Anti-light rail bill could head to county vote
Petitioner calls for Washington County residents to have say on Southwest Corridor Plan
The man who brought about sweeping changes in the way the city of Tigard handles light rail is at it again, this time hoping to change the way the entire county thinks about the issue.
Tim Esau said plans to build a high-capacity transit line from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin affect all of Washington County, and county residents need to decide for themselves whether or not the project should continue.
Esau submitted an initiative petition to Washington County on Dec. 3, requiring a countywide vote on any new rail or transit project.
Under Esaus petition, the countys Board of Commissioners wouldnt be able to finance new public transit projects chiefly a new MAX line or a Eugene-style rapid bus service currently being considered as part of the Southwest Corridor Plan without voter approval.
I really want to make sure that we all agree to this, and not just 100 guys with a vision that can get their pockets lined and live some dream, Esau said. We will still be stuck with a traffic solution that doesnt solve our needs in Washington County.
The petition requires county commissioners to spell out exactly how much the projects would cost and forbids the county from diverting funds marked for road maintenance and construction for public rail transit projects without a public vote.
Although no local funding options have yet been sought for Southwest Corridor plan, Esau said he expects it to be paid for through already existing street fees and other services.
The petition also forbids Washington County from lobbying or influencing public officials to change how they fund road maintenance and construction projects.
County voters need a say
The petition is similar to a ballot measure Esau put before Tigard voters in March, which calls for a public vote before the city can approve plans for either a MAX light-rail line or rapid bus line.
Weve got a serious need for transportation improvements, both in infrastructure and operationally, Esau said. Those wont be served with a $6 billion rail project when you have real people trying to get from one part of the county to the other.
Esaus fight in Tigard earlier this year was largely centered on local residents taking a stand in local affairs. Proponents of Esaus measure cried foul at outside influences, such as the city of Portland, deciding how to run a rail system through Tigard.
But Esaus current petition would require all Washington County voters to weigh in on transit projects, no matter where they are being built across the county.
When county funds are involved, it affects all of us, Esau said. When the county cant pay for road maintenance, that impacts my tax statement every year.
Two years to gather signatures
Many have claimed the ballot measures in Tigard, Tualatin and King City were thinly veiled attempts to kill the Southwest Corridor Plan outright, but Esau said its all about voter choice.
I want to make sure voters get a say, Esau said. This will set guidelines at the county level.
Esau and other opponents of the Southwest Corridor Plan have called it a boondoggle, saying the project is too expensive and the corridor would be better served by additional bus service and infrastructure.
Esau said a high-capacity transit system isnt a bad idea for the area, as long as its well thought out.
If its compelling, Ill vote for it, he said. Make the case for me. Dont just saddle me with a huge burden. People in the city of Tigard wont be very happy to spend money here in the near future with all that well have to pay for. Im a cheapskate, but we have infrastructure obligations that we need to live up to.
Esau will have two years to collect the 15,270 signatures he needs to get on the countywide ballot.
I know of about 10,000 already who are willing to sign it from the ones who signed before in King City, Tigard and Tualatin, he said. I dont see this as a super-huge challenge. If anything, our collection methods will be easier. I am very confident we can get the signatures we need for the measure.
Planners for the Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee plan to make a decision next spring about which mode light rail or rapid bus service it wants to move forward with. Esau said hed like his initiative to be voted on before that happens.
Washington County is expected to issue a title for the initiative petition by the end of this week, then Esau can begin collecting signatures.