2014: Tigard, Tualatin voters take transit drama to the MAX
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
As of 2020, the Southwest Corridor MAX project is moving along, more or less proceeding as planned.
But in 2014, voters in Tigard and Tualatin dealt what was nearly a fatal blow to regional officials' plans to construct a sixth TriMet light-rail line.
Tigard went first. Voters in the city narrowly approved a ballot measure in a March 2014 special election that banned Tigard from spending any money on a high-capacity transit line without a vote of the people to explicitly authorize it. A similar measure passed in Tualatin in a special election that September, by a much larger margin of victory.
The campaign over Ballot Measure 34-210 in Tigard drew thousands of dollars in outside money, including from Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Stimson Lumber Co. and a major campaign donor for Republicans in Oregon, who supported the measure. Opponents argued the measure had become a proxy fight for "Tea Party" conservatives. Supporters said they didn't want Tigard to spend money on a project that would affect property-owners and could limit road capacity.
In the March 11, 2014, vote, Tigard's anti-MAX charter change prevailed by just 230 votes, a margin of a little more than 2 percentage points.
"Voters can breath a sigh of relief knowing we now have local control," said a satisfied Tim Esau, co-petitioner for Measure 34-210, after the results were tallied. "If they want to bring their big super-project, they will have to convince the voters."
Transit skeptics in Tualatin took heed of the outcome. They petitioned a similar measure to the ballot, which Tualatin voters approved by a nearly 3-to-1 margin in September.
Despite the results, then-Tigard mayor and Southwest Corridor steering committee member John L. Cook insisted the Southwest Corridor project wasn't dead, even though Tigard and Tualatin's ability to participate was shackled by charter. It turned out he was right.
Cook helmed a new campaign two years later, pushing a ballot measure to allow Tigard to go ahead with participating in the Southwest Corridor MAX project. Some opponents argued that Cook was trying to nullify the results of the 2014 vote. Cook countered that he was following through on what voters said they wanted in 2014: a public vote on Tigard's involvement with the light rail project.
Measure 34-255 passed in the Nov. 8, 2016, election. However, it took days for the results to become clear. In the end, it passed by an even slimmer margin than the March 2014 ballot measure: 149 votes, or half a percentage point. Tigard duly became a full participant in Southwest Corridor project planning.
Tualatin, meanwhile, has never held a new vote on its participation. City leaders say one isn't really necessary. Tualatin withdrew its support for extending the MAX line all the way to the Tualatin WES Station in 2015, about a year after the September 2014 election. Plans still call for the line to reach Tualatin, but it would terminate just inside city limits at Bridgeport Village.
Cook's successor as Tigard's mayor, Jason Snider, questioned the idea of taking the MAX line all the way to Bridgeport Village in 2019, after project officials said they might have to reduce traffic capacity along Southwest Barbur Boulevard in Portland to avoid going over-budget. Ultimately, however, officials found the money to keep their plans mostly intact for now.
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