UPDATE: What once seemed unthinkable is now on the table as TriMet considers the option of shortening the proposed SW MAX line and having it only run between Tigard and downtown Portland.
The plan until now has been to run the line 12 miles between Portland and Bridgeport Village in Tualatin.
At the behest of Tigard Mayor Jason Snider, a member of the Steering Committee for the SW Corridor Light Rail Project, TriMet staff will spend the next seven weeks revisiting what's called the "Minimum Operating Segment," or what the region can afford, and reporting back on the impact of funding a light rail line that would be shorter by about 3.5 miles and have two fewer stations.
But that proposal isn't sitting well with Tualatin officials.
"I disagree with Mayor Snider on the terminus potentially being in Tigard," Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik wrote in an email to The Times. "Tualatin has been working on this much needed transportation project for many years and is committed to continuing our work on it. I believe the project needs to get to Bridgeport; that is where TriMet will get the ridership they need to make the line pencil out financially and for the region to get the much-needed reduction in congestion on I-5."
Bubenik went on to write that commuters from neighboring counties are "much more likely to utilize a Bridgeport Park and Ride, with its elevated parking structures, than a small station in downtown Tigard with limited parking."
Our previous report:
Although the light rail project is more than a year from seeking voter approval, it's projected cost is currently $462 million more than the money that Tri Met is counting on to be available to build it. Initially, the cost was pegged at $2.375 billion. But the latest estimate is $2.84 billion, a difference of $465 million. The eventual cost would be shared by the Federal Transportation Administration, local voters and local government partners, such as Portland, Washington County, TriMet, Metro and the State of Oregon.
Mayor Snider told members of the Steering Committee, which oversees development of the project, that they have some "hard choices" to make.
"Skinnying it up is a choice. So is shortening it. Which one will do the most good for the people and places in this corridor? That's a question for every member of the CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee) and this Steering Committee.'" he said in a prepared statement, meaning certain features of the light rail line could be eliminated to cut costs ("skinnying"), or the line could be shortened.
"We have always known that getting to Bridgeport was the project's goal. But it was always a goal, never a given," Snider said.
Light rail has been a sensitive issue with Tigard voters, who once voted to forbid their city from spending a dime on the project. But that vote was later reversed by an exceedingly narrow margin. Snider says he's been willing to settle for a smaller light rail station in Tigard, but that now with the projected funding shortage, he's not so sure.
However, the head of the Steering Committee, TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey, said in a project this big, reassessing options is a "natural part of the process" and reiterated five times that he is "still optimistic" the line will extend to Bridgeport during Tuesday's meeting.
"The north star of this project is to go to Bridgeport. The next couple of months is going to be very important. If we shorten the line (and lose potential passengers) revenue is lost and we are non-competitive for federal funding," he said.
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