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Adams keeps local streetcar plan on track after LO balks

City's swing vote disappears so line may stop in Sellwood
by: L.E. BASKOW Portland’s streetcar line could loop through Sellwood instead of traveling to Lake Oswego. On Tuesday, a city councilor in the suburban community withdrew his support for a streetcar line to Lake Oswego.

The Portland-to-Lake Oswego streetcar extension is only half-dead.

The extension was intended to provide an alternative to heavily congested Highway 43 between the two cities. It would run along an existing but underused rail line through the heavily wooded hills on the west side of the Willamette River. But Lake Oswego City Councilor Bill Tierney, the suburban council's swing vote, apparently blocked the full plan Tuesday night by withdrawing his support.

Mayor Sam Adams was quick to keep the Portland part of the plan alive, however, noting that the replacement Sellwood Bridge is still designed for a future streetcar line. The location of potential rail lines are identified, and the bridge is being strong enough to support streetcars. The west end connects to Highway 43, near where the extension was planned to run.

'The bridge will be built streetcar-ready,' Adams says.

Adams' his first priority is finding the money to close the Portland Streetcar loop around the central city, however. Work is nearly complete on the eastside extension that runs from the Pearl District over the Broadway Bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Plans call for the extension to cross the Willamette River on a TriMet transit bridge that is being built as part of the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line.

Late last year, the city was about $10 million short of the money required to connect the eastside and western extensions in South Waterfront area. At Adams' direction, Portland's Bureau of Transportation has completed a Portland Streetcar system concept plan that prioritizes the northern and eastern parts of the city for the next streetcar lines.

'The decades-old proposed Lake Oswego streetcar is the last line that pre-dates Portland's 2009 streetcar master plan,' Adams says. 'With it now suspended, Portland can turn our complete attention to closing the loop and expanding streetcar north and east from downtown.'

Economic boost

A preliminary alignment for a streetcar extension from South Waterfront to Sellwood already exists, however. Planners overseeing the controversial have negotiated a potential route along Macadam Avenue from the southern end of the current streetcar line to near the western end of the replacement Sellwood Bridge. The alignment spares the condominiums along the west bank of the Willamette River and runs in front of Johns Landing, the aging retail complex on Macadam that could use an economic shot on the arm.

Tierney's announcement raises questions about when - or even whether - such an extension would be built. The full Portland-to-Lake Oswego extension was most recently estimated at $208 million, with Lake Oswego asked to contribute between $11 million and $17 million to the project.

In a November report, the cost of only extending the line from South Waterfront to near the west end of the replacement Sellwood Bridge was estimated at around $70 million. No formal cost estimate of crossing the bridge to Sellwood has ever been prepared.

The Sellwood extension is included the Portland Streetcar system concept plan for Sellwood. Only the South Waterfront portion of the potential alignment is in an urban renewal area that could help fund it. The City Council would have to approve other funding sources - such as a local improvement district along Macadam and in Sellwood - to help pay for it.

Tierney said Tuesday night that he was influenced in part by citizen opposition to the project. A survey late last year found that 52 percent of Lake Oswego residents opposed it. Such opposition is shared by other Clackamas County residents to expensive regional transportation plans.

In May 2011, 63 percent of Clackamas County voters rejected a $5 motor vehicle registration fee to help pay for the $269 million replacement Sellwood Bridge project. In November, a slim majority of county voters approved a ballot measure requiring a public vote on future urban renewal project - a measure partly intended to prevent the Clackamas County Commission from using urban renewal funds to pay the county's $25 million share of the $1.5 billion Portland to Milwaukie light-rail line. And now activists are circulating a petition requiring voters approval of any county money spent on the line.

Transit planners in town

Portland's transportation bureau is facing its own funding problems, however, partly because the city's share of state gas tax revenue has been lower than expected. The bureau is preparing a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that cuts ongoing expenses around $16 million a year for the foreseeable future.

Among other things, it calls for restricting maintenance projects only to so-called Streets of Citywide Significance used by carry cars, trucks, bicyclists and pedestrians. Also prioritized would be Neighborhood Greenways - sometimes called Bike Boulevards - that are intended to offer bicyclists and pedestrians clearly designated alternatives to more heavily-traveled streets.

The proposed budget is scheduled to be submitted to Adams by the end of the month.

Ironically, Tierney made his announcement as transit planners from across the country were gathering in Portland for a Streetcar Conference sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration. FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff was in town for the conference, and was scheduled to view the recently completed work on Southwest Moody Avenue, where extension to Lake Oswego would have begun.