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Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail at halfway mark

At the bi-monthly meeting of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project on Thursday, July 18, the Inner Southeast Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) learned that the project was “on time and on budget” at its halfway point.

TriMet Community Affairs Representatives updated CAC members with construction updates for the various areas of the project.

Then, TriMet Project Director Rob Bernard gave an overview of the budget. He also presented a “recalibration scope” update – going over the list of items permanently removed from the scope of the project, as well as items that remain deferred from the project’s scope, other items returned to the scope, and new items added with the use of “other funding”.

An item-by-item listing of the “Project Scope Recalibration Update, July 2013” is posted on the project’s Internet website.

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Looking north from the Tacoma Street Overpass at McLoughlin, this raised section of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project appears ready for the track to be laid.The SMILE neighborhood representative to the CAC, Terri Pucik, took issue with the Tacoma Street Station’s Park & Ride Garage being “permanently removed” from the scope of the project. “Why was the Tacoma Station garage removed [reducing the parking spaces available from 1,000 space garage to a 320 space surface lot] from the Full Funding Agreement?”

She said that she finds concerns in the neighborhood that the reduced parking at Tacoma Street could force drivers north to park within the neighborhood around Bybee Boulevard Station.

Project Director Bernard responded that, in November of 2010, there was the expectation that the Tacoma Station would feature a parking structure. “Then the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) wrote us a letter in July of 2011 saying, ‘No; we took a look at the code, and that’s not what it says, so we cannot do that’.”

“It’s like all of a sudden, the game has changed,” Pucik said.

“It was a game changer,” agreed Bernard. “It was not our expectation. But the FTA said that they looked at the enabling legislation for this funding source, and it cannot be funded. It ties their hands. We may not like it, but the code is the code. There's nothing we can do to undo this, unless there is a change to the United States Code.”

He continued, “It makes sense that we build it, and everyone wants it. That’s why we took three runs at it, to get them to say ‘yes’. If, when we get to the end of this project and we have funding left over, we will again have this conversation. Your voices matter.”

David Ashenbrenner, a CAC member, asked if the Tacoma Station project included basic infrastructure, like for lighting and foundation, to take it from a surface lot to a structure.

“We are taking a look, but I don’t know the outcome,” replied Bernard.

Ashenbrenner continued, “I'm anxious for our September CAC meeting. I hope my seat is reserved at the table for that discussion with TriMet Operations for about how we can provide bus service, serving Sellwood and Milwaukie in the future. That is going to be critical to this whole thing.”

After the meeting, Bernard sat down and spoke with THE BEE about the project.

“We're at the 50% completion point for construction of the entire project,” he began. “The project is really moving full steam ahead, with lots of construction this summer.”

In addition the massive project coming in at budget and being on schedule, Bernard said he was proud of the 6,800 jobs that it’s created. “It’s not just jobs for a few select companies; the work is spread among 429 firms, and 111 of those firms are disadvantaged business enterprises. 24% of the workers are people of color, 9% are women, and 6% are apprentices.”

Funding issues with Clackamas County have been settled, Bernard commented. “With the Summary Judgment, essentially the courts have directed Clackamas County to honor their contracts. The United States Constitution says that a ‘vote of the people’ cannot nullify a contract.”

In addition to other work, people in the Sellwood-Westmoreland area are already seeing construction on the Bybee Station.

“Beams for the pull-outs on both sides of the Bybee Bridge are being constructed. It’s important for residents to know that the Bybee Bridge will not be closed during construction, although the lanes may be narrowed. Please watch for flaggers in the area and drive safely.”