Many streetcar questions remain
Local governments should continue to evaluate the proposed extension of the Portland Streetcar system to connect Macadam Avenue to Lake Oswego. While doing so, these agencies must precisely define the cost, funding and operation of the streetcar line.
The streetcar extension is controversial. The line would cost as much as $458 million to build, and 20 years after it opens it would carry an estimated 12,000 daily riders.
The streetcar route would run along an abandoned rail right of way bordering the Willamette River and would bisect a wealthy Dunthorpe neighborhood, where many residents oppose the intrusion. In Lake Oswego, by comparison, the proposal has drawn support from the Chamber of Commerce and others. It is viewed as an opportunity to spur development and moderate-income housing in the city's downtown Foothills area. Yet, three of Lake Oswego's seven city councilors say the project is too expensive, would not help congestion and would create environmental impacts.
Then there is the question of money. The funding matrix for the streetcar line raises many concerns. These issues require further evaluation and answers before the region either fully supports or abandons the streetcar idea.
That's why we encourage the Lake Oswego and Portland city councils, the Clackamas and Multnomah County boards of commissioners, the TriMet board and the Metro Council to give initial approval to the streetcar concept - but only with a set of conditions that must be met before making a final decision to proceed in future years. Immediate votes on the streetcar will occur in April in Lake Oswego and Portland, and the other agencies will decide by the end of July.
(In the spirit of full disclosure: Portland Tribune President Steve Clark is on the TriMet board.)
Here are questions that must be answered before a final decision is made:
• What are the precise sources and amounts of funding to be supplied by local agencies, and what is the actual funding percentage that the federal government will contribute to the project?
• Who will operate the streetcar and at what cost? TriMet, for example, says it doesn't have funds to manage the line, at least in its first few years.
• What are the public infrastructure costs - beyond streetcar service - that would be required in Lake Oswego's Foothills area to spur revitalization?
• What specific economic and housing benefit would occur in Southwest Portland's Macadam Avenue neighborhood with the streetcar's arrival?
• How will environmental impacts along the Willamette River be minimized during construction?
In times like these, the Portland region must think boldly to move forward economically and to create livable communities. But at all times, construction and operational plans, costs, funding sources and economic outcomes must be defined with precision.