ring circus in Damascus–which cannot get its stuff together enough to pass a land-use plan, and whose mayor seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of basic professionalism in government. (Now that conservatives have control of the county commission, the reason for Damascus’s incorporation for the first place–to block the planned upzoning that was part of the failed UGB expansion some years back–is no longer an issue.)

  44. Ron Swaren
    January 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm Link

    I don’t see how the present Climate Action Plan necessarily produces better environmental results. According to METRO figures only 14 percent of local CO2 pollution (causing warming they think, although volcanic eruptions can cause cooling) is caused by surface passenger transport. So we are going to reduce that to—12 percent? Meanwhile more people move here, burning natural gas for heating? Using energy in their jobs? Buying stuff produced by energy consuming manufacturing? Causing energy usage in the construction processes? Or even worse, buying expensive imports that caused a lot of pollution in both their manufacturing and in their delivery to the Northwest.

    How does a plan that costs billions effectively reduce these emissions, when very little CO2 comes from transportation choices and even less will be improved by the plan?

  45. Lenny Anderson
    January 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm Link

    I agree with SE that a new regional bridge should have been built somewhere between Oak Grove and LO. It could have included a new double deck expressway thru LO over the RR line to connect to 217 at Kruse Woods. End of LO’s traffic problems, right?
    Oh, I forgot, rich communities don’t like freeways, except when they allow those residents to race through poorer areas in the region.

  46. Ron Swaren
    January 10, 2013 at 5:56 pm Link

    ” It could have included a new double deck expressway thru LO over the RR line to connect to 217 at Kruse Woods.”

    Actually it would probably be fairly easy to tunnel under downtown Lake Oswego to Country Club Rd. Downtown Lake Oswego sits quite a bit higher than the lowlands at Foothills Drive. Oak Grove Bv to Foothils Dr. is one of the shortest crossings on that part of the Willamette (650 feet actual distance on the water).

    A shortcut route would also facilitate other means of transport, and would connect several main thoroughfares on each side of the river. I think both communities would get economic benefit, without people having to travel to either Oregon City or Sellwood.

  47. Erik H.
    January 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm Link

    Tacoma is a local street and should be put on a diet to slow traffic and make it safer for the Sellwood community.
    If people don’t like the drive thru there, they can move, get a bike or ride the new MAX.

    Interstate 5 (in north Portland) is an “Interstate Highway” and should be widened to increase safe traffic speeds and make it safer for the entire public.

    If people don’t like the Interstate there, they can move, buy a car, or take the 6 bus.

  48. EngineerScotty
    January 11, 2013 at 8:44 am Link

    should be widened to increase safe traffic speeds and make it safer for the entire public.

    By “widened”, do you mean the existing lanes widened (right now I-5 has about 12-foot travel lanes), or are you thinking additional lanes are necessary? I-5 southbound was just widened a few years back, to get rid of the two-lane bottleneck between Delta Park and Columbia Bvld, and they’re fixing to widen the 4-lane stretch around the Rose Quarter; surely you aren’t suggesting that even more lanes are needed? Where would all that traffic go? And how, pray tell, does adding capacity or increasing vehicle speeds improve safety? And the houses on which side of the freeway should be cleared to make room for these additional lanes?

    Many years ago, lots of folks on Minnesota Street didn’t like the idea of a freeway ripping up their neighborhood; but as it was a mostly African-American neighborhood, and the modern public process for such projects not yet law, their homes were demolished anyway. (As Lenny points out, a similar fate befalling Lake Oswego would be unthinkable–I-205 was originally proposed as going through Lake O, keeping in mind that much of what is now thoroughly developed suburbia was still rural back in the 1950s and 1960s; obviously that didn’t happen).

  49. Ron Swaren
    January 11, 2013 at 11:20 am Link

    The I-5 does go through well-to do neighborhoods in SW Portland. SW Portland is generally more upscale than East side neighborhoods. Plus, the interstate highway that existed for many decades, Hwy 99, goes through North Portland.

  50. EngineerScotty
    January 11, 2013 at 11:34 am Link

    The route of I-5 south of town didn’t require the demolition of anywhere near as much existing real estate, with the exception of the South Portland neighborhood–which was decidedly not upscale at the time.

    Read up on the history of mid-twentieth century Portland. Many black neighborhoods were specifically targeted for the wrecking ball; it’s long been rumored that a big reason the Memorial Coliseum was built where it was is so that whites living downtown could get to the then-new Lloyd Center without having to pass through what was then the southern part of Albina.

  51. Bob R.
    January 11, 2013 at 11:43 am Link

    I can’t speak for Erik, but I took his remarks to be a refutation-by-analogy of Lenny’s earlier comments.

    In other words, Erik was critiquing the “If you don’t like it, you can live elsewhere” line of reasoning. I’m not a fan of that line of reasoning, either.

    That being said, Erik’s construction isn’t a true parallel. In the case of Lenny’s argument, he’s arguing in favor of local residents & businesses being able to stop changes which primarily benefit outsiders (widening Tacoma), while Erik’s presented argument is against local residents & businesses (widening I-5), by and large.

    But I consider the point made, re: “love it or leave it” style appeals.

    Exploring the concept of locals vs. outsiders and relative benefit further … we have an interesting dynamic with the (few, scattered) new developments which are not being forced to create off-street parking. The conflict here is almost entirely local, if in present vs. future time: Locals who want things to stay largely as they are, and (potential) new residents who would very much like to be living in the same community, but in a somewhat different structural form.

    Today’s intruders insensitive to the neighborhood status quo are tomorrow’s NIMBYs. :-)

  52. Ron Swaren
    January 11, 2013 at 9:12 pm Link

    Sounds like we’re getting into conspiracy theories here……I’d like to know what relevance these points on the I-5, that was constructed fifty years ago, have to do with today?

  53. EngineerScotty
    January 11, 2013 at 9:58 pm Link

    The main thing, Ron, is that it’s much harder to ramrod a highway through a neighborhood that doesn’t want one. If the residents of Sellwood don’t want Tacoma Street to turn into a de facto highway, then it simply won’t happen; particularly since the City of Portland will have their backs (for the forseeable future) on this point.

    Likewise, and as noted above, I don’t expect MLR to get any further than Oak Grove for a long time–and were the project still in the planning phase, it wouldn’t likely even get that far. (Now that it’s under construction, it will reach Oak Grove even though Clackamas County voters have expressed displeasure at this; but further expansions simply won’t occur without County support).

  54. Aaron Hall
    January 12, 2013 at 2:38 am Link

    I take issue with the notion that Clackamas County is anti-light rail. I grew up there and I still have family in ClackCo. I know Oregon City and Gladstone will push hard to have MLR extended another 4-5 miles to its natural terminus near the OC AmTrak station.

    That vote took place in a special election just 7 weeks before the General. Only the rabid anti-everything few were motivated to vote on this joke of a measure. If it had been on the General ballot it would have easily failed. Also, nothing prevents expansion further into Clackamas. It just requires an additional step now. Metro is very methodical, they know how to get things done and an extra step in the process won’t stop the progress.

  55. al m
    January 12, 2013 at 10:32 am Link

    Worth a READ!

  56. EngineerScotty
    January 12, 2013 at 10:32 am Link

    The situation in Clackamas County is interesting, but the big issue (for now) isn’t the Sept 18 vote on requiring a vote before spending money on LRT, but the fact that an anti-smart-growth (and frequently anti-transit) faction now controls the County Board of Commissioners. And these folks were elected in the general election, not in a special election.

    I expect the Tea Party energy and activism will recede, simply because the Tea Party is concentrated in the older demographic. And while Clackamas County has trended red of late, the state as a whole remains solidly blue. And the conflict between county dislike of higher-density development and state land use law means that the county likely will be limited in its future development; as noted previously–Metro isn’t what prevents unchecked sprawl in Oregon.

  57. Lenny Anderson
    January 12, 2013 at 10:58 am Link

    Many of the folks who want their local commercial streets to be put on a diet are also in favor of parking-optional residential development. And the demographics are in their favor a present. Indeed thriving community mainstreets with lots of customers (ie residents) is City policy.
    Multnomah was hardly upscale when I-5 was built…I lived there and delivered the morning paper to a lot of marginal people. Topography saved a lot of Portland neighborhoods from the destruction imposed on N. Portland.
    There is no question that South Portland and inner N-NE were poor multi-ethnic communities with a lot of African-Americans in the freeway mania days, and were the victims of the ill considered decision to run high speed roadways thru the middle of the city. Likewise Goose Hollow and inner NW at least regards the latter point. And I-205 dips to the south for a reason! Long term City policy should call for the conversion of these freeways to boulevards, if not outright removal. I-205 can be designation I-5 for thru traffic.

  58. al m
    January 12, 2013 at 11:04 am Link

    And while Clackamas County has trended red of late, the state as a whole remains solidly blue.

    There are only 2 places in Oregon that are solidly blue-the rest is red:
    1-Portland
    2-Eugene

  59. al m
    January 12, 2013 at 11:11 am Link

    Does this look ‘solidly blue’ to you?

    49.2(kitzhaber)48.1(dudley)Kitzhaber +1.1

  60. al m
    January 12, 2013 at 11:45 am Link

    I also take exception to your “tea party” comment.
    The anti light rail movement has very little to do with the tea party, and everything to do with out of control and wasteful government, of which Trimet is the poster child.

    A useless board of directors and arrogant management that thinks it can bully the citizens of its service are.

    A repugnant philosophy of cutting bus services and growing max service.

    That’s what the anti light rail movement is all about.
    The ‘tea party’ has nothing do with it.

  61. EngineerScotty
    January 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm Link

    You forget:

    3. Washington County (assuming by Portland you mean the city of)
    4. Corvallis.
    5. Ashland.

    Just those metro areas alone is nearly 2/3 of the state’s population. Salem (referring to its local population and Marion County, not state government), Klamath falls, and Medford are the only staunchly-red cities of any significant size.

    Actually, given that 2010 was a strongly Republican year, the fact that Oregon still elected Kitzhaber, sent David Wu and Kurt Schrader to Congress from two decidedly purple districts, and denied GOP control of either chamber of the state Legislature, is a strong showing for Team Blue. In 2012, of course, the state voted for Obama by considerably better than a 1.1% margin, and returned control of the state House to the Democrats.

    As far as the Tea Party goes, I don’t consider the term “tea party” to be offensive or derogatory; that’s what those in the movement call themselves. (I avoid using more offensive phrases like “teabagger” on Portland Transport). And while there is considerable opposition to TriMet policy from the left in Portland (OPAL being a prime example), much of the opposition to it from Clackamas County comes from the political right. Americans for Prosperity and Oregon Transformation Project are all right-wing and/or GOP-affliliated organziations, and much of the opposition is cultural (a dislike of transit-riding demographics), economically libertarian, and/or pro-motorist and pro-sprawl. Many of the folks in Clackams County dislike transit altogether, as opposed to folks like OPAL who think that TriMet is diluting its core services by spending too much on rail, but who very much support TriMet’s basic mission.

  62. al m
    January 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm Link

    I think you’re wrong Scott, I think this state could turn red at the drop of a hat.

    Kitzhaber barely beat Dudley

    Oregon state senate is 16 blue 14 red.
    Oregon State house is 30 blue 30 red.

    The state government is much more representative of the way people think that the federal elections are.

  63. al m
    January 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm Link

    And the funny part about all this is, things like these light rail boondoggles, public transit failures and CRC wastefulness etc turn people into republicans.

    Citizens see all these useless government cronies raking in the dough and they vote republican, unaware that there are more than 2 choices.

    The outlining communities of Portland want nothing to do with the Portland central planning methods.

    The outlining communities DO NOT WANT TO EMULATE PORTLAND.

    Can you really blame them?
    I sure don’t.

  64. Ron Swaren
    January 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm Link

    Even if there is no “conspiracy” to indulge in a spendthrift project, when the costs get too high it’s worth it to look at alternatives. I know for a fact that construction wages, as an example, have only risen about one-third of what the costs of the light rail projects have.

    In fact, I would like to see if Tri Met bus driver wages have risen 1000 percent, too, since 1982.

    I doubt it.

    Also I noticed at the Hollywood MAX station, the brickwork was cracked, and the concrete steps were chipped and damaged. This is expensive stuff to fix. The Clackamas Town Center MAX station/parking garage is better; since it uses a greater proportion of metal parts that could be replaced.

    Our local planners seem to get fleeced every time they turn around. While the big civil contracting companies rake in the dough. And it looks like our neighbors to the north get taken the same way, too:
    http://www.journalofcommerce.com/article/id48296/roadbuilding

  65. al m
    January 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm Link

    In fact, I would like to see if Tri Met bus driver wages have risen 1000 percent, too, since 1982.

    ~~~>As a matter of fact Trimet operators have not gotten a ‘raise’ in 28 years.
    All the increases have been as the result of COLA’s.

  66. dwainedibbly
    January 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm Link

    I love it how people like to blame the government (and it’s officials) whenever a public works project is poorly constructed instead of blaming the private enterprises that are doing the constructing.

  67. al m
    January 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm Link

    I love it how people like to blame the government (and it’s officials) whenever a public works project is poorly constructed instead of blaming the private enterprises that are doing the constructing.

    ~~~>No NO NO, these are all public/private partnerships!

    (aka crony capitalism)

  68. Ron Swaren
    January 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm Link

    “I love it how people like to blame the government (and it’s officials) whenever a public works project is poorly constructed instead of blaming the private enterprises that are doing the constructing.”

    Nobody’s blaming anybody—just trying to make some intelligent points. Isn’t the government(s) making the decisions?

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