Archive | Milwaukie LRT

Name That Bridge

TriMet is in the process of assembling a blue ribbon committee to consider names for the new Light Rail bridge (under construction) that is part of the Portland to Milwaukie project.

Let’s open it up for suggestions here.

[I realize there will be some sarcasm, but let’s have some serious suggestions in there too.]

TriMet Confirms That Orange Line Will Go Through Downtown After All, But Details Still Unclear

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Several months ago I raised my concerns about TriMet’s decision to give the upcoming Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line its own color (the Orange Line) rather than simply extending the Yellow Line south through downtown, allowing riders to travel from one end of the region to the other on a single train. Even with the Orange Line name, I had hoped that at the very least the trains would be interlined through downtown with the Green or Yellow Line, but a TriMet spokesperson told me on a tour quite definitively that Orange Line trains would stop at Union Station and would not be interlined with existing service.

Well, none other than Neil McFarlane (General Manager of TriMet) has confirmed that the information I had been given was incorrect, and that Orange Lines actually will interline with Yellow or Green Line trains through downtown. He said that normally TriMet does not come up with a color designation until closer to the opening of a line, so that they can do a thorough analysis of the proper service design, but in this case the color Orange was chosen early on even though they always expected most trains to interline with Yellow Line trains. He did not really have an explanation for the early choice to separately brand the line, but defended the choice based on the operational flexibility gained by being able to interline with either Green or Yellow trains as needed.

While this is welcome news compared with the prospect of trains terminating downtown for no reason, it still presents a pointlessly complicated and confusing situation for both riders and operations. For riders, it means that someone getting on an Orange Line train from Milwaukie whose destination is past downtown will have to consult a schedule to determine if that train will turn into a Yellow train or a Green train. It means someone boarding a train at Rose Quarter Transit Center will have to figure out if their train will go through to Milwaukie or stop at PSU. It means the system map will likely show the lines as being totally separate (see map above) even though in practice they will not be.

For operators, it means trains will have to switch colors at some point and communicate that to riders. Imagine for a moment how many times a day you will have to hear over the intercom, “Attention ladies and gentlemen, just a reminder that this Yellow Line train is now an Orange Line train.” Imagine how confusing that will be for anyone who is not a daily commuter. And where exactly will this color switch take place? Rose Quarter or Union Station? South Waterfront or PSU? There is really no good answer to this, which will make it a real challenge to operate and for riders to understand.

Neil also defended the “flexibility” of interlining with Yellow or Green trains as needed because he claimed the demand on the Orange Line will require different frequencies than the other lines. I very much doubt that is true. The Yellow and Green Lines both currently operate at roughly 15-minute headways all day, and that should be plenty of capacity for the Orange Line as well. It’s not as if Milwaukie is anticipated to become a high-density urban center anytime soon. All these MAX Lines are going out to low- to medium-density areas that we hope will become more dense in the future. Hopefully they will all be able to justify 5- or 10-minute headways someday, but for now there is just not enough ridership to justify higher frequency, especially when bus service is suffering under the weight of repeated cuts to the Frequent Network.

In any case, there is still no valid reason not to simply extend the Yellow Line south and keep things simple. It’s better for riders and easier to operate. We can save the color Orange for another line down the road. I urge TriMet to think this through and not feel like they are stuck with this name because someone years ago thought it would be a good idea–it’s not. If the name is still kept, I hope they strive to make the switch between colors as clear as possible and find a good way to communicate to riders that they can indeed ride through downtown and out the other side.

Zef Wagner is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University, specializing in transportation planning. He will graduate in June 2013 and is currently seeking employment.

TriMet sues Clackamas County (UPDATED)

TriMet has filed a lawsuit against Clackamas County, demanding that it follow through on contractual obligations related to the MLR project, specifically a few outstanding obligations concerning land near the Park Avenue station needed for the project. The County Commission is claiming that any further cooperation with TriMet on this is contingent on a popular vote, pursuant to Measure 3-401, which cannot be held until May at the earliest. TriMet claims that Measure 3-401 does not apply (retroactively) to MLR; that the County’s actions are causing delay, and is demanding the court order “specific performance” in the matter, and command the County to convey the properties (and pay the outstanding financial obligations) due to TriMet under the IGA (inter-governmental agreement), signed by the County prior to the current Commission being elected. TriMet also alleges that the matter is urgent (due to the construction schedule), and is requested expedited consideration.

The County claims that Measure 3-401 is retroactive, covers MLR, and that it is unable to make any further contributions to MLR without a vote of the people.

The complaint. Oregonian coverage.

UPDATE:

Some analysis, after the jump.
A slam dunk?

From a legal perspective, this ought to be a slam-dunk for TriMet. There is ample case law that the Contract Clause of the US Constitution (Article I, section 10, clause 1: “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility”), and similar language in the Oregon Constitution, forecloses the County’s actions. The County duly negotiated a contract, and is obligated to honor it–states and local governments may not use their legislative power (whether via the primary legislative body, or via the people exercising such power through the initiative) to abrogate contracts they are a party to. There is no argument that Measure 3-401 applies to the future–and I expect that further rail projects in the County will be a long ways off–but virtually everyone with an informed opinion on this–including the county’s own counsel–has come down on the side of TriMet.

Even in cases of clear fraud, the Contract Clause prohibits abrogation of contracts. Two hundred years ago, the Supreme Court decided Fletcher v. Peck, a case in Georgia in which corrupt Georgia legislators had passed laws authorizing the sale of Indian lands to land speculators (who had bribed many of the legislators in question). Revelation of the corruption caused a scandal, and a reform legislature was elected, when then passed a law essentially voiding the prior land sales. The case went to the Supreme Court, which held the corrupt legislature’s acts to be valid (as they constituted a lawful exercise of power, even if illicitly induced), that the reform legislature’s attempts at voiding the land sales was a violation of the Contracts Clause.

Time is money

That said–there is a chance the County could drag this out, and perhaps extract some concession from TriMet; assuming the state legislature didn’t decide to intervene.

Why? Time is money.

You’ll notice that TriMet has requested expedited consideration of the matter by the courts. It has a construction schedule to meet, it cannot build certain parts of the project until it possesses title to the land underneath, and time is money. Also note the relief requested: While part of the relief is financial (payment of nearly $2M that TriMet claims it is owed by the county), TriMet is also demanding specific performance of the contract–conveyance of the real estate in question to TriMet. Specific performance is a common relief granted in real estate disputes, due to the non-fungibility of land, but unless TriMet can convince a judge (and initially, it least, will be Clackamas County District Court that hears this matter) to issue a summary judgment, the court may be unwilling to grant this relief on an expedited basis.

There’s one other aspect to specific performance–it’s what is considered “equitable” relief (along with injunctions) as opposed to a “legal” relief (i.e. damages, or money). As such, a party opposing a demand for specific performance may choose to raise various equitible defenses–one of these being “unclean hands”. I would expect the County to accuse TriMet of all manner of unsavory conduct in its prior dealings on the subject, and to issue broad discovery requests as to TriMet’s relations with its various project partners. While such requests might ultimately prove unfruitful–unless TriMet was underhanded in its prior dealings with Clackamas County, I doubt an unclean hands defense would stick–such discovery might uncover facts embarrassing to the agency and/or its officers–or simply take time. And time is money.

There’s also the matter of appeals. No matter who wins in District Court, I expect the losing side to appeal the decision. TriMet probably has better chances in appeals court than the County does (not to cast any aspersions at the District Court), but any appeal adds delay. And time is money.

There could be pressure on the agency to reach a settlement.

What does the County want, anyway?

Last month, the County Commission sent a letter to TriMet asking it to end MLR at Tacoma Street, north of the County line. TriMet, unsurprisingly, refused. While TriMet could conceivably omit the Park Avenue stop (the MOS to Milwaukie is an approved alternate in the FEIS), ending at Tacoma Street is not an approved design option; plus construction is already underway in Milwaukie already.

The County might also simply want its money (that was paid to TriMet last year, prior to the election of the new Commission) back–and is simply trying to renegotiate the deal to that end. Or, commissioners may be looking for a symbolic victory against the agency, even if they cannot meaningfully stop the project. Whether negotiations between the County and TriMet have been going on behind the scenes, or both sides have proceeded from ultimatums to litigation, I have no idea.

The legislative angle

One risk for the county–is that the Legislature might step in.

It’s rather unusual for municipal entities within Oregon to sue each other. As both TriMet and the county are political subdivisions of Oregon, incorporated under Oregon law and having no independent sovereign authority, one course of action would be for the state Legislature to intervene. And were it to do so–I doubt that would be good news for Clackamas County. The State of Oregon has appropriated $250M to fund MLR; there’s no sign that the current legislature or governor is opposed to the project–and indeed, Clackamas County interfering with MLR might set a precedent that Salem wishes to avoid as it tries to get the CRC done. Furthermore, the County has engaged in some dubious actions in furtherance of the Sunrise Corridor project, actions which have gotten it sued. The county didn’t win friends, either, with the initiative to repeal the drivers license surcharge intended to fund the Sellwood Bridge.

It wouldn’t be out of the realm of impossibility for the state Legislature and the governor to squash the county on this one–invalidating 3-401, for instance. While the Legislature cannot usurp the judicial function of the courts, it could conceivably yank the chair out from under the county by striking the law on which the county’s lack of cooperation is based.

The bottom line

How will this all turn out? Obviously, nobody knows for sure–but this is uncharted territory. I suspect that whatever happens in this case, won’t be the end of things–that TriMet can expect future non-cooperation from Clackamas County as long as the current commissioners are in office. Might the entire county try and withdraw from TriMet (or Metro)? It’s possible, and it’s certainly been discussed around many water coolers there; and the present lawsuit might serve as the justification for initiating such an action.

Stay tuned….

Checking In on the PMLR Bridge

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tour the construction site around the west abutment of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge through the Oregon section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

At present, most of the work is centered around the construction of the in-water piers and the two towers that rise from each. The western structure is nearly at full height presently, with the towers rising 160 feet from the pier as seen below (the eastern structure is much smaller at the moment). They’ll be 180 feet when complete.

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On the top of the right tower, you can see a saddle structure that was recently installed. The saddles are the parts through which the cables are threaded, and for the bridge to be structurally sound, they must be precisely located with a tolerance of fractions of an inch. To accomplish this, the saddles are placed into steel and re-bar skeletons by “specialists” on the ground and then lifted into place on the tower where the concrete is poured.

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In order to ensure sensitivity to the river’s ecosystem, in-water construction can only take place between July 1 and October 31 each year. So the first structures built last summer were the cofferdams at the base of each tower. I snapped a photo of the underside of the western cofferdam below. The eastern cofferdam is pretty easy to observe from the Eastbank Esplanade. Those views will become much more dramatic as the towers grow.

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Once the towers are complete, the deck itself will be constructed using the “balanced cantilever” method. The deck will grow outward from each tower structure, always with an equal amount of deck existing on each side of the towers. The cables will be threaded through the deck and towers as the deck grows. The last pieces of the construction will be connecting the two sections of deck in the middle, and then connecting each section to its abutment. The photo below is of the western abutment.

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I snapped this photo from what will eventually become the South Waterfront Greenway, a strip of park with dedicated paths for bicycles and pedestrians. The land around the bridge will see the development of many tall, mixed use buildings like those recently constructed along the south waterfront. The Greenway will, I think, be among the best walks or rides in Portland when our beautiful cable-stayed bridge is finished and the structures begin to rise from its base.