Posted by Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent) on November 13th, 2020 at 5:16 pm
Last night’s final meeting of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Community Advisory Committee was subdued. Part wake, part anecdotal post-mortem, this group of citizen-volunteers had met monthly for almost two years, and they parted without the satisfaction of knowing how their project had gone awry, or even the possibility of hugging one another other over a beer.
Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.
The closest they got to electoral insight came from Tyler Frisbee, Metro’s Policy and Federal Affairs Policy Manager, who summarized the election results. She noted that voters in all three counties had rejected Metro’s measure 26-218 but that “We had stronger support along areas where some of the major corridors were. So, stronger support out along TV Highway. Frankly, not great support from Southwest Portland.”
TriMet’s SW Corridor Communications Coordinator Joshua Mahar explained that TriMet plans to “sleep” the light rail project in early 2021, but also mentioned that “we talked to the Federal Transit Authority and discussed that it was still very prudent” to get the federal environment impact statements “completed and in the books” because “it would make any portion of this project, I believe, eligible for federal funding at a later time.” And, “In terms of project buttoning-up, a lot of what we’re doing, our team, is trying to get everything into a place where we can put it away, but it’s also very easy to take back out.”
Several meeting participants noted that a Biden administration might offer a more favorable climate for funding infrastructure and transportation projects.
If TriMet or Metro intend to ever revisit this project they should carefully consider that a majority of Southwest voters rejected this measure, despite being the recipients of its most expensive project.
After contacting several SW Portland transportation activists, I got the sense that the light rail project never had a strong, homegrown constituency. SW Portland has been underinvested in for decades. It has the least sidewalk coverage of any Neighborhood Coalition in the city — over 65% of its arterials and collector streets lack sidewalks — and its stormwater infrastructure is inadequate to support improving that network. It doesn’t have a connected bike network, large swaths of southwest have no bicycling facilities at all. Several advocates spoke of not having the basic infrastructure needed to safely reach a light rail on Barbur Boulevard. Others feared that the the project itself would divert funding from more modest needs, like bus service, or that it would suck the oxygen out of the room for future infrastructure funding.
In the end it feels like Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.
There is an upcoming Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project Steering Committee meeting on Monday, November 16th, from 9-10 a.m. More details at TriMet.org.
— Lisa Caballero firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at email@example.com.