Ready to ride light rail?
Since thousands of words will be written, hundreds of statements and reports read, dozens of people interviewed and several meetings attended as part of the Southwest Community Connection's coverage of a possible light rail line through our neighborhood, it's time for some full disclosure.
I've ridden public transit — street cars and buses — since I was a young boy growing up in San Francisco. I was a bit of a free-range kid, unafraid to hop on the bus by myself before I was in my teens.
The family had one car, but that wasn't used much on weekdays. Dad rode a bus to work and Mom took me and my two siblings on the bus to go downtown or to the dentist. Not only that, my paternal grandfather, Willie Gallagher, was an operator on a street car. (He worked for Muni, San Francisco's version of Trimet, and the joke was that street cars were a musical line because they had a "harp" at each end. Harp was an ethnic slur aimed at sons and daughters of Ireland. Willie came to America from County Donegal in 1910 or so.)
When I lived in Lake Oswego and worked in Portland near Lincoln High School, I rode Trimet's 38 line regularly. ("Thirty eight rhymes with late," we used to joke.) Living in Multnomah now, I usually take the 44 or 12 line when I head downtown. For about a year, I commuted to Northeast Portland on the 12 line, which entailed a ride home at 11:35 p.m. So I know what it's like to ride Trimet.
None of which means I'll be reporting on Southwest light rail from a comfortable seat on the bandwagon for the project. Serious questions need to be asked about exactly how this line will make its way between Tualatin and Portland.
Will the route down Barbur Boulevard veer into the Multnomah neighborhood and then enter a tunnel to be built under Capitol Highway? Or will trains head off of Barbur before they go behind the Transit Center and across Capitol Highway at Starbucks? (See story, Page 7.) How will the line hook up with OHSU? What's to become of that terrible bottleneck at the west end of the Ross Island Bridge?
And then there are the multibillion-dollar questions: How much will this cost, and who's going to pay? Preliminarily, the price tag is projected to be between $2.64 billion and $2.86 billion. Ideally, the folks at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., will pick up half the cost of the project, with local taxpayers funding the balance — if plans work out.
Supporters of light rail see lots of jobs and housing opportunities being created. So developers, unions and contractors are expected to finance an eventual campaign to get voter approval for the line. Opponents see too much public money being spent on a project that will cost more than we're being told and which won't carry nearly as many people as the optimists at Trimet and Metro estimate. (Note to self: Check out ridership estimates. Trimet's already estimating "43,000 daily rail riders" by 2035. I think General Manager Doug Kelsey meant for a Southwest line, not the entire light rail system.)
You'll most likely get to vote on a new light rail line between Southwest Portland and Tualatin through Tigard in November 2020. Four years ago, the voters of Tigard rejected the idea. But two years ago, the City Council there put up a measure to overthrow the earlier results. It won by a margin of 130 votes.
Next time you're driving along Barbur Boulevard, try to imagine a pair of light rail tracks running down the middle of the road. That's just a snapshot of the project.
If it really gets built, the child who is 2 months old today will be 9 or 10 years old by the time the trains run. Between now and then, a tiny percentage of the people who will vote on the project and maybe ride the trains some day will be involved in the planning process. Meanwhile, dozens of engineers, accountants, lawyers and bureaucrats will be building a light rail line. If you don't pay attention to their work, this could ultimately be a case of "they decide, we ride."