Barbur Boulevard merchants question light rail plans
A lot of people who make their livings on Southwest Barbur Boulevard, where light rail trains may run some day, are wondering what the future holds.
Four of them spoke recently with the SW Connection. They are just wondering at this point because, they say, it's still too soon to worry.
Don Read, who owns Pacific Typewriter, has been in business along the boulevard since 1984. His view on the probability of a light rail line being built is shared by three of the four interviewed.
"It's going to be very, very, expensive. I don't know if they're going to get the money or not. And I don't really know that light rail's going to be that much better than buses," he said.
The current cost estimates for the proposed Southwest light rail line is $2.6 billion to $2.8 billion. If the project goes forward, construction could start in late 2022 with the line completed and operational by the fall of 2027. There could be a region-wide vote in November 2020 on a transit funding package. If that passes, the federal government would be asked to kick in half the cost of the project.
Read's typewriter business sits on the west side of Barbur Boulevard at Southwest Taylors Ferry, across the street from Wendy's. He thinks the 600-square-foot building he rents will be okay when construction starts, but isn't sure. "I think it's too early to get worried. Everything from the get-go has changed," he said.
Besides selling used manual and electric typewriters, he services machines from Salem to Vancouver. One of his steady customers is the Portland Police Bureau, which still has a dozen typewriters in use for specialized tasks in the Forensics Division. At one time he serviced all the typewriters at The Oregonian newspaper.
Pacific Typewriter used to be located under GoldenTouch restaurant, across from Barbur Rentals. But he moved it south when the owner of the building told him it would be replaced by apartments and a grocery store.
Those plans have been put on hold. Instead, Ian Brandt will take over the Golden Touch and turn it into the Vertical Diner, a vegetarian restaurant set to open in mid-April. Brandt knew that a light rail line might be built along Barbur Boulevard when he signed a two-year lease. He's in favor of light rail.
"I've been working closely with my landlord (Bill Garyfallou) and this light rail project has caused some reorganization of his plans. He still plans to build apartments on the site. We're working on this in a way that will enhance the value of his property into the future," said Brandt, who also runs a Vertical Diner in Salt Lake City.
"We're looking at establishing a long-term relationship beyond the term of the lease. Vertical Diner could become a long-term tenant in a newly-developed property," he said.
Pat Murphy just took over a long-established bar and restaurant about a mile south on Barbur Boulevard. He and his wife Lisa now run the Old Barn.
"I think light rail is way down the road because it's so expensive. I don't think the cost-to-benefit ratio is there and I don't think voters in the metro area will be in the mood to tax themselves $2.5 billion," he said.
He thinks spending money on schools is more important than spending it on mass transit. "It seems that education is more of a basic function and should be higher up on our list of priorities," he said.
"Could Barbur Boulevard use some beautification? Sure. Could it use sidewalks from here (next door to the Barbur Transit Station) all the way to Fred Meyers? Yeah."
Murphy has been to a few meetings put on by Metro and TriMet but isn't sure what the future will mean for the Old Barn. It's looking likely that the alignment plan for the light rail line would take it behind the transit station. His building may or may not be one of the 25 businesses that would be displaced if the line ever gets built along that particular route. (That alignment is known as Alternative B2.)
Concerns about route
"To me, and again I'm not anti-public transit, but putting something down the middle of Barbur Boulevard impacts so many businesses. Maybe I don't understand the whole design, but my understanding is they'll widen Barbur on both sides," he said.
"Then what happens to Les Schwab, to that vintage motel (Capitol Hill Motel), to the 7-11, to the Original Pancake House?"
Like Brandt, he knew about the light rail plans when he and his wife decided to buy the Old Barn business. John Malafouris, who ran the Old Barn for 37 years, still owns the building and upstairs apartment. He and Murphy met with Jennifer Koozer from TriMet last sumer.
"She said your building may go away or it may not. It may happen in six years, it may happen in ten years or 20 years. Or it may never happen."
Across the street from the Old Barn and a block south is Master Wrench, an auto repair shop. Service Advisor Brian Creamer, who grew up in Multnomah, attends all the pubic meetings about light rail and knows many of the people who work at those 25 businesses that would be displaced by Alternative B2.
"If they go with B2, we'll be perfectly fine, which we all hope for. But I feel bad for Metro Car Care, Valvoline and Starbucks (businesses that would be displaced). They're not going to be fine. Any way you go about this, people are going to get hurt. How hurt is the question," Creamer said.
He doesn't like what he's seen and heard of the plans for light rail running along Barbur Boulevard. "I don't think it's going to improve traffic in the area. In fact it's going to make it worse. It might help the people in Tigard," he said.
Like Murphy at the Old Barn, he's not anti-mass transit. His wife takes TriMet home from work every day. He just thinks this light rail plan is the wrong one.
"They should have gone underground at Burlingame," he said. "That would have taken care of the grade problem (Barbur climbs 400 feet to the intersection with Capitol Highway) And they could have put in a transit center like the one at the zoo," he said.