SW MAX LINE: THE BIG A$K
The first of two big questions about a possible Southwest MAX line — where would it go? — has been answered.
The proposed route was revealed to reporters and photographers in mid-June. (See Jim Redden's report on page 7). Simply put, heading south from Portland State University, trains would cross I-405, follow Southwest Barbur Boulevard to Tigard, turn left off Pacific Highway at Southwest 68th, head south, cross Highway 217 and roll through Tigard to Bridgeport Village. It is impossible to drive the proposed 12-mile route because it crosses private property and existing railroad tracks.
The second big question — how much will it cost taxpayers? — isn't as easily answered.
Currently, the estimated cost of the SW MAX light rail line is between $2.6 and $2.8 billion. That estimate doesn't include the cost of a couple of major, companion infrastructure projects. By comparison, the seven-mile Orange MAX Line which opened in September 2015, cost $1.5 billion to build.
As of late June, TriMet and Metro had spent $36.27 million alone on the extensive community outreach effort and the early planning that's got to be done if there's any hope of securing federal funding.
A final cost estimate for what would be the seventh light rail line is expected in early 2020. In the meantime, TriMet is already looking to cut the estimated costs of the project by a quarter million dollars.
TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey told the Southwest Community Connection in June that his staff had already reduced a $358 million "shortfall" by $100 million and would now be looking to cut another $250 million by "scrubbing the costs."
"As we look at a project of this significance — this region and TriMet have never done one this big before, the Orange Line was about $1.4 billion and this is $2.4 billion — so there will be other things along the path that we don't know.
"There's a lot of work that has to run in parallel paths. But we'll have to triangulate and reconcile this with the overall quarter billion dollar shortfall," he said.
The SW Corridor Project Steering Committee Kelsey chairs had just decided not to make a funicular railway the only option for a connector from Barbur Boulevard to Marquam Hill. (See page 7)
It's most likely Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas county voters will be asked to increase their taxes in some way to pay for SW MAX in November 2020. How much more is currently being worked out as a funding measure is developed by Metro.
Currently, the State of Oregon is considering committed $150 million for SW MAX. Metro has contributed $60 million, which is being used for planning. TriMet, Portland and Washington County are talking about kicking $75 million each into the project.
Any eventual campaign for passage of a regional transit funding measure will promote the benefits of light rail through Southwest Portland to Tigard. TriMet and Metro literature currently promise a 30-minute light rail ride between Portland and Tualatin, a shuttle to the PCC Sylvania campus and that connector to Marquam Hill. TriMet estimates that more than 20,000 passengers a day will ride in each direction, adding up to 43,000 "riders daily."
Project critic John Charles, executive director of the Cascade Policy Institute, has testified before the Legislature in Salem, the Steering Committee and a Metro task force developing that bond measure. He's not a believer in the estimated $2.6 to $2.8 billion budget.
"TriMet capital construction forecasts are usually wrong," Charles wrote in an email. "The systemic low-balling of construction costs and over-estimating of ridership is designed to garner early political support. By the time costs are later adjusted upward and ridership forecasts adjusted downward as opening day approaches, it's too late for the politicians to change their mind. It's a well-established strategy in the public sector."
As for the third question: when will construction begin? If voters approve a tax increase, local partners put up their share and 50% funding is secured from the Federal Transit Administration, crews could start tearing up streets in October 2022 with service beginning in September 2027.