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The streetcar: How much will it really cost – part 3

Robert Samuelson: 'Good government can't solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.'

Each time the city and consultants provide additional clarity regarding the assumptions and analysis behind the arguments for the streetcar, the case for the streetcar becomes weaker. The city has scarce dollars. What is the best use of scarce city dollars? Let's examine in more detail assumptions behind the streetcar alternative and see if it is the best use of our limited resources.

Additional jobs - The Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) claimed the streetcar project would (not might) create 24,290 additional jobs. These jobs are tied to the estimate of potential property development. The DEIS initially claimed there is potential for the 'space equivalent' of 17 additional Washington Squares along the streetcar line in Lake Oswego. The consultants and Lake Oswego staff subsequently reduced the potential 17 Washington Squares to no more than 2 2/3 Washington Squares. With a reduction of 17 to no more than 2 2/3 Washington Squares, the job potential for Lake Oswego must also be reduced by a comparable amount. Regardless of jobs created, the city will not realize the increased property taxes for decades. Does up to $33 million cost justify the possible jobs and development? I don't believe so.

Right of way - Streetcar advocates count on the Willamette Shore right-of-way as a reason to build the streetcar. The value of the right of way is critical to how much cash each jurisdiction will have to pay for its construction cost share. According to the DEIS the 2007 appraisal of the right of way was set at $50 million. Now the consultants say the value is $97 million. So, in the midst of the worst recession in the last 80 years, the value doubled in 4 years. I don't think so.

Operating cost - The consultants estimate the streetcar will cost $3.78 million per year to operate. TriMet acknowledged despite its desire to pay the streetcar operating costs, it does not have the funds to do so, but restoration of bus service cuts will have a higher priority than paying operating costs of the streetcar. If Lake Oswego pays 20 percent of streetcar's operating costs, the city will pay $750,000 per year. To pay for our share will we give up road maintenance, schools or fire service? The city has substantially increased it support for schools. Will we take money from the schools to pay for the streetcar operating costs? I don't think so.

Additional study/design costs - If the streetcar is selected as the locally preferred alternative, the region will be responsible for up to $25 million for additional planning/design costs. Metro has committed $6.0 million. Lake Oswego's commitment is estimated at $2.5 million. The study and construction dollars may come from the Redevelopment Agency, which means other projects will not be done. Yet the city is being asked to commit to this process without knowing how much we will be responsible for. It is an open-ended commitment to a process with an uncertain future. Is this good financial management? I don't think so.

The city's general fund is forecasted at a deficit over the next five years. There are insufficient funds in the Redevelopment Agency to pay for all desired projects. Let's not make it worse.

Jeff Gudman is a member of the Lake Oswego City Council. He notes that his views are his alone and not of those council.