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Passage puts brakes on regional transit planning for city leaders

Unofficial results from Tuesday's special election show Tualatin voters support Measure 34-220.

The passage of 34-220 forces the city to hold a public vote before it can build, or study, a light-rail line coming to Tualatin, which is something city and regional officials have been considering for several years. The measure does not include bus rapid transit, which is also included in Southwest Corridor planning.

Unofficial results show 74.62 percent of voters (2,381 total) supported the measure, while 25.38 percent (810 total) were against it.

Aaron Crowley, the chief petitioner of the measure, was repeatedly unavailable for comment.

“Having the requirement that someone votes on something doesn't prohibit anything in my mind,” said Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden. “What I've said all along, is any kind of project that has to be paid for by the voters, if it doesn't make sense to the voters, then it doesn't make sense.”

Tualatin Measure 34-220 asked voters to prohibit the City Council from authorizing the use of “city resources for public rail transit systems” without a public vote. In this instance, city resources are described as: Public funds, staff time, lobbying agreements, property interests and tangible or intangible city assets.

Also prohibited would be the right to direct or permit using the aforementioned resources for financing, design, construction or operation of public rail systems without voter approval.

“We need to understand exactly what the new law does require,” said Ogden. “In there, in order to put a vote out for light rail, there are certain pieces of information that have to be on that ballot measure. The current law, as I understand it, prohibits the city from finding that information.”

Though Ogden isn't sure exactly how the process will work for determining what the measure's language means, finding this out is crucial for moving forward.

“What does the language mean exactly? What specifically is required to be voted upon? How can the city best pursue a regional study in the way our community and citizens want to go?” Ogden said. “You've got to do some level of analysis, study, to figure out where you need to go from here. If you decide where you need to go is where you don't want to go, then you don't have to do it.”

The city has been a part of crafting the Southwest Corridor Plan for years. That plan, currently being studied, is looking at several traffic improvements from Portland to Tualatin, and planners are considering bringing either a light-rail MAX line to town, or a less-expensive rapid bus system, similar to one used in Eugene.

No decision has yet been made on which of the two, if any, will be built. Because Tuesday's vote does not impact plans for rapid bus, some confusion exists over what exactly the measure means.

“Is it the letter of the law or the intent?” Ogden asked.

This is the second such vote in Washington County this year. In March, Tigard voters approved a less severe measure approved a less-severe measure, which calls for a public vote before the city can approve plans to build any kind of "high-capacity transit" system, including rapid bus and MAX, but allows the city to continue studying both options.

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