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Petitions filed for Clackamas County MAX vote

Elections officials have until March 20 to verify signatures

Clackamas County opponents of the 7.3-mile, $1.49 billion Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line say they have turned in more than enough petition signatures to require a public vote on the county's $25 million contribution to the project.

'I'm 100 percent confident we'll make it on the ballot,' says petition co-sponsor Jim Knapp, a construction company owner. 'It was a lot of work but we had a lot of support.'

County election officials have until March 20 to check the signatures.

Project opponents turned in 11,885 petition signatures on Monday. It takes 9,378 valid county voter signatures to place the measure on the Sept. 18 special election ballot.

If elections officials find there are not enough valid signatures, state law allows the opponents to continue gathering signatures for many months, however. Knapp says dozens of signatures were still circulating and not collected when the rest were turned in.

'We wanted to collect between 11,500 and 12,000 signatures, and when we got there, we turned in what we had,' Knapp said.

TriMet says the petition drive and potential vote will not affect the project, however. According to General Manager Neil McFarlane, the county has signed a legally binding agreement with TriMet to contribute $25 million to the project. The commission has voted twice to approve the project, once to approve the proposed alignment and once to authorize the funding. County lawyers say TriMet could sue to collect the money.

Knapp says the commissioners will face political consequences if they do not allow the vote or honor the results, however.

'I've talked to a lot of people, and they all say there will be hell to pay if the commission does not respect the will of the people. The U.S. Constitution gives us the right to petition government with our grievances, and that's what we're doing,' says Knapp.

Clackamas County First, the political action committee supporting the petition drive, has so far reported receiving around $3,500 in cash and in-kind contributions. The largest contributor is the Oregon Transformation Project, a political action committee supported by a conservative millionaire Loren Parks and a number of timber companies and other businesses.

Although work is already underway on the Portland to Milwaukie Light rail Line in Portland, the federal government has yet to sign the Full Funding Agreement that establishes its payment schedule. That is expected to happen in May. Knapp and other opponents believe the federal government might refuse to sign the agreement if the Clackamas County portion is threatened.

The Federal Transit Administration has committed to paying 50 percent of the project, up to $745.2 million. The remaining money is scheduled to come from the Oregon State Lottery ($250 million), Metro ($99.8 million), the City of Portland ($49 million), the Department of Transportation ($10 million), Clackamas County ($25 million), and the City of Milwaukie ($5 million). An additional $56.6 million work of property is being donated to the project. Another $174.3 million in local interest costs are counted as part of the local match. And TriMet is still seeking $56.6 million in local contributions.

The MAX line is intended to serve multiple purposes. They include allowing even more students to reach Portland State University without using cars, providing transportation alternative to South Waterfront residents and businesses, encouraging the development of the Oregon Health and Sciences University's new campus along the Willamette River south of the Ross Island Bridge, giving Southeast Portland resident more transportation options, and relieving traffic congestion in the Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard/Highway 99E corridor that is expected to see an additional 55,000 households and 100,000 jobs by 2030.

When completed, the 7.3-mile line will stretch from the southern edge of PSU to South Waterfront, then across the Willamette River to OMSI. From there it will run through Southeast Portland neighborhoods to McLoughlin, eventually running through downtown Milwaukie to Southeast Park Avenue.

In addition to the new bridge over the Willamette, the project will include up to 12 new stations, two park and ride facilities, and an expansion of TriMet's Ruby Junction facility.