TriMet: Federal infrastructure package could revive SW MAX line
Although TriMet is preparing to put the Southwest Corridor MAX line on hold, the regional transit agency believes the proposed light rail line will eventually be built — perhaps even in the foreseeable future.
TriMet is hoping to line up emergency federal funding for the project, if the incoming Biden administration can persuade Congress to pass a large infrastructure funding package to help jumpstart the economy.
TriMet general manager Doug Kelsey discussed the possibility during the final meeting of the agency's Southwest Corridor Project Steering Committee on the morning of Monday, Nov. 16.
The project is winding down for now because voters rejected Metro's $5.2 billion regional transportation funding measure on the Nov. 3 ballot. The measure would have provided $975 million to help match federal funds for the line, the total cost of which is estimated at up to $2.8 billion.
"We are winding down the project, but I believe it will re-emerge because the demand still exists," Kelsey said during the online meeting.
The line would run from Portland to Tigard and Bridgeport Village, just outside of Tualatin.
According to Kelsey, TriMet is currently completing the federally required final environmental impact statement for the project. After that, all work on it will be stopped, although it could resume if and when funding becomes available.
Tigard Mayor Jason Snyder, who sits on the steering committee, said his city has much to gain from the project. He asked whether TriMet should hedge its bets on the chance that Congress approves a large infrastructure funding package that could reduce the required regional match from 50% to just 20% of the project's cost.
Kelsey said TriMet must complete the impact statement under any circumstances, adding that his agency has already been in touch with the head of the Biden transition team reviewing the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), and the Federal Maritime Commission. President-elect Joe Biden tapped Phil Washington, the CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for the job.
Kelsey said he already knew Washington prior to his appointment.
Expensive ballot measure fight
Before the meeting ended, practically every member of the committee said the measure failed because the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced transit ridership and hurt the economy. Under those conditions, voters were leery of the 0.75% payroll tax in Ballot Measure 26-218.
The measure was intended to raise and invest a total of $8 billion in 17 transportation corridors in the region. If approved by voters, it would have generated $4.2 billion from within the region for transportation projects and another $1 billion for transportation-related programs. The regional funds were expected to leverage an additional $2.8 billion in federal transportation funds.
Supporters formed two political action committees to support the measure.
The Get Moving PAC reported raising $1.17 million by Monday, Nov. 16. Large contributions included over $210,000 from Stacy and Witbeck, a California-based construction company that has worked on previous MAX projects in the region; $50,000 from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Oregon; $65,000 from the Texas-based AECOM Technology Group; and $10,000 each from a variety of construction companies and labor unions.
The Infrastructure Jobs are Good Jobs PAC reported raising $188,000 by then. Large contributions included $60,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, and $25,000 from the United Food and Commercial Works International Union.
Opponents formed the Stop the Metro Wage TAX PAC. It reported raising $2.7 million by Monday, Nov. 16. Most of the contributions came from businesses, including $915,000 from Nike, $250,000 from The Standard, and $150,000 from Intel.
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