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City, citizens debate high-capacity options for 99W

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tigard resident Erik Halstead asks how appropriate the Southwest Corridor plan would be given that the current commuter-rail service, WES, doesnt run in the evening or weekends during a town hall with the Tigard City Council on Monday.The mood was tense Monday night when City Council members fielded questions about Tigard’s transit future.

The chamber-hosted event came one week after a citizens’ group successfully petitioned to add a ballot measure that would give Tigard residents final say on whether a MAX line would come to their city.

High-capacity transit has become the biggest point of contention as Tigard considers its role in the Southwest Corridor Plan, which aims to establish MAX or a light-rail line from Portland to Tualatin.

The new measure would amend the Tigard Charter to require voter approval for any high-capacity transit projects in the city. In addition, city officials would be required to disclose projected costs of high-capacity transit projects prior to planning.

But council members argued Monday that requiring such a vote would stymy attempts to relieve congestion in Tigard, specifically along 99W, which Councilor Gretchen Buehner called “the most heavily traveled road that isn’t a freeway in the entire Northwest.”

Alignment would ultimately be a “regional decision,” she added.

“We don’t have the facts,” Buehner warned. “And quite frankly, the current initiative would stop the city from getting the necessary facts and getting the voters enough information to make an intelligent decision, one way or the other.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tigard Mayor John Cook goes over the major points of the Southwest Corridor plan that would deliver light-rail through Tigard into Tualatin.Councilor Jason Snider questioned the initiative’s requirement that the city disclose the exact cost of high-capacity transit projects prior to the planning stage.

“Determining the costs of a project with some level of certainty when you’re not really participating in the planning of the project, or maybe even when (the initiative) is preventing the planning of the project, it makes it, I think, unworkable,” he said.

The measure was a hard-won victory for anti-transit residents: During an initial attempt to get it on the ballot last year, petitioners fell 46 signatures short and had to begin the signature-collecting process all over again.

Meanwhile, a similar referendum issued by the city last year required a vote if the city wished to raise taxes or fees to fund light-rail construction in Tigard. Anti-light-rail petitioners were concerned this would confuse voters.

The confusion appeared to have spread to the council during Monday’s meeting. When Tualatin resident and former Metro Council candidate Steve Schopp expressed anger at the council for forcing citizens to go out and gather signatures again, Buehner insisted she had placed that very initiative on the ballot with the support of the council.

“We did put an initiative on the ballot,” Buehner said. “We put it on the ballot ourselves, (to) say that we will have a public vote before we spend any money on light rail.”

She added, “And we did put an initiative on the ballot (that) went to the voters in November. And if the decision is to go with light rail, there will be a public vote.”

Schopp corrected her, saying the council’s referendum was “only a vote in the event that you wish to enact a new fee or tax.”

The citizen initiative will appear on the March 11, 2014, special election ballot.

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