Proposed measure would require public vote on Clackamas County funds for new project

Clackamas County opponents of the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project are circulating petitions for a measure to block county funds for the project.

'We deserve the right to vote on the project,' chief petitioner James Knapp of Oak Grove said while gathering petition signatures on Sunday.

Knapp says the goal is to place the measure on the May Primary Election ballot. That would require the opponents to collect 9,378 valid Clackamas County voter signatures by this coming Wednesday.

If the opponents fall short, they still have around two years to collect enough signatures to qualify for another future election, however. Two more election dates are available this year - a special election in September and the general election in November.

The petitions are in support of a measure to require a public vote on county funds for public rail projects. Clackamas County has pledged $25 million to the $1.5 billion project. Knapp says that so many people are opposed to the project, he has lost track of the number of volunteers who are circulating the petitions.

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarland argues that Clackamas County cannot renege on its commitment, however. In a Jan. 9, 2012, letter to Clackamas County Chair Charlotte Lehan, McFarlane wrote, 'TriMet is aware of the recent petition that purports to limit the resources the County may utilize on 'public rail transit.' As contemplated by our contract, TriMet and the region have undertaken steps in furtherance of completion of the project and in reliance upon Clackamas County's commitment to participate in the project. I want to emphasize that the County's contractual promise is a legally binding commitment to fund the project upon which TriMet and the region is relying.'

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Kathie F. Steele approved the ballot title for the petitions on Thursday. The original title had been challenged by Lake Oswego residents Michael Gentry, who argued it was not clear the measure would apply to all public rail lines, not just the one from Portland to Milwaukie. The new title reads, "Voter Approval of County Resources for Public Rail Transit Systems."

In his 73-page challenge, Gentry argued that the measure even applies to existing rail lines in the county, including the Amtrak line and the MAX Green Line and WES commuter rail line run by TriMet. Knapp disputes this, however, saying the measure only applies to future rail lines.

Construction on the Portland to Milwaukie line is already underway in Portland, where work has commenced on the new transit bridge over the Willamette River between South Waterfront and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It is planned to carry MAX trains, Portland Streetcars and TriMet buses, but not motor vehicles.

The Portland to Milwaukie project is expected to be financed by a number of federal, state, regional and local governments. Under the current budget, the partners and their commitments are: Federal Transit Administration, $745.2 million; Oregon State Lottery, $250 million; Metro federal pass-though funds, $119.1 million; TriMet, $47.4 million; City of Portland, $50 million; In-kind property contributions, $48.6 million; Clackamas County, $25 million; Oregon Department of Transportation, $13.5 million; ODOT federal pass-through funds, $10 million; City of Milwaukie, $5 million; Metro grant, $300,000; Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, $200,000; Net financing cost match, $176 million.

Project opponents in Milwaukie are currently working on a petition drive to block their city's contribution to the project, too.

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