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North-south division emerges on county light rail


Milwaukie voters living near line are its biggest supporters

by: TRIMET - Crews, seen here on the Tillamook structure in Milwaukie's North Industrial Area, are busily working on completing the light-rail line by September 2015.Clackamas County voters sent a largely symbolic message against light rail to TriMet May 21 by voting down a measure authorizing the line from Portland through Milwaukie to Oak Grove, pitting the county at large against North Clackamas residents who voted to support the line in their backyards.

Countywide, Measure 3-424 failed by 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent in unofficial results.

County Chairman John Ludlow celebrated that the May 21 election results validated the direction of his commission as a referendum against light rail.

“We are going to lean on the legal advice we get from our attorney,” Ludlow said. “In my opinion, there has never been a review of the contract or the supplemental agreement from an outside legal counsel, which would be interesting to see if the TriMet lawsuit holds water.”

However, voters who live closer to the line in the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District generally seem to support the line. They voted last week to authorize a property transaction for light rail by a 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent margin.

Pat Russell, a community activist who voted against the transaction because he favors retaining park ownership and giving an easement to TriMet, saw the two vote results as a bellwether for the county’s political future.

“This shows that the North Clackamas area is more progressively minded, and we have more young people who use mass transit,” Russell said. “Not everyone can afford a car, and this will become increasingly true, so we need light rail through this area.”

Eleanore Hunter, co-founder of Positively Clackamas, a political action committee in favor of the line, expressed disappointment that Clackamas County commissioners “wasted so much public money on an election in which the outcome has no impact” on the county’s longstanding commitments.

“The county will still make road and signal improvements near the Park Avenue Station, and it is just common sense for the small portion of the Trolley Trail to be sold to TriMet,” Hunter said. “The ballot title said the measure was advisory, so let’s stop the nonsense and just get on with completing the project.”

In September, county voters approved Measure 3-401 to require a vote before the county can commit resources to a rail project. In March, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Deanne L. Darling forced the county to change its “insufficient and unfair” ballot title for Measure 3-424 after a complaint contended it gave voters the false belief that their vote could have an impact on Clackamas County’s participation in the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, which is now under construction.

Critics of light rail such as Ludlow and Oak Grove resident Les Poole have been looking forward to the vote to give credence to the county’s side of an ongoing legal battle with the regional transit agency. TriMet officials say the county’s cooperation has “dissolved” since November’s election of two new county commissioners who oppose the project.

“With voters once again expressing their distaste for the light-rail line, I think the county will be emboldened to press on with their fight against TriMet,” Poole said.

TriMet sued Clackamas County in March claiming that a judge needs to intervene in the county’s delays of property sales and its failure to meet other contractual obligations with deadlines last year.

Ludlow said the county will continue to be responsive to the wishes of its voters. He argued that TriMet missed plenty of chances to ask voters whether they wanted the line.

Clackamas County has been delaying final project property acquisitions and about $1.3 million in associated road and traffic-signal construction until voters weighed in on the issue. In its lawsuit, TriMet contends that county code does not require public approval of these aspects of the construction.

TriMet expects to complete construction of the 7.3-mile project and open the line by September 2015.