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Proposed streetcar cheaper in long run

Recent Metro estimates show that a proposed Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar would be less expensive per-passenger to operate, compared with the bus rapid transit option.

The operating and maintenance cost per ride would be about 60 cents for the streetcar, compared with $2.67 for bus rapid transit.

The figures were presented to the Lake Oswego City Council in a recent worksession.

Ross Roberts, a transit program director for Metro, said that while the capital costs for the streetcar would be initially higher, over time those costs would make the streetcar a less expensive option.

And because Metro and a consortium of local governments own the right of way, Metro could receive at least a $75 million federal match for the $215 million streetcar. That amount would include a pedestrian/bicycle path along the right-of-way.

'The technical work shows that the streetcar has a greater benefit than anyone expected in terms of ridership and financially, as compared with the other alternatives,' said Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad. 'It appears to be the best alternative.'

The Lake Oswego Project Advisory Committee (LOPAC) is scheduled to meet July 31 and make its recommendation for a preferred alternative.

That recommendation will go to the project steering committee, which is made up of elected and appointed officials. That committee makes a recommendation to local jurisdictions in September. Those jurisdictions then give Metro their recommendations and Metro will make a final vote in October.

Although projections show that the streetcar could carry more riders and cost less to operate, Metro's analysis also cites benefits of bus rapid transit option.

Metro cited 'strong ridership' and low initial capital costs of about $57 million as two advantages of BRT. In 2025, the streetcar could carry 10,900 riders a day, compared with 8,700 riders on bus rapid transit.

The system would use queue-bypass lanes at eight intersections, which could impact properties depending on the length of the bypass lanes.

Metro officials have ruled-out the possibility of widening Highway 43, as well as the use of reversible lanes.

A disadvantage of BRT is it would have less development potential, according to Metro. Developers are more willing to develop around a rail line, because it's considered more permanent the BRT lanes.

The streetcar could spur more than one million square feet of new development in Lake Oswego, if it included a terminus at the Safeway on A Street. That number would be 900,000 square feet if its terminus is near the Albertson's on State Street.

Altogether, there is a potential 3.3 million square feet of total new development along the alignment.

Lake Oswego City Council President Ellie McPeak said the 'additional density conversation has focused on the Foothills area and how much the community will want there.'

'My feeling now is that we probably will not get the community support for a maximum density, related to the streetcar,' she said.

If buildings are kept to four stories, she said she thought there would be community support.

McPeak said the geography of the Highway 43 corridor makes it impossible to expand the highway.

'The discouraging thing is there is nothing inexpensive,' she said, referring to options for improving traffic on the corridor.

'My druthers would be a streetcar, if we can overcome realistic objections of people near the right-of-way and get federal funding,' she said. 'If that can't happen, then improved bus service would be better than nothing at all.'

Construction could begin in 2011 and take two years.