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Reject roadblock to county's future


Our Opinion

On the surface, Clackamas County’s Measure 3-401 seems pretty simple. It’s about requiring county officials to get voter approval before spending money on a public rail project.

Like a faint train whistle off in the distance, that simple issue becomes more complex as it rumbles closer down the tracks.

It’s about voting, but it’s also about something much deeper, something that no election can fix: a battle for Clackamas County’s role in the region.

We believe Clackamas County’s future is best served by being a key player in the region’s economy. To do that, the county must have adequate transit connections, as well as good local roads, highways and bridges. We believe TriMet’s light-rail line from Portland to Milwaukie goes a long way toward fulfilling that mission.

We urge voters to reject Measure 3-401 on the Sept. 18 special election ballot because it throws an unnecessary roadblock in the path of the county’s economic prosperity. We believe the new light-rail line will bring economic development to parts of Milwaukie and Oak Grove that badly need a boost.

The new rail line is expected to provide jobs, about 7,300 directly from the project’s construction and another 43 for its operation. That doesn’t include the prospect of future jobs as area businesses take advantage of the new rail line or new employers move into the region.

Clackamas County had previously agreed — in a legally binding contract — to pay $25 million as its share of the 7.3-mile, $1.49 billion Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line. On Aug. 22, county officials took the unusual step of negotiating a lower payment with TriMet and approving the sale of nearly $20 million in bonds to fund the local portion of the project — mostly to hustle the payment through the system so it wasn’t affected by the special election’s outcome. That didn’t sit well with light-rail opponents, who called it a “slap in the face.”

People opposed to the funding plan have launched another petition drive that could force Clackamas County to spend more money fighting first with light-rail opponents and then with TriMet to break the project’s contract.

However, the county’s latest deal with TriMet not only will save taxpayers millions of dollars, but it also includes provisions for making the Milwaukie light-rail station safer and for improving pedestrian access in the area of the station.

An ‘ideology’

Proponents say Measure 3-401 is about voting on large infrastructure projects that have a big impact on the county’s budget. Instead of requiring a vote on every big ticket infrastructure project in the county, the measure targets only spending on one type of project: a public rail system.

Among their arguments is the idea that light rail is “an ideology” that somehow is inconsistent with Clackamas County’s beliefs. Some worry that the approaching light-rail line will change the character of the county.

Proponents also say the project under construction was jammed down local residents’ throats, without giving them a say in the process.

Yet, the light-rail project has been on the drawing board for at least eight years, with public discussions along the way by Metro, TriMet, the city of Milwaukie and Clackamas County government. Every step of the process has been open to the public.

We elect leaders to make decisions with an eye toward representing all county residents, and finding a benefit for all parts of the county. We believe that, in this case, county commissioners have done just that.

Light rail is not an ideology or a philosophy; it is a transit system that could pay big dividends in an economy wracked by volatile gasoline prices and slow job growth. Voters should not allow a roadblock to be thrown in the path of the county’s future. We urge county residents to vote no on Measure 3-401.