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Voters approved charter amendment in 2014 requiring new vote for city to support project.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Tigard Mayor John L. Cook points to a map showing proposed Southwest Corridor line alignments during a 2013 town hall meeting.The mode of the Southwest Corridor transit line has been decided and its alignment options have been narrowed down to just a few alternatives.

But the transportation project faces another significant hurdle: Tigard voters, who narrowly approved a charter amendment in March 2014 that requires the city to formally oppose it unless a public vote is taken to authorize it.

The Southwest Corridor project aims to bring MAX light rail to Tigard, and even as far as Bridgeport Village in Tualatin, via Southwest Barbur Boulevard and other routes from downtown Portland. With an estimated $2 billion price tag, the project is contingent on state and federal funding.

If Tigard residents were to express support for the project in the November election, its chances of getting funding could receive an important shot in the arm. Such a vote would also allow the city of Tigard to adopt land use regulations to support the planned light rail line, according to Kenny Asher, Tigard's community development director.

“You're going to have to change some regulations about land use in the city, and if you're going to do that to accommodate a high-capacity transit project, voters are going to have to vote to say that you can do that … and you're going to have to provide them with some information so that they can make that vote,” Asher said before a public hearing at Tigard City Hall on Tuesday.

The hearing provided the first open forum for city residents to weigh in on ballot language that the city has proposed. The proposed measure would ask voters whether the city should support extending MAX light rail service to downtown Tigard as part of the Southwest Corridor's current plan.

While transit opponents waged a fierce campaign ahead of the 2014 vote, warning voters of disruptions they said a light rail line in Tigard could cause, none of the people who spoke at Tuesday's public hearing did so to speak out against the project or chastise the city for proposing a new vote.

“Having a downtown light rail station would be a very valuable amenity and would make living downtown a lot more attractive,” said Carine Arendes, who chairs Tigard's City Center Advisory Commission.

Tim Esau, a light-rail skeptic who spearheaded the 2014 campaign to amend Tigard's city charter, also spoke at the public hearing. He thanked the Tigard City Council, which presided over the public hearing while meeting as the board of directors for the City Center Development Agency, for allowing the public to weigh in on the proposed language.

“You know from my activities where I've stood on that, and I do appreciate you guys … seeming to really seek to fulfill that spirit of that charter portion,” Esau said.

Esau suggested the ballot language should be clearer about impacts to wetlands, industrial areas and road capacity, and he argued it is “disingenuous” for it to state that the MAX line would not affect Highway 99W.

“The drawings still show it running down Pacific Highway — not necessarily in Tigard, I get that, I get it veers off, but Pacific Highway runs all the way into Portland,” he said.

Southwest Corridor planners dropped consideration of any alignments that would run the Southwest Corridor transit line alone Highway 99W south of Portland city limits in 2013. They are still studying an alignment along Highway 99W in Southwest Portland, although it is unclear what the effect would be for Barbur Boulevard's vehicular traffic.

Esau also expressed concern about whether the city has been complying with the charter amendment requiring the city to officially oppose construction of the transit line until voters say otherwise.

“I have yet to see any actual opposition on the part of the city, to live up to the spirit of that part in the charter,” he said.

Elise Shearer, a proponent of the Southwest Corridor project, also thanked the council for holding the hearing.

“Please keep the actual ballot measure as clear and simple as possible about a vote on light rail, as well as answering the requirements in the short statement,” Shearer urged the councilors. “We all know the Southwest Corridor project is about a lot more projects than just the light rail. That can all be gone into in the explanatory statement, and hopefully, our citizens will read the entire thing.”

Shearer said the Southwest Corridor project — the scope of which includes additional bus service and could include road extensions, new trails for bicycle and pedestrian use, and likely a new overpass on Highway 217 — depends on light rail coming to Tigard.

“Without it, nothing will come into our city, and then we will let down the five other communities currently driving through us as well,” she said. “Tigard is the hub of the Southwest Corridor wheel.”

During council discussion after the hearing concluded, Councilor Jason Snider said, “I think I heard the theme a couple different times that we need to try to keep things as clear as possible.”

Councilor John Goodhouse agreed.

“We've got to keep this clean, concise and understandable by the public,” he said.

Snider also addressed Esau's remarks, saying he wants to be sure the ballot language complies with the charter amendment voters approved in 2014.

“We need to be clear that what we're doing meets with the requirements of what's written,” he said.

Councilor Mark Woodard said he is not comfortable with specifying that the MAX line should serve downtown Tigard unless he also gets a commitment to construction of a new crossing of the railroad tracks for Southwest Ash Avenue. The street is split into three segments by Fanno Creek Park and the Portland & Western Railroad; those tracks are also used by TriMet's WES commuter train.

“I think back to 2011 when I ran for that Ash street crossing,” Woodard said. “I fought so hard for that. It just seems to get further and further away.”

Woodard said he is concerned about the impact that a MAX line and station could have on downtown Tigard businesses, but he feels it would be “worth it” if the project led to construction of the Ash Avenue crossing.

The City Council will hold another meeting on the proposed ballot language on June 28. Meeting materials, likely including a revised version of the draft measure, will be published a week before then, according to Mayor John L. Cook.

“We will continue to hash this out over the next three weeks,” Cook said.

Voters in Tualatin and King City have also passed ballot measures that would require voter approval before the cities can contribute funding or other resources toward a rail transit project.

By Mark Miller
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