Eastside Streetcar Gets a Little More Real

Update: 06 July 2006:

The tour continues – yesterday Portland City Council unanimously approved the locally preferred alternative. But apparently the Milwaukie delegation had visited earlier with their “don’t forget us” message. Commissioner Adams pledged to work to make both projects happen.

Update: 30 June 2006:

The tour of local governments to approve the Eastside Streetcar alignment stopped at the TriMet Board this week. As reported in the O, the focus of this event was a group from Milwaukie that reminded the board that South Corridor Light Rail was an existing priority.

Fair enough. It seems to me the issue is that we have more appetite (and maybe more capital dollars – if we leverage Federal funds effectively) for transit than we have the operating dollars to run. TriMet’s payroll tax only goes so far. Perhaps we need to have a serious conversation in the region about other sources for transit operating dollars?

Original post 6 June 2006:

The effort to get the Streetcar across the Broadway Bridge and down to OMSI got a little closer yesterday as a steering committee of local elected officials unanimously adopted a “locally preferred alternative.”

Over the next month, local governments around the region will review and likely adopt the recommendation:

Mode: Streetcar
Terminus: OMSI, with a first construction phase to Oregon Street (more on this below)
Alignment: Broadway/Weidler, 7th & Grand through the Lloyd District, MLK/Grand through the Central Eastside

This sets up an effort over the next year to assemble the necessary local match to apply to the Feds for 50% of the capital funding. A 20-year local commitment of operating funds will also be a prerequisite to the federal application and may be the hardest part of the work over the next year.

The interim recommendation to Oregon Street (the edge of the Lloyd District) could be amended to go further south by the time the federal application is filed if the City of Portland can get a traffic operations plan for MLK/Grand worked out, along with resolving some other issues, in the next six months or so.

There are still lots of hurdles, including an effort by the House of Representatives to de-fund the program we intend to apply for, and the likelihood that the Federal Transit Administration will write rules for the program that are much more favorable to buses than streetcars, but hey, nobody said it would be easy!

The big breakthrough here is the consensus to use MLK/Grand. At the beginning of the process there was a lot of pressure to use an alignment further east in the Central Eastside, perhaps creating conditions for a wholesale change in land uses there. The local advisory group in the district unanimously supported the MLK/Grand alignment, so that question is behind us.

Update: an article in today’s Tribune makes it clear why the discussion of operating funds for Eastside Streetcar will be a challenge. Rising fuel prices and costs of the I-205/Portland Mall line are putting the squeeze on TriMet’s ability to fund new service (TriMet has traditionally provided 2/3rds of Streetcar’s operating budget).

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