Rolling the Streetcar Dice

There’s been a sea change at the Federal Transit Administration.

After the FTA created a preliminary set of rules for the Small Starts program (the program that Earl Blumenaur and other congressional leaders designed for Streetcars) that strongly favor bus projects, the new FTA Administrator, James Simpson, was just shocked to learn that no Streetcar projects had been submitted to the program. A number of bus projects were submitted, but most were relatively poor performers (Eugene’s BRT program being an exception).

Anyway, with Simpson now in charge, our region has been encouraged to submit a Streetcar project. Given that the same prompting is probably being given to other regions, the brakes are off and we’re moving as quickly as possible to submit a Project Development application for the Streetcar Loop.

One small problem – the development work for this was supposed to take until about June, and that work was to determine if we had the resources to make it all the way to OMSI or would stop the first construction phase shorter, either at Oregon St. or Morrison St.

Due to the acceleration, the steering committee of elected officials that oversees both The Loop and the Lake Oswego analysis debated the issue today and gave the tentative direction to make the stretch to OMSI. While this is not “irrevocable” as Commissioner Sam Adams pointed out, it’s unlikely that new information would be available to better inform the choice before the application is actually submitted in January.

Why is this rolling the dice? If we submit for OMSI and later decide that we only have the resources for a shorter segment (and under the terms of the workplan adopted by the steering committee, “having the resources” includes understanding and getting agreement on how any such allocation affects other projects, including Milwaukie LRT), we might be required by FTA to withdraw our application and resubmit a new application for the shorter segment. This potentially loses us our place in line in the Federal process. Worst case that could mean losing one or two years on the project.

I’ll be biting my nails, excitedly…

For those of you following the Lake Oswego process, the steering committee also took two actions on that project, eliminating River Transit from consideration (at the recommendation of the project’s citizen committee) and also removing consideration of placing Streeting on Highway 43 south of the Sellwood Bridge (putting Streetcar in the street in John’s Landing – as an alternative to using the Willamette Shorline right-of-way there – is still under study).

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