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Light rail options affect entire area

Station location desires downtown vary; many frustrated over process

If light rail is coming through Milwaukie, residents want it extended to Park Avenue.

That was the sentiment at a meeting last week at which residents got to voice their preference for a terminus - either Lake Road downtown or Park Avenue in Oak Grove - and for station placements in Milwaukie. Residents provided input on whether they wanted one or two stations, and where they preferred the stops; at Harrison, Monroe, Washington or Lake.

'The project itself is a regional project and Milwaukie has a voice in that project, but it's a single voice,' said Kenny Asher, Milwaukie community development director. 'But I would say [the Milwaukie site location] is a local choice. In terms of planning them, that's for this community to decide.'

'It's city staff that is asking you to help us answer these questions,' Asher said, explaining that the meeting was put on by the city, not Metro, though Metro and TriMet representatives attended.

Metro is officially releasing the long-awaited Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on Friday, though a version is now available on the organization's Web site, oregonmetro.gov. The document is the most complete analysis of potential lines and station sites to occur before Metro makes its final decision in July.

Park Avenue preferred

Whether because they saw a terminus and turnaround as too large and cumbersome for Lake Road at the south end of downtown or because they saw the benefit of catching more potential traffic farther south, many community members supported the light rail extension down to Oak Grove.

'I think what makes this particular line work is the extension to Park Avenue, because you have to catch the traffic before it hits the bottleneck,' said Jeff Klein, chair of both the Lewelling Neighborhood District Association and the Planning Commission.

Linda Hedges, secretary of the Hector-Campbell NDA, said she wants an extension to Park Avenue with a station at Lake Road.

'I think the Lake Road area has the biggest potential for future redevelopment,' she said.

Some didn't have specific site preferences, but had ideas for the downtown area.

Wallace Bischoff, a 48-year resident of Milwaukie, said having a single station would allow for a more concentrated police presence, and said at least one station is necessary to serve the riverfront area and to develop commercial properties downtown.

Jerry Foy, of St. John's church and school, said one station on the north end of downtown, away from the schools, would be best if light rail comes through.

Frustrations for some

Some in attendance, though, expressed frustration over the process, saying they couldn't make these decisions without data on their impacts, some of which will be included in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement to be released May 9, while others said the process was insufficient.

'The way this meeting is set up it will reflect in the record later as people having agreed to one or two of the stations' when they're fundamentally opposed to light rail, said Beth Wasko.

Craig Flynn compared the process to being asked as a child whether he would like to wear a blue sweater or red sweater on a visit to his grandparents. The question was meant to make him feel like he was making an important decision, though either way he'd have to wear a sweater.

Mike Miller said he needed more information to make a decision on station placement.

'I don't know how you make a decision on a station when you don't have the impacts on the neighborhoods, you don't have the costs to the city,' he said.

And Patty Wisner, chair of the Design and Landmarks Commission, took that sentiment one step further.

'After going to the last station planning meeting I thought this was an exercise in futility without knowing the effects on traffic on our streets,' she said. 'I think relying on the SDEIS to placate our concerns is lame at best.'

Wisner said she wants Milwaukie staff to find a neighborhood in Portland with similar characteristics in terms of street size and traffic that now has light rail and to study the traffic backup when a train comes through.

'And then let's get flaggers out and actually stop traffic for those time intervals in Milwaukie,' Wisner continued. 'Let's stop traffic in Milwaukie before millions and billions are spent, because those people at TriMet and Metro, this project is job security for them … they don't have to live with it in Milwaukie.'

Asher replied that finding out those things was the whole reason for the SDEIS.

'The EIS process, the reason we keep talking about it, all the questions you guys are asking, everything under the sun, are the reason' it's required, he said. 'For me, spending millions of dollars and a year and a half with an army of [engineers and consultants], that's what I want as a taxpayer of the region.'