by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Plans to bring high-capacity transit to Tigard and Tualatin moved one step closer this week as area officials approved a plan to move forward with the next phase of study. It is expected to be completed by 2017. With a unanimous vote Monday morning, plans that could bring a MAX light-rail line to Tigard moved one step closer.

Meeting in front of a large crowd at the Tigard Public Library, the 14 members of Metro's Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee approved a plan they had been discussing for the past two years.

Members agreed to study high-capacity transit in Southwest Portland and into Tigard and, eventually, Tualatin. Those plans could mean either MAX light-rail or bus rapid transit would move into the area over the next several years.

The decision was anything but unexpected. Members of the steering committee have been discussing the issue for months, and steering committee members were expected to continue studying both light rail and bus rapid transit as possible options.

Portland Mayor Charlie HalesThe committee is comprised of mayors from Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, Durham, King City, Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Portland, as well officials from TriMet, Metro, Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington and Multnomah counties.

Monday’s decision ends the first phase of the project. From here, the agencies will conduct an environmental impact study, looking at how the transit lines would affect the area.

That study won’t be completed until at least 2017, when the committee will recommend which line should be built, if any.

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane called Monday’s actions “the end of the beginning” and said the ridership in Tigard and Tualatin is ready for more transit options.

“Our buses coming in on Highway 99W are very full. Our buses in Tualatin are very full,” he said. “There is a lot of demand for transit in this corridor that we know we can meet with a little bit more service.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales applauded the way the committee has committed to studying every option.

“It used to be that some agency would lumber along toward a project they already had in mind, and vocal communities had to react and either say, ‘Yes please,’ or ‘Oh no, go away,’” he said. “That world has changed ... We’ve found a project in the land-use plans and long-term dreams of each community. How does this make my city a better place? That’s what each of these mayors has to ask as they represent their communities at this table.”

But not everyone was happy with the committee’s decision.

Although plans for which roads the line would go down have yet to be finalized, there is little room for construction along Pacific Highway. The general consensus among planners has been to run the line along Southwest 72nd Avenue or Hall Boulevard into Tualatin.

That didn’t sit well with Tigard resident Andy Bergman, who lives near Hall Boulevard.

“I am against any kind of high-capacity transit coming down Hall Boulevard into a community that is already well established,” he said. “They don’t want it. They don’t need it.”

At the same time, petitions have begun circulating across Tigard as activists go door-to-door gathering signatures for a potential ballot measure that could stop both light rail and bus rapid transit from coming to town without public approval.

It’s the second try for proponents of the measure. A similar attempt in 2012 fell just 46 votes shy of making it onto the ballot. That measure would have stopped any money being spent on light rail without voter approval.

In its place, the city put forth its own referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, saying it would not increase taxes and fees to pay for light rail without a vote of the people.

This time, activists are broadening their scope. If approved, the proposed ballot measure would require that voters see a total cost of building either light rail or bus rapid transit, the exact amount of road capacity taken away by the transit corridor within five miles of Tigard, and what increase in housing density is expected before they vote.

Proponents of the measure say they aren’t anti-transit, but want to make sure voters get to decide for themselves what taxpayer money is spent on.

Proponents have until late September to collect the necessary 4,122 signatures. If proponents can gather enough signatures this go-round, the referendum could appear on special election ballots in March.

Even if the measure makes it to the ballot, there is no guarantee that federal dollars will be available to help pay for the line’s construction.

“Even if we get our act together, we still might lose,” Hales said. “These things aren’t inevitable. They only happen, and lightening only strikes, when everybody gets together at the local level, maintains that consensus and competes successfully for federal level.”

There is much more to the corridor plan than just transit, said Metro Councilor and former Tigard mayor Craig Dirksen.

The committee’s approval also opened the door for a set of investments to roads, parks and natural resource projects in the corridor.

“Even though the transit component gets a lot of attention, it’s only one component, and it doesn’t function without the other components as well,” he said. “Adding transit to the corridor doesn’t solve our problems alone. It is one component of a solution to make the corridor continue to function as it grows. There are a lot of other things that need to be in place to complement it and enhance it.”

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