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County votes 3-2 to ask voters about light rail, CRC

UPDATE: County decides to write letter on CRC instead


Clackamas County commissioners will be asking voters for advice on light rail from Portland through Milwaukie.

On Tuesday, regarding the proposed new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River, they reversed their decision from last week to put forward ballot measure regarding tolling of Interstate 205. Instead, they will draft a letter repeating concerns about the potential for traffic congestion on I-205, should CRC officials decide to toll the bridge sometime in the future.

They voted Thursday evening to have county staff write a question for the May 21 special election ballot regarding the possibility of tolling I-205 to address concerns about the potential impacts to Clackamas County of the Columbia River Crossing project between Portland and Vancouver.

Two other measures will seek public approval for the use of county resources on light rail and TriMet’s acquisition of North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District-owned parcels near the Trolley Trail.

All three measures were approved by a 3 to 2 margin. Chairman John Ludlow, Commissioner Paul Savas and Commissioner Tootie Smith favored the measures. Commissioners Jim Bernard and Martha Schrader opposed.

Approval of the resolutions followed comes in response to passage of a ballot measure last September requiring voter approval before spending money to finance, design, construct or operate public rail lines within the county. Commissioners said seeking voter approval meets the spirit and the letter of Measure 3-401.

“Our employers, the voters, have the right to weigh in on these issues and advise us,” Ludlow said. “Voters are smart and are ready to vote on these issues. We are doing just what the voters asked us and want us to do.”

Bernard doubted the measures would make a difference, referring to the county’s legally binding signed agreements with TriMet in 2010 and ‘12.

“A contract is a contract,” he said. “I believe we will lose on both of those measures. It’s all about smoke and mirrors and trying to fool the voters.”

Savas believed this issue would probably ultimately be decided by a judge, but argued that commissioners are compelled by 3-401 to put measures on the ballot.

“I believe that the people voted to put these questions on the ballot, and I support that,” he said.

The county is seeking voter approval for the funding of approximately $1.3 million in associated road construction near the proposed Park Avenue light-rail station and for allowing TriMet to control access to county roads and sidewalks.

“I believe these measures will have no legal or binding effect,” said Schrader, who said she supports getting an advance legal ruling to assess the extent of the county's legal exposure.

Commissioners will spend the next week reviewing the staff report before making a final determination before the Feb. 28 deadline to place a measure on the ballot.