Two weeks ago the Lake Oswego City Council took a courageous step by passing a resolution indicating that the Preferred Alternative for adding capacity to the Macadam corridor is the streetcar.
Recent international events demonstrate that the council was wise to do so. When I first wrote about the streetcar several months ago, the price of a barrel of oil was around $90. It is now over $100. Some oil analysts predict the price will reach $150 this year. Besides the rebellion in Libya, events in other oil-producing nations could disrupt our oil supply even further. For example, some international experts are predicting that Nigeria (which provides about 9 percent of our oil) will have a civil war. In Saudi Arabia (which provides about 10 percent), one intelligence report has indicated that the House of Saud has implanted 'dirty' bombs deep in Saudi oil fields to render its oil useless if they are overthrown. The loss of either supply would be economically catastrophic.
What is difficult to understand is the conservative opposition to this project. Conservatives, after all, want our country safe, and want to enhance free markets. Every Republican president since Nixon has said we need to end our reliance on foreign oil. The streetcar is a part of the solution, yet local conservatives search for reasons not to support it.
Councilor Jeff Gudman, for example, has written about his concerns on the energy consumption required for construction of the project. He concludes that according to figures mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, energy consumed for construction will not be recovered for 170 years. Other figures in the DEIS, however, indicate that the streetcar would recover the energy consumed in about 87 years, not 170. Children born today will thank us for our foresight if those figures are correct.
More to the point, every construction project requires a great deal of energy. The streetcar is one of the few that will eventually recover it. The energy required for current construction on I-5 north of the Terwilliger curves, the project adding a lane for about 2 miles on Highway 217 near Highway 26 and the proposed Columbia River Crossing will never be recovered because they increase our use of energy.
The DEIS does not factor in the rising cost of gas in its projections, but it should. The true cost of gasoline is now well over $15 a gallon. This is because, in part, oil companies are the annual recipients of over $114 billion dollars in corporate welfare at taxpayer expense. Conservatives should ask how many years it will take to recover $450 million in construction costs by reduced gasoline purchases. Assuming the streetcar is completed in 2020, if the true cost of gasoline goes up every year by 5 percent and the annual gas savings goes up 5 percent from 100,000 gallons saved by its use (which is actually less than DEIS estimates), $450 million dollars in gas expenditures would be saved in about 27 years. By 51 years, $450+ million would be saved annually. No other form of transportation offers these savings.
The streetcar should be championed by conservatives. It will help preserve our economy and reduce reliance on foreign oil. It will put money used for oil back into the pockets of future generations and they will thank us for it.
David L. Jorling, Lake Oswego, is a former city council candidate. He also was the former chairman of a regional citizen committee that narrowed down transit options from Portland to Lake Oswego to versions of a streetcar line or an enhanced bus line.