The Streetcar that Swallowed the Meeting

Yesterday morning at JPACT, discussion of Eastside Streetcar chewed up almost the whole meeting (Sam Adams’ resolution about Hayden Island used the rest). The rest of the agenda got pushed out to August.

In the end, the committee unanimously endorsed Metro Council adoption of the Locally Preferred Alternative, but not before a number of neighborhood activists from Brooklyn and Sellwood/Moreland reminded the committee how important South Corridor (aka Milwaukie) Light Rail is.

Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard made the same point.

My own testimony was to the effect that we are fortunate as a region to have so many good transit projects in the pipeline, and we should be working to expand the available sources of operations funding.

The point was also made by several members that we need to have a better long-term plan for regional rail expansion. There is some hope that this will come out of the RTP Update.

Last stop on the Streetcar LPA tour coming up next Thursday at the Metro Council.

11 responses to “The Streetcar that Swallowed the Meeting”

  1. Chris,

    What was your take on the likelihood of that South Corridor “delegation” succeeding in preserving the Milwaukie MAX plan? I know that they have put a lot of effort into building a consensus among their respective residents and I couldn’t miss the tone of alarm being voiced at the last SMILE meeting. So the committee (JPACT, I presume) endorsed the locally preferred alternative–does that mean to the exclusion of other projects (as some were concerned)?

    I would still advocate for Streetcar from Milwaukie, over the Sellwood Bridge connecting to WestShore. If this was to ever be done, the cheapest way would be before the relevant components have undergone construction., i.e. Sellwood Bridge, West Station on West Shore line, and a transit station at Tacoma and Hwy. 99. I certainly think two routes from Milwaukie to Portland would be better than one. Why not give SE and Clackmas County residents easy access to South Waterfront and OHSU?…. And it would easily connect to Lake Oswego as well.

    What if the voters turn the MAX proposal down? To me that doesn’t spell a disaster because there could be a more cost-effective option.

  2. In reality, the “buses in a ditch” option would
    have been the most elegant solution to the South
    Corridor, providing maximum flexibility to the
    region. However, hybrids like Seattle’s would
    have to be used, to quell concerns about noise
    and pollution.

    If a MAX line is built, wait for residents of
    Oak Grove, Gladstone and OC to see how their
    transit service is degraded, like North Portlanders found out with Interstate MAX.

  3. Ron, the Brooklyn/Sellwood/Moreland/Milwaukie folks don’t have to ‘preserve’ anything, their process is still continuing, they’re somewhere in the Environmental process (I’m not totally up to speed on the exact details).

    Streetcar and South Corridor will not compete for capital dollars. They are tapping different Federal programs and mostly different local sources (they will both try to get some money out of MTIP, but probably not to the extent of forcing a choice between the two). The conflict will occur in operations funding.

    The Streetcar work program is explicit: before applying for federal funds, there has to be regional agreement on how this project, Milwaukie and others will fit into the operations funding picture. Saying ‘yes’ to Streetcar will NOT be implicitly saying ‘wait’ to Milwaukie. The decision process will need to be a lot more explicit than that, and I think the desired outcome is to figure out how to expand the pool of funds so we can say yes to both projects and more.

  4. You know, I retort to many things. But every time someone mentions increasing “operations funding” which is only the most basic of costs for the Tri-Met Transit System to run my first thought is, there goes an increase in the Income Tax/LID/Some Tax that I’m sure I already pay an excessive amount of.

    Why is it that real revenue from the farebox can’t be factored in for this? The Eastside Capitol Expenses I can understand begging the feds or whoever for that, or racketing up taxes on LIDs or Citizens for it, but for Operations? That’s like asking the feds/city for a personal driver for my car. Really, would I do that? Hell no. But it a very realistic analogy.

    So with all that in mind, where is the thought for these other “operational funds” going to come from?

    …on the other note…

    Once Green Line/Downtown Corridor Mall Revitalization is complete, how long do they intend to wait before starting on Yellow Line to Milwaukee? I’m curious as I hope time isn’t wasted between the projects, it would be ideal and VERY logical to begin the south Yellow Line Project at the end or even just before the Mall & Green Line are completed.

    On that same note, where are operational dollars coming from for that line? What are considered the sources of operational dollars for the current Green/Mall Expansions? Is it just LIDs or are there General Budget Funds coming into play on that?

    Curious. And worried.

  5. Adron, just to be clear, for most transit we’re talking about TriMet’s payroll tax as the source of operations funding. For Streetcar, that is supplemented to some degree with parking meter revenues from the areas adjacent to the alignment.

    I’ll be happy to do away with operational subsidies for transit as soon as we do away with all subsidies for roads, up to and including the funding for our military adventures in the middle east.

    To your Light Rail questions, the Green line (I-205 and Mall) operations will be funded from the payroll tax.

    I would note that a flaw in the use of the payroll tax is that while transit use is certainly linked to employment to a degree (i.e., more employees = more transit needs and inflation in transit costs is likely to be roughly matched by inflation in wages), as we are successful in encouraging folks to shift modes, the payroll tax is absolutely NOT responsive to needed increases in service. To some degree that’s the challenge we’re bumping into.

    The gating issues for Milwaukie are:

    1) Completing the required Federal environmental review.

    2) Identifying sources for the local match.

    3) Successfully applying for the Federal funds.

    Eastside Streetcar is in some sense ‘ahead’ of Milwaukie in that:

    – We have tentatively identified the sources of local match (although they are certainly not yet committed).

    – We are likely to either not have to do an environmental review (because we are in an area already entirely urbanized) or will have to do the least onerous version of the environmental review (an Environmental Assessment vs. an Environment Impact Statement).

  6. To earlier comments,
    all options except lightrail were studied by Metro for the Milwaukie line…demand from residents of SE Portland and Milwaukie put lightrail back as an option, and it out scored BTR, etc.
    re North Portland, with the opening of the Interstate Yellow Line, no bus service hours were lost. 85 Swan Island went from 9 to 25 hours of service per day, 75 went to Frequent Service, etc.
    MAX runs more trips with more capacity and is more reliable than the old 5 bus ever was.

  7. I think the biggest flaw in this whole streetcar plan is the failure to integrate planning for it with the regional transit system. This means both the routing and the operating cost.

    Regarding the route, I don’t understand using MLK. Terry Parker’s suggestion in an earlier post to use SE 6th makes more sense to me, especially in terms of connections to the existing bus system, like lines 12, 19, 20, 15, 14, 10, and 4. Then run a fast east-side MAX link in the vicinity of Water Avenue, in the future.

    To get the biggest bang for the buck, connect the Streetcar back across the Hawthorne Bridge, and use the same connection to run streetcars at higher speed to Milwaukie, designed for future conversion to MAX.

    Given the limited pot of money available for both capital construction and operations, it is irresponsible not to be thinking on a regional basis, with phased implementation. I think light rail in the Barbur corridor should rank much higher than a new Carruthers bridge, when the Hawthorne is available as an interim. Frankly, I think that one result of working toward the most cost-effective phasing would be the realization that a downtown MAX subway plus surface Streetcar lies in the future, and our phasing would be oriented toward that end.

  8. Doug, I agree, to a point. Some of it is a matter of culture. Ten years ago, Light Rail planners were calling the Streetcar proposal a “donkey trolley.”

    Now that it has proven its value, we can have a different kind of conversation.

    The Eastside Streetcar is in fact in the Regional Transportation Plan, but so are a lot of things we will never be likely to pay for. That’s one of the reasons the RTP update under way is going to take a different tact and focus on what we can really build.

    So yes, we need a framework for rail regionally. Sam Adams is starting to develop a Portland vision for rail, and I hope that process is adopted by Metro and turned into a regional vision.

    As to 6th versus MLK, it’s all about the zoning. Th EXd zoning (mixed use) is in the MLK/Grand corridor and the district wants it to stay that way. Moving Streetcar to 6th would pretyt much force turning more of the industrial sanctuary into mixed-use zoning.

  9. Doug says “I think light rail in the Barbur corridor should rank much higher than a new Carruthers bridge.” It seems that Barbur Bv. connecting to Front Ave, connecting to U of P and North Portland Rd and eventually to West Vancouver would be a good possibility. I would think a streetcar would be adequate since MAX is already headed to Vancouver on the other route. Right now the industrial zone of NW Front Ave would not seem a good route but I’ll bet the riverfront businesses will eventualy cash in on their prime property. Could be up to two decades away but I think they will–where they would relocate to is a good question.

    The ‘” folks believe they are still making headway with their proposal, so it would be smart to get the most out of that route, if it gets a go-ahead.

  10. The streetcar is not really a regional connection to the industrial area or OMSI and certainly not Milwaukie. It is more a circulator connecting the area to downtown and Lloyd Center. I think its a mistake to shift the focus to the 99W corridor before completing the connections to the east bank portion of Clackamas County and probably Lake Oswego. Until the commuter rail line is up and operating in the 217 corridor I think there are a lot of open questions about how best to proceed.

  11. I am not sure that Ross understood my comment regarding Milwaukie. My suggestion is that the Hawthorne Bridge can be a cost-effective link to downtown for two separate rail routes. The streetcar will end up as a sterile egg if it does not re-cross the river at the south end. By buiding across the Hawthorne Bride as part of the initial phase, the streetcar becomes much more useful. Then, as long as that link is being built, it provides a good interim crossing for running rail to Milwaukie. By using streetcars rather than MAX trains, that service can be implemented sooner, and at less cost, yet provide virtually the same level of service until such time as ridership grows or additional corridors justify the cost of a new crossing.

    Regarding MLK versus 6th, my understanding is that the real reason for MLK and Grand is that this avoided a new bridge over the Banfield and UP Railroad. Merely having a streetcar one block further east doesn’t require any zoning change at all. In fact, although Ross says that the streetcar is not a regional connector to the industrial area, there is no reason why it couldn’t serve that function in addition to being a circulator.

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