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Whats behind the decision to delay vote on streetcar?

Did you read Kara Hansen Murphey's report about Mayor Hoffman getting Clackamas County Commissioners to postpone approving streetcar (posted to the Lake Oswego Review's website last Friday and a version of it on page 1 of today's newspaper)?

What's going on? Clackamas County was poised to endorse the project. Even its most conservative member, Commissioner Savas, had expressed qualified support because he believes that it might be the only chance we'd have to do something about Highway 43. So why was it so necessary for Mayor Hoffman to take time away from his firm to stop the board from doing the same thing that the Lake Oswego and Portland City Councils did in mid April?

Multnomah County, TriMet and Metro have yet to weigh in. Why not let this one go and send out letters to stop the process before the other hearings? And why the surprising last-minute rush without any public discussion at a council meeting? What did the mayors learn just before the county meeting that they didn't know earlier?

One could think of a bunch of plausible reasons why supporters would want a delay: Maybe some office holders who had supported streetcar were changing their minds. Perhaps the right-of-way will be appraised at far less than the expected $90-plus million, greatly increasing our local cash outlay. Councilor Gudman commented at the Clackamas County Board meeting that the state of Oregon might not contribute anything toward the next $25 million phase. Maybe the Feds are developing serious questions about project premises.

None of those explain Mayor Hoffman's urgency. Here are two that could:

Perhaps the real target was Multnomah County's Board. Commissioner Kafoury was the lone no-vote on the project steering committee and residents of the county's unincorporated section south of Portland (Dunthorpe, etc.) are among the most committed project opponents. By stopping the process now, project supporters put off possible rejection by Multnomah County without appearing to sabotage its interests.

Another possibility is that Clackamas County's own conditions for its approval include continuing and improving Highway 43 bus service from Oregon City to Portland on behalf of West Linn. In essence, Clackamas County says that we could have streetcar but we need bus. This is anathema to some streetcar supporters as it's contrary to the claim that streetcar would eliminate the need for bus service between Lake Oswego and Portland. It recognizes the realities that streetcar trips will take longer than the current bus for every rider between downtown Portland and Clackamas County, that they'll be less convenient because of forced transfers and longer walking distances at both ends, and that some riders in the unincorporated area between Portland and Lake Oswego will lose transit access entirely because of the lack of safe walking routes to the mile-apart streetcar stops. Postponing the commissioners' vote keeps these realities out of the official process - at least for now.

Stay tuned.

R A Fontes is a resident of Lake Oswego.