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Monday, December 13, 2010

TriMet Approved Light Rail Funding—But What Does it Mean?!

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Our new bridge!
  • Our new bridge!
At its board meeting last Wednesday morning, TriMet approved spending $127 million to build a new, ambitious suspension bridge across the Willamette River. According to the Oregonian, the rail-bus-bike-pedestrian bridge will be the largest no-car urban bridge in the United States... that is, assuming it actually gets built.

So one thing the funding vote means is we'll be getting a big, pretty cool looking new bridge over the Willamette, which will supposedly open by 2015. The bridge is a swoopy cable-stay design by Donald McDonald that caused some debate last year because TriMet switched architects and changed the design to save $28 million.

The bridge is a key part of building the planned Portland to Milwaukie Orange Line, a $1.5 billion project (though TriMet is counting on the federal government to bankroll half the cost), which will run past OMSI and finally connect downtown Portland to SE neighborhoods by rail. Linking up SE neighborhoods will be a welcome change for people who commute downtown from Milwaukie, Sellwood, and outer SE suburbs, and could help revitalize Milwaukie's cute but tiny downtown. Even Neil Hankerson, head of Dark Horse Comics (which is headquartered in Milwaukie) and a downright celebrity, testified in favor of the light rail line, saying it would help his comic creators get to work.

But of course it boils down to money. Federal funding for the project came in last summer at less than TriMet expected, so now the public transit agency is scrambling to find $35 million for the project.

Which brings us to another thing the vote means: TriMet is dedicated to expanding, even as it's cutting back. Portland Afoot reports on a 16-year-old representative of grassroots transit advocacy group OPAL, who told the TriMet board that the money being poured into the new rail line should instead go to reinstate bus lines, stops, and matainance that have been cut over the past two years. Michael Andersen at Portland Afoot also pokes some holes of his own in TriMet's funding plan for the line, noting that it's heavily reliant on payroll taxes despite an aging workforce. He made this little graph showing how wages would have to grow in order to adequately fund the line. And it doesn't look good:

realwagegrowthaging_thumb1.png
  • Portland Afoot

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