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TriMet GM stays positive as reality of SW Corridor project loss settles in

Posted by on November 16th, 2020 at 4:21 pm

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

This morning TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey had the unenviable task of hosting the final meeting of the SW Corridor Light Rail Project Steering Committee. The project was set to receive $975 million from the Metro funding measure that failed at the ballot box on November 3rd. Without the money, there’s no path forward for the project and officials say it will be put to bed until further notice.

The steering committee is made up of elected officials from around the region. It includes: the mayors of Durham and Tigard; a councilor from Metro Tualatin and Portland; ODOT’s regional rep, and a Washington County Commissioner. Their mood was much less solemn than volunteers from the Community Advisory Committee who we reported on last week. Electeds are by nature more desensitized to disappointments and they’re also experts at putting a positive spin on bad news.

Kelsey (who ironically came to TriMet in 2015 from British Columbia’s TransLink after he was let go following a resounding “no” vote on an unpopular transit funding measure) told the seven members of the committee that without the Metro measure funding, “There’s just no plausible way for us to move forward.” “On the TriMet side of things… we’ll move to a wind-down period for the foreseeable future.”

Then Kelsey uttered a word I’d never heard used in this context before, but that would be used several times in this meeting: “re-phoenixing”, a reference to the mythological ancient Greek bird that rises back to life out of burnt ashes. “There will be a re-phoenixing at some point down the road, because the demand still exists.” Kelsey said. He and several other committee members blamed the timing of the measure and economic conditions surrounding the pandemic as the major culprits for its loss.

No one in the meeting had anything bad to say about the project itself.


Attendees of this morning’s final steering committee meeting.

Kelsey’s remarks sounded like a post-game speech from a kind-hearted football coach trying to lift his team’s spirits after they lost to an underdog in front of a big home crowd. “There’s no question,” Kelsey continued, “The Southwest Corridor is a great project. It was one of the biggest contributors to reducing greenhouse gas in this region could actually have undertaken on its own. So I don’t want us to lose sight of the good that comes out of the challenge of having a setback. The only thing that’s been lost here is time. And so we will have a chance to re-emerge sometime down the road.”

Kelsey then likened the project to the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing — another multi-billion dollar mega-project years in the making that failed to win popular support and ultimately died when Washington legislators refused to fund it. CRC backers have changed the name of the project and kicked off a new planning process earlier this month. “Like the CRC project up to the north,” Kelsey said of the SW Corridor, “It is now re-phoenixing itself… This will have that time as well.”

Consultants and agency staff made $175 million planning the CRC. At this morning’s meeting, Kelsey said the public, “Should all be really proud of what their taxpayer dollars have done.”

We had about three days of feeling a little sorry for ourselves and are back to figuring out what’s next.”
— Tyler Frisbee, Metro federal affairs policy manager

TriMet still plans to complete the project’s Federal Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) so that it’s as shovel-ready as possible for any funding opportunities that might arise. With hopes of a big infrastructure program from the Biden administration, Kelsey said he’s already contacted LA Metro CEO Phil Washington who’s been named as a member of Biden’s transportation policy advisory team.

Metro’s Federal Affairs Policy Manager Tyler Frisbee spent three years crafting the funding measure. At this morning’s meeting she called the loss a mere “bump in the road.” “We had about three days of feeling a little sorry for ourselves and are back to figuring out what’s next.”

SW Corridor Project Director Leah Robbins said much of the work from the design and planning teams can still be put to use. “Things related to the stormwater challenges in the corridor and things that are related to safer ways to bike and walk,” are still relevant she said.

Other officials also looked to put a positive spin on the news.

Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers said the loss is just a “very minor setback in the big scope of things.” “I’m not disheartened by this part of the process,” Rogers said. “Because you can take two or three steps forward, than four or five steps back — and you can achieve things by doing that.”

Durham Mayor Gerry Schirado and City of Tualatin Councilor Robert Kellogg both blamed the timing of the vote and the pandemic for the measure’s loss. “It could not have been more catastrophic,” Schirado said. And Kellogg said he remains hopeful. “Once it is built, I very much look forward to the many comments wondering why the line was not built earlier.”

Kelsey smiled widely upon hearing that comment. In his mind the goal of the project — its “north star” — remains unchanged: “We are committed to going to Bridgeport [a big shopping mall in Tigard]. We must be resolute in that from a regional perspective.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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robertamaxDMeganMatt Drick Recent comment authors
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So they intend to do absolutely zero discussion on why the measure failed. I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised. The planners need to sit down and discuss why the people of the metro area shot down the measure and what needs to change to get buy-in from the community, rather than just blaming everything on covid.


1) Reduce car lanes to 2 instead of 4 north of Barbur Transit Center.
2) Replace every park and ride with Mixed Use Development.
3) Coordinate with City to upzone along each station.
4) Maybe the project doesn’t need to go all the way to Bridgeport. Instead why don’t they fix the Tigard segment to better integrate with the downtown.

This would not only reduce the cost of the project but also make it much more appetizing to voters. I dont really understand how Kelsey sees this as a “perfect project.”


“re-phoenixing” strikes me as a little redundundant.


Once again I’ll say the exempting public employers while sticking it to private employers while private employers are cutting and furloughing employees makes no sense. I work for a company that makes physical products in the area. We don’t just farm out all the making of the product to SE Asia. We have a lot of good paying jobs but we are in a globally competitive market. If it costs more to employ people here our competitors in lower cost areas in the US and abroad can sell their products for less than we can. At some point it becomes too expensive to produce goods here. I often think that the leaders in places like Trimet don’t understand economics. Taxing consumers (gasoline) and items that cannot easily outsourced from the region or country is much better than making it more expensive to have have and hire staff locally (payroll taxes).

Rain Waters
Rain Waters

Apparently the days of endless agenda driven mega projects has gone the way of good old rock and roll. If theres no money theres no mega project. Clue one, theres no money. A look outside of our utopian fantasy cave reveals thousands of cars lined up for miles for a frozen foul in Dallas, that formerly booming profit machine now locked up in some dusty basement for its own good.

How much more stubborn stupid crap can this country bear ? People who play along are stubborn and stupid. Yes, with that giant LIE were allowing to gut our country.

Good luck with those projects.


“No one in the meeting had anything bad to say about the project itself.”


Too expensive
Doesn’t move enough people
Not enough supportive land use
Not enough density, now or in the foreseeable future
No effect on GHG
Not enough community support
Too slow
Eliminates too many bus lines
Doesn’t directly connect to OHSU or PCC
Would remove too many homes and businesses
Too much project risk (financial, construction)
Questionable qualifications for federal money
Would create unsafe traffic conditions
Doesn’t reduce car traffic
Weak pedestrian and bicycle connections/infrastructure
Too many park and rides (all free parking)
Not equitable
Supports and encourages urban sprawl
And maybe the worst one of all: the SW Corridor project sunk the transportation ballot measure!

Introducing…your 2020 Transportation Leaders!


If TriMet wants any re-phoenixing to happen, it better get its ash in gear.

Or voters will do some re-nixing.


How about trying to improve the project instead of just being defiant in defeat? Cutting Barbur down to 2 lanes would save hundreds of millions and encourage transit oriented development. Use some of the saved money for more gated crossings and faster peak speeds. Terminating the line at Tigard TC and adding a branch directly to PCC would serve more people than going to Tualatin just for the hell of it. Re-market the project as Portland to Tigard in 20 minutes. Cut back some of the park and rides in favor of affordable housing.

I voted yes on 28-218, but the project was never close to “perfect” like Kelsey seems to think. There is a lot that could be improved and it may even SAVE taxpayer money.


There will be a re-phoenixing at some point down the road, because the demand still exists.” Kelsey said.

And this is why public transit will always fail in the metro. The demand doesn’t exist Doug. That’s why the voters, including the voters in SW that were the primary beneficiaries of the project, voted the project down. These people are so out of touch with the people who actually use public transit in this city that instead of hearing the message, they are already plotting to repackage their unpopular project. A complete and total inability for self-reflection and learning.

It was just the project that was broken, Metro obviously is as well. Just reading the comments… I know they need a brave face but the fact that they are just refusing to believe the project isn’t good is just…

I guess this is why we get low-value projects rather BRT or bus service expansions. These fools are so high on themselves that they aren’t even living in the same reality as us.

Chris I
Chris I

Once they abandoned the idea of a deep-bore tunnel that could provide direct service to OHSU/VA, Hillsdale, and Multnomah Village, BRT should have been selected. Barbur has 4-lanes, and it doesn’t really need it. Paint the curb-lane red and add off-board payment and longer platforms. Maybe $100 million.

They could even include connected ODOT advisory signs that would allow vehicles in the BRT lanes when major incidents occur on I-5. This would resolve concerns about Barbur not functioning as an emergency backup route, which I believe was the main issue for ODOT.


“Re-pheonixing.” Now there’s a recursively redundant neologism.


We just need a bypass ( auto and multi-use path )for the entire tri-county/metro area…


Ha ha!
That is some choice gobbledygook.
Here’s hoping they learned something and don’t keep “Re-Sisyphusing.”

Javier Sodo
Javier Sodo

Interesting that Metro did not even seem interested in seeing why they failed. Not surprising given the blank checks the populace has given them in past years. They are not responsive to taxpayers.
A bit refreshing the Metro area actually said no to a tax.
I’m sure Portland proper will continue to support any tax any time.
Looks at the recent poorly measures that have passed.
1. Metro Homeless Tax (poorly planned, zero accountability)
2. Clean Energy Fund (giant slush fund for nonprofits of all stripes)
3. Huge library building bond ($387 million)—large library buildings are already quaint anachronisms (think book stacks and microfiche).
4. ~ $350 million Metro housing bond only creating maximum of 3900 units.


“It was one of the biggest contributors to reducing greenhouse gas in this region could actually have undertaken on its own.” — Doug Kelsey

Is he talking about the same project and ballot measure I am? It sure doesn’t sound like it.

“… Once it is built…” — Robert Kellogg

Kelsey’s summary and Kellogg’s quote sound not unlike the Rose Quarter project. “The public rejected this, but don’t worry we’ll shove it down their throats anyway; we just need more time.”


Kelsey’s shockingly arrogant and Panglossian tone are slowly ruining the agency. There’s no hard questions. No introspection. Just a steady patois of how great everyone is doing. And SO much back-patting amongst the managerial class.

Meanwhile losing riders and operators at an unsustainable rate. You can’t begin to understand how truly debilitating having low frontline morale is in a organization this huge yet everyday is a new war against its own workers while the happy talk to the media continues.

Matt D
Matt D

“The only thing that’s been lost here is time”? Meaning these folks will continue to push for this terrible project until the people have no choice but to give in.