Many Lake Oswego residents did not see this coming; some undoubtedly hoped for it, while others may rue the day.
Tuesday night, Lake Oswego City Councilor Bill Tierney, long playing a role championed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as a swing vote, dropped a bomb by announcing that he could no longer support the financial underpinnings of the proposed Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar project. His announcement reverses the numbers on the council from 4-3 in favor to 3-4 against the project.
In April 2011, Tierney represented the swing vote when the council endorsed an ongoing study of the streetcar line.
Following his announcement, councilor Sally Moncrieff, who also was on record supporting the streetcar, said she agreed with Tierney that the money just didn't add up. Conceivably, she could also swing her vote to make the numbers 2-5 against the streetcar.
Tierney, reading from a prepared statement, made it clear he didn't oppose the actual project; instead, he just didn't feel the math was there to support it at this time.
Of the many controversial proposals facing local residents, the streetcar has been at the forefront. Detractors have pointed to its costs, its necessity, its disruption of local streets, its possible bringing of undesirable people into Lake Oswego and the fact that existing bus lines could have the same desired result for a fraction of the cost.
The effort, years in the making, depended heavily on financial and political backing from a group of public agencies, including the cities of Lake Oswego and Portland, Clackamas County, Metro, TriMet and the state. Federal funding was also anticipated for the project, initially estimated to cost $347 million in 2010 dollars or $458 million in 2017, when the line was projected to open.
Those costs were revised downward near the end of 2011 when officials indicated the project could actually cost about $199 million in today's dollars. However, that figure didn't include a 400-space park-and-ride lot in Lake Oswego; with the park-and-ride facility included, the project total was estimated at about $208 million.
Here at the Review, we have struggled enormously with this issue. We have been barraged (along with our website) with opinion pieces critical of the streetcar. As an editorial board, we have viewed multiple sides to the project and that always has made it difficult for us to come out in support or opposition to it.
In our editorial last April, we suggested the city 'conduct a well-defined advisory vote … on whether this is the direction city residents truly want to go.'
Well, that vote, which was going to happen in May, may be a moot point now. The council was supposed to meet in February to craft language for a ballot measure asking voters to weigh in on streetcar plans. What it will do now remains to be seen.
We applaud councilor Tierney for making what must have been a very difficult decision.
'Someday, I can see a streetcar connecting us with the services and jobs in OHSU and downtown Portland,' he said Tuesday at the council meeting. 'Right now, we just aren't ready.'
Citing the dismal economic recovery along with divisions within the community, Tierney said he just couldn't find it within himself to support the project now.
This undoubtedly is a major blow for Mayor Jack Hoffman, who had been the leading champion at city hall for the streetcar. He indicated Tuesday that the city should continue moving forward on the plans for the Foothills area, which prior to this week had been linked to the streetcar. He continues to feel that 'transit-oriented development' fits the Foothills area.
Councilor Donna Jordan provided some insight Tuesday into what the future might hold.
'It's not just Lake Oswego that's involved in this,' Jordan said. 'It's part of Metro's plan for reducing greenhouse gases. There are a lot of different things that will probably be impacted by this decision. This should be a very interesting next couple of months.'
The majority of the council is now on record as being against this interesting but expensive project. We respect their stand and say it's time to put a fork in any immediate streetcar plans for Lake Oswego. Someday, it might be proper to revisit the proposal, but that day is in the future.