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Streetcar isnt the best way to allocate $450 million

Alaska has the $35 million Bridge to Nowhere. Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman wants taxpayers to build a $450 million Lake Oswego-Portland Streetcar for nobody - a project that will turn out to be equally laughable.

The Oregon Department of Transportation ('ODOT'), after studying streetcar and bus alternatives, concluded that either one independently will adequately serve future transportation needs. So, why build a $450 million streetcar, which ultimately may cost a lot more than that?

No one knows. Streetcar proponents' speculation of projected traffic increases are exaggerated because they fail to account for how we are changing the way we work and live. New disruptive technologies, many of which already now exist today, will reduce the projected commuter traffic.

Disruptive technologies are those that dramatically change the existing paradigms and ways of doing business. For example, land line phone companies could have spent several hundreds of billion dollars on telephone infrastructure over the last 25 years to serve more people, which would have been rendered obsolete by the advent of cell phones.

Likewise, video conferencing is a disruptive technology that is quickly gaining acceptance. In addition, use of a PC, smart phones and the Internet is also reducing the need to commute into town as more people choose to work conveniently from their homes. Most meetings at Intel, IBM and other technology companies are already taking place without any 'meeting attendees' leaving their homes or cubicles. As these technologies become more user friendly and more generally available, more and more residents of Lake Oswego will attend many meetings and do work from home and will not need to commute. This will have major effect in reducing the projected commuter traffic.

The total time needed by commuters must also include waiting time to board a vehicle at a stop. Since relatively very cheap buses can be easily doubled in number, it will result in half the waiting time compared to streetcars at stops. More frequent buses inherently move commuters more efficiently.

Streetcars are not even environmentally friendly. To build the streetcar tracks and infrastructure requires use of a very large number of earth-moving equipment, heavy trucks and other vehicles for an extended time period. Much equipment, rails etc. needs to be transported over a long distance. Bridges and other infrastructures also need to be built. All this results in expenditure of energy for streetcar thousands of times more compared to energy required to build buses. Battery- powered buses, just as battery-powered cars, will be used for most public commuter traffic in the near future. Thus, the extensive bridges and streetcar track construction and use will have much bigger carbon footprint as compared to battery- powered buses. Furthermore, the streetcar track and bridge construction will have drastically adverse effect on large wetland areas, native species and beautiful landscape.

Streetcar proponents claim that the value of existing right of way bought from Southern Pacific for $2 million is now $97 million. So, why not sell the land with the right of way and fund the more desirable $20.4 million enhanced bus and distribute balance of $76.6 million to the local governments to reduce their choking fund shortage?

Suresh C. Paranjpe, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering, is a resident of Portland.

Editor's note: The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to take action at 10 a.m. today, June 9, on the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project Steering Committee's recommendation for the streetcar alternative to advance for further study. The county action follows affirmation of the steering committee recommendation by the cities of Lake Oswego and Portland and the Portland Streetcar Inc. Board of Directors earlier.