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SW Corridor Plan stirs up controversy

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JON HOUSE - Adding light rail or bus rapid transit to already crowded portions of Southwest Barbur Boulevard are among the challenges facing Metro planners.Ongoing regional conflicts over transit and redevelopment policies are coming into focus on the Southwest Corridor Plan.

The Portland City Council is scheduled to consider a resolution supporting further work on the plan at its Wednesday meeting.

In the meantime, opponents in Tigard recently qualified a measure for the March 11, 2014, ballot that could prevent it from ever happening.

The clash is similar to those experienced on two other region transit plans. One is the Portland to Milwaukie Line Rail Line, which is being built over the objections of many Clackamas County voters. The other is the Portland Streetcar extension to Lake Oswego, which is on hold because of objection from some residents along the proposed route and opposition on the Lake Oswego City Council.

The Southwest Corridor Plan is being put together by Metro, the regional elected government. It envisions a high capacity transit corridor between Portland and Sherwood, with many redevelopment projects in the cities along the way. No decision has yet been made on whether high capacity transit in the corridor will be provided by a light rail or bus rapid transit line. One early estimate said such a project could cost up to $2 billion.

The resolution before the council endorses the current version of the plan, called the Southwest Corridor Plan and Shared Investment Strategy. It was drafted by a steering committee that includes Mayor Charlie Hales and representatives from the cities of Beaverton, Durham, King City, Lake Oswego, Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin; Multnomah and Washington counties; TriMet; Metro; and the Oregon Department of Transportation. The resolution also directs city staff to work with Metro and the other parties to finalize the plan.

According to the resolution, the plan and investment strategy includes a vision "to support, strengthen and connect livable and prosperous places along the corridor to address current needs and anticipated future growth." The city is developing a Portland Barbur Concept Plan as part of the effort that calls for investing in mix-use development, bike and pedestrian paths, and parks and other amenities along the Southwest Barbur Boulevard portion of the proposed corridor.

But opponents in Tigard want a public vote before any new high-capacity corridor could be built through their town. They turned in enough petition signatures to qualify such a measure for the March 11, 2014, ballot last month. The proposed measure, which would amend the City Charter, also prohibits the city from updating its plans to accommodate the new line without voter approval.

The opponents needed to collected around 5,000 signatures and met the requirement of 4,122 valid ones.

Circulation organizer Tim Esau is confident the measure will pass.

“Just based on the number of responses we got, I know it will," says Esau. "The trickiest part was catching people at home. If they answered the door, it was comfortably two-thirds supporting us to one-third supporting rail. I am very comfortable that we’ll have the numbers.”

Tigard council members say the measure would stymy attempts to relieve congestion in Tigard, specifically along 99W. During a Sept. 30 forum hosted by the Tigard Chamber of Commerce, Councilor Gretchen Buehner said the council is still gathering the facts about whether to support the project.

“We don’t have the facts,” Buehner said. “And quite frankly, the current initiative would stop the city from getting the necessary facts and getting the voters enough information to make an intelligent decision, one way or the other.”

Councilor Jason Snider questioned the initiative’s requirement that the city disclose the exact cost of high-capacity transit projects prior to the planning stage.

“Determining the costs of a project with some level of certainty when you’re not really participating in the planning of the project, or maybe even when (the initiative) is preventing the planning of the project, it makes it, I think, unworkable,” Snider said.

Tigard voters already approved a measure last year requiring a vote before the city can raise taxes or fees in order to build a light-rail line through town. It was placed on the ballot by the Tigard City Council after opponents almost qualified a broader measure for the ballot. Esau says the council measure did not go far enough, however, prompting the recent petition drive.

Clackamas County opponents of the Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail Line used the same process to qualify a measure for the ballot calling for a public vote on any new public transit line. A judge subsequently ruled county officials had already signed legally binding contracts to support the project.

Geoff Pursinger and Saundra Sorenson contributed to this story.