Should TriMet consider the MOS for Milwaukie MAX?

Should TriMet consider the MOS for Milwaukie MAX, particularly if funding from Clackamas County is no longer available?
The Portland-Milwaukie MAX project commenced construction last year, albeit concentrated in downtown. Trees have been ripped out along SW Lincoln, work on the bridge has started, and work is also starting on the so-called “Harbor Structure”, a viaduct over Harbor Drive between SW Naito and SW Gibbs. Work on the bulk of the project, beyond the new bridge, doesn’t start until next year.

That hasn’t stopped activists in Clackamas County, who are skeptical of the project, from trying to block the county (and the city of Milwaukie) from contributing funding. Whether these effort a) are legal, and b) will succeed at the ballot box, but my guess is the latter question will be a yes–and the former question is a big I-don’t-know.

County commissioner Paul Savas, who is critical of the project, has suggested that Clackamas County renegotiate the contract (already executed) which commits the county to pay $25 million to the project in exchange for MAX being built to the Oak Grove area. One proposal that he makes–and which has also been previously suggested here as a potential fallback plan– is that instead of constructing the full line to Oak Grove, the region instead construct the MOS to Milwaukie, and stop there.
What is a MOS?

MOS stands for “minimum operating segment”. It is a standard part of a federally-funded project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which specifies a smaller subset of a project which, if built, would still meet cost-effectiveness goals. Identification of the MOS serves several purposes–it helps a project deal with funding contingencies–such as a participating government agency withdrawing their contribution–and it also helps (in theory) to make sure a boondoggle section isn’t tacked on to the tail end of an otherwise useful project.

According to the Record of Decision, the full version of the project (the Locally Preferred Alternative, or LPA) consists of a two tracked light rail line from Portland to Oak Grove, terminating at Park Avenue, with 11 new stations, 20 new rail cars, several viaducts, and the Big Bridge over the Willamette River. Two stations, at SE Tacoma and Park Avenue would have park-and-rides, with capacities of 800 and 600 spaces respectively.

The MOS consists of the entire full line, except for the last station. The line would instead end at Lake Road station in Milwaukie, rather than ending at the Park Avenue station in Oak Grove. The MOS would eliminate the construction of a viaduct over McLoughlin Bouleavard, and the Park Avenue station. Instead of building a park-and-ride at Park Avenue, it would be built at Lake Road instead (the LPA has no park-and-ride at this stop). Only 16 new railcars would be purchased instead of 20.

The FEIS contains one other option–and this is what TriMet actually intends to build. It’s described as the “phasing option”, and it is essentially the same as the LPA, but with only a surface parking lot (no garage) at Tacoma Street, giving 320 spaces instead of 800, and a smaller structure at Park Avenue, with 355 spaces instead of 600. It also includes potentially fewer railcars, and a few other cost-saving measures (such as fewer switches along the line, where trains can transfer from one track to the other).

There does not appear to be a “phased MOS” option, which combines the cost savings of the phased LPA with the elimination of Park Avenue.

The numbers

How much are the various options projected to cost? In year-of-expenditure dollars, the figures are as follows (all figures taken from Table 5-1.1 of the FEIS, page 5-4):

  • For the LPA to Park Avenue, US$1.55 billion.
  • For the LPA Phasing option, $1.49 billion (a savings of about $60 million from the full LPA).
  • For the MOS, $1.38 billion (a savings of about $170 million from the full LPA, and $110 million from the phasing option

Projected ridership by 2030 is as follows–and here’s where it gets interesting (all figures taken from secion S.5.1.1 of the FEIS, in the Executive Summary).

  • For the LPA to Park Avenue: 25,570 daily trips.
  • For the phased approach, 22, 700 trips.
  • The MOS: 24,810 trips

Note that the MOS, which is $100 million less expensive, nonetheless produces over 2000 more daily trips than the phased LPA–and the difference between it and the full LPA is only about 760 daily trips.

Hmm. While I’m generally not fond of cost/rider as a metric, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, I’ll do the calculations. For the full LPA, that works out to $60.6k per new rider. The MOS, $55.6k/rider. The phasing option: $65.6k per new rider.

What this tells us is that ridership is dependent on ample park-and-ride spaces. That isn’t terribly surprising–Clackamas County is not terribly dense nor transit-oriented, so many users of the MAX from the county will be driving to a park-and-ride; fewer spaces will naturally depress ridership. It also suggests that the bulk of the riders using Park Avenue will be users of the park-and-ride, and will happily drive an extra mile or so to a different park and ride. But it also tells us that the option that TriMet is planning to build, is apparently the least cost-effective one–there’s more bang for buck to be had by eliminating the Park Avenue station (and the trackwork and viaducts needed to reach it) then there is from the various cost-reduction exercises undertaken to produce the phased approach.

More numbers

Let’s now turn to the question of paying for the thing. Most of the local funding for the project is secure–right now the only doubtful piece is $25 million from Clackamas County, and $5 million from Milwaukie. Since there is a 1:1 federal match on the local contribution, were this $30 million to vanish, so would another $30 million from Uncle Sam–for a grand total of $60 million. There isn’t sufficient local funding to build the full LPA; the best the region can do with pledged funding sources (including the Clackamas County portion and the federal match thereon) is the phased approach. Without Clackamas County’s share (and match), even the phased approach can’t be afforded.

However, the MOS is still quite affordable even without Clackamas County’s share–it costs $110 million less than the phased LPA. If the region built that, it could do so without a dime of Clackamas County’s money, and still have $50 million left over. Uncle Sam would keep half of the cost under-run, but that would leave $25 million. Which brings up an interesting question: Who would get it?

My suspicion is that the under-run proceeds would either be spent on additional capital improvements (such as the recent solar panels at the current end of the Green Line), or divided up among the contributing governments in rough proportion to their contributions. But given that TriMet has pledged operating dollars to help float a bond to finance MLR, it would be nice to think that the cost savings could be used to offset that.

Other thoughts

At the recent #askneil event on Twitter (transcript here), I asked Neil McFarlane about the prospect of building the MOUS:

@engineerscotty: Any thought to only building PMLR MOUS to Milwaukie, w/o Park Avenue, if Clack Co voters block county from contributing its share?

Neil responded thusly:

@talktrimet: @engineerscotty The petition drive in Clack Co is still an evolving process; too early to speculate.

@talktrimet: @engineerscotty Clack Co has committed has to light rail and to the $25M contribution to build the line to Park Ave.

Unfortunately, he didn’t answer the question–something I don’t consider promising.

However, building the MOS might have other advantages:

  • Public goodwill. TriMet’s reputation is not in the greatest shape at the moment, with many accusations abounding about the agency’s motives–including a significant number of folk who believe the MLR project is about pork-barrel politics, not transit improvement. Voters in Clackamas County, in particular, are skeptical. While some of this is no doubt motivated by hard-core anti-transit ideology from the usual suspects, quite a few transit supporters are doubting the agency. Building the MOS might be politically useful.
  • Greater future flexibility. While I don’t expect MLR to be extended for quite a while, at some point in the future an extension to Clackamas, or Oregon City (via Gladstone), or Lake Oswego might be in the works. By truncating the line at Milwaukie, all of the options remain available; the Park Avenue extension somewhat commits further extension down the 99E corridor–other extensions would then have to branch at Milwaukie.
  • A better anchor. An important factor in an efficient rapid transit line is a good “anchor”–a destination at the end of the line that drives ridership. A park-and-ride in downtown Milwaukie, where support for the project has generally been strong, is doubtless a better anchor than one in Oak Grove–a poorer community with low residential density, and many residents who are both suspicious of transit and terrified of gentrification.


15 responses to “Should TriMet consider the MOS for Milwaukie MAX?”

  1. It’s good to know that there are decent alternatives should mass hysteria drive Clackamas County to renege on their obligation. Thanks for this post & analysis.

  2. Eliminating Park Ave is a logical move if Clackamas Co backs out. The rest of the riders should not have to suffer for their shenanigans.

  3. After posting this, I did think of one reason why regional leaders might be hesitant to choose the MOS. There is a strong desire, including by Milwaukie city officials, to do TOD in Milwaukie around the Lake station, and that becomes harder if there’s a big parking facility adjacent to the station. Also, Lake Road is not on either of the main highways in the area (OR99E and OR224), so placing a P&R there might negatively impact local traffic.

    One interesting thing is that under the MOS, the proposed park-and-ride at Lake Road is smaller than the one that would go at Park Avenue under the LPA, and the one at Tacoma Street is larger (1000 spaces rather than 800). One wonders if the balance could be shifted even more–Tacoma Street is a fine place to put a parking lot, as the redevelopment potential of the site–sandwiched between the highway, the UP railroad, the Tacoma Street alignment, and a pile of warehouses–is practically nil.

  4. I know of at least one person in the south-of-Milwaukie area who has been pushing this for a number of reasons, and reasons that appear to may have merit.

    Overall, I’d love for the line to go to Park Ave and the big parking lots on the west side of McLoughlin south of there to be turned into an urban hub.

    But I also see reality. Neighborhood and developer buy-in to redevelopment there is not guaranteed, it’s not cheap to build to there (unlike e.g. on the westside where going from 185th to Hillsboro simply meant continuing down the abandoned railroad line) and the proposed viaduct may mean impacts to parkland, a future trail site and the adjacent neighborhood.

    Plus, if bus service on McLoughlin (as well as River and Oatfield Roads) continues serving downtown Milwaukie instead of terminating at Park Ave, MAX will just be duplicate service between Milwaukie and Park Ave.

    The real solution, I think, is to put a park and ride off the south side of Hwy 224 with a station north of Harrison Street. A station here would also be a much better connection to the northeast, including bus service towards Clackamas Town Center. Surrounding people have voiced concerns about security, but the solution is an agreement to fund a dedicated security officer.

  5. Perhaps people are forgetting that park and rides generate auto traffic. How might downtown Milwaukie feel about putting a P&R *north* of Milwaukie, thus guaranteeing that auto traffic continues through their area just to park on the north side of it? Not very well: it’s one of the reasons the line was extended from Lakeside (where a P&R was early on proposed) to Park Avenue.

    If Clackamas County and/or Milwaukie reject the line at the ballot the line will move forward as planned, because voters cannot un-sign a contract. If they could, every public sector contract would be impossible to enforce. And in the end the City of Milwaukie and Clackamas County will end up paying even higher prices: their commitment to TriMet, and the legal bills for the lawsuits that will ensue should both ballot measures pass.

  6. If Clackamas County and/or Milwaukie reject the line at the ballot the line will move forward as planned, because voters cannot un-sign a contract. If they could, every public sector contract would be impossible to enforce. And in the end the City of Milwaukie and Clackamas County will end up paying even higher prices: their commitment to TriMet, and the legal bills for the lawsuits that will ensue should both ballot measures pass.

    ~~~>Trimet has no problem breaking contracts, just look at their union contract, broken into pieces, illegally.

  7. Milwaukie residents are doing the same exact thing that Trimet is doing.

    The project is too expensive, the budget is too tight, and they don’t want it. The citizens over there have done the exact same thing that Trimet has done to its employees. They say its too expensive to honor the contract to the employees and the citizens of Milwaukie says its too expensive on their already tight budget.

  8. One issue with only a Tacoma St park and ride is that it’s farther in, resulting in less reduction of miles driven.

    But I’ve been told that, originally, the park and ride was going to be north of downtown Milwaukie, at the current park and ride site.

  9. Thanks for a detailed rundown of the options. I’m concerned this is following the path of the Sellwood bridge funding. The MAX and the parking facilities will be used heavily by Clackamas residents, while others pay for it. A $5 parking fee per day at the Tacoma parking facility for Clackamas residents would be significantly less than downtown parking and should be considered if the county pulls out. It would probably have to be coupled with neighborhood parking permits. It could be gathered on arrival to park by automatic licence plate scanners.

  10. $5 at the outermost parking facility would only drive people to the next one in. If we’re going to toll park & rides, we should toll the close-in ones first.

  11. How much could we save by building NO park-and-ride spaces?

    The park-and-rides are clearly for Clackamas county residents (no need to use them if you live north of there), and since Trimet doesn’t think it can charge more than $1 a day for parking, they will be heavily subsidized.

    At a usually coast of $25,000 per parking space in structures, we could save another few million dollars by only having surface parking lots, and no structure at all. This would also be easier to redevelop into something useful and unsubsidised (like homes, offices and retail) in the future.

  12. Due process has occurred, no one can argue that.

    Two decades of planning and countless open houses, meetings, publications, testimonials, etc… Even the Feds applaud Trimet and Metro’s due diligence and public participation practices.

    Agreements made at public forums and signed.

    …and THEN comes the vocal minority.

    A lightrail project is just like any other major infrastructure investment: you can’t make everyone happy. A lot of money was spent making sure everyone’s concerns were heard. There is absolutely no need to further spend public dollars investigating a project that is already funded and under construction. If they had a gripe they should have made a better case earlier.

  13. Ya, when do residents in Multnomah County get to vote on the CRC? Do I get to vote on the Sandy Blvd repaving project?

    We can’t expect a vote on every transportation project.

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