Portland, Lake Oswego councils endorse streetcar proposal

UPDATE • Votes support further study of controversial transit link between the two cities
by: Tribune File Photo City councils in Portland and Lake Oswego will vote this week on plans to extend the streetcar line south along Highway 43. The streetcar was extended from downtown to the new South Waterfront District several years ago.

The Portland City Council on Wednesday followed the Lake Oswego council's lead and supported further study of the proposed streetcar link between the two cities.

The Portland vote was 4 to 1 with Commissioner Amanda Fritz saying she prefers increased bus service to Lake Oswego. Mayor Sam Adams and the other commissioners all said the potential to redevelop the Johns Landing area along the streetcar line justified its further study.

The Lake Oswego's council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to designate the proposed line as the Locally Preferred Alternative for addressing transportation needs between the two cities. Officially designating the line the LPA does not guarantee it will be built. But if either council had voted for a different alternative, the future of the project will be very much in doubt. Historically, the federal government, which is predicted to pay about half the cost of the project, has only funding those projects that have been designated the LPA by all other funding partners.

Choices facing the councils included the streetcar line, enhanced bus service and a no-build option, which still leaves the Highway 43 connection between the two cities on a TriMet list for increased bus service.

Of the three alternatives, the streetcar is the most expensive - up to $361.3 million, plus the donated value of existing rights of way between the two cities, appraised at up to $97 million.

In contrast, enhanced bus service would cost about $51.1 million. The planned service increases would not add any buses during peak travel times.

Other funding partners that will now pick their LPAs are the Multnomah and Clackamas county commissions, the TriMet board of directors and Metro, the regional government that is now managing the project.

Some object to development plans

Opposition to the streetcar line has been loudest in Lake Oswego, where more than 60 people spoke against the project at an April 12 public hearing. Opponents objected to the cost, predicting that it would not significantly reduce congestion. They also denounced the potential redevelopment of the Foothills area, saying they preferred Lake Oswego's small-town feel. The council is considering a plan that could result in a new mixed-use development at the northern end of the city if the streetcar extension is built.

About 30 people testified in favor of the proposed line, arguing that it would decrease future commute times between the two cities and saying the Foothills area redevelopment would provide much-need new housing.

There has been much less opposition in Portland, especially after project planners recommended routing part of the line away from condominiums in the Johns Landing neighborhood and only along Macadam Avenue past existing retail stores.

Anticipating the need to offer transportation alternatives, a coalition of governments bought the abandoned rail line from Southern Pacific Railroad in 1988 for $2 million. The Willamette Shoreline Consortium is made up of Metro, the cities of Lake Oswego and Portland, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, the Oregon Department of Transportation and TriMet.

Since 1990, Lake Oswego has leased the right of way to operate a trolley service on the line, run by the Oregon Electric Railroad Historic Society.

Lake Oswego opponents have promised to refer the project to the ballot.

The Lake Oswego Review contributed to this story.