More from CPI: Calls on Congress to block MLR, but still build the bridge

Our friends at Cascade Policy Institute have been busy, with a letter being sent to House Transportation chair John Mica (R-FL) asking that funding for Milwaukie Light Rail be deleted from future federal appropriations. While Mica and the GOP is known to be targeting discretionary funding, including infrastructure, as part of budget cutting exercises, whether the House would attempt to “reverse-earmark” a specific project (blocking appropriations for it via legislation, rather than simply reducing FTA budgets and letting the FTA figure out where to make cuts) is unknown. One suspects that Mica gets plenty of similar letters from engaged partisans all over the country, asking him to promote or quash a wide variety of projects.

More interesting, though, is the letter that Cascade sent to Governor John Kitzhaber–asking the gov to support an alternate, low-cost plan for transit in the corridor. The plan is detailed here; but includes the following items:

  • Finish the new bridge over the Willamette River
  • Cancel the light rail portion
  • Connect the streetcar loop
  • Offer more “express” bus service to Milwaukie

CPI thinks that this will cost about $300 million or so, the bulk of which is the cost of the new bridge, freeing up a bunch of money for “other projects”.

Intriguing.

The projected cost of the bridge is indeed in the $300M range, if memory serves me, though I suspect “completing the loop” will cost more than couch change. Having the bridge would improve bus operations downtown even if no light rail ran across it. However, I can’t imagine this idea meeting FTA cost-effectiveness critera–the MOUS for Milwaukie MAX only removes the Park Avenue section. (OTOH, were a project to be paid for out of local funds only, then the MOUS is irrelevant and the project can be whatever the region wants it to be).

Obviously, more runs of the 99 aren’t really a replacement for light rail (or vice versa); express bus and rapid transit (whether rail or bus) are two different services which provide two different functions. I’ve long been open to the concept of BRT in the corridor–given the lack of a strong anchor in the Milwaukie area, and the “funneling” effect the river has on the perpendicular bus service, a good quality open BRT line (which, to me, means more than a space-age looking bus with a distinctive paint job and the occasional signal override) would make an attractive option in the corridor, particularly if it could reach Oregon City instead of Milwaukie. (And express busses can use a busway to provide more reliable service than the 99 barreling down McLoughlin; one advantage of bus over rail is that it is far easier for express vehicles to pass locals). Of course, replacing light rail with BRT–something which was considered early on in the South Corridor Project, then dropped when the city of Milwaukie expressed a preference for light rail–would require significant more planning work.

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