Couplet Lives to Fight Another Day

I was fortunate to testify relatively early in the process yesterday, as part of one of about a half dozen invited panels.

That was before some 80 members of the public testified.

I had to leave immediately after my testimony to get to an MPAC meeting.

I just finished going through almost six hours of video of hearings (and I still missed the vote/final statements of Sten and Potter, which went past the 6-hour mark I had set my recorder for). Thank god for the 30-second-forward button on TiVO.

The net is that the couplet will move into preliminary engineering. But auto traffic will return to Burnside at 15th, so the Catholic Cathedral and School will not be impacted by additional cars.

Still in question is whether the Streetcar might use the stretch of Couch from 15th to 19th. That issue will be studied further.

Commissioner Saltzman who felt “trammetized” wants to keep the Enhanced Burnside alternative alive in case costs for the couplet turn out to be unfundable. The Mayor is concerned about how the project competes for funding with other transportation priorities.

Commissioner Sten wants to make sure that the couplet doesn’t happen UNLESS the Streetcar also happens (this is different from Sam’s previous position, which was that the decision was divisible – he has apparently now embraced the full bundling). Sten also added an amendment tying the decision into the Central City Plan update process (a potential delaying factor) but with a strong suggestion that the Central City Plan better include the couplet.

As part of the discussion, Sam had to defend the local match funding sources for the Streetcar Loop project and took pains to point out that they don’t compete with the potential Burnside sources.

Net result: A unanimous vote for $2.6M to start preliminary engineering on the couplet, and $500K to do project development on the Enhanced Existing option as a backup if the couplet proves too expensive.

Sam also has marching orders to figure out how the City-wide rail plan will get integrated into the early stages of the Central City Plan update.

Planning DIrector Gil Kelley, a confirmed couplet opponent, chose to go to MPAC rather than the Council hearing. I doubt he will be thrilled with the direction to reconcile the couplet with the Central City Plan.

We’re a long way from done…

Oregonian blog coverage here.

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