Planners of the Southwest Corridor Plan say Tigard should go back to voters

by: FILE PHOTO - Tigard city officials say they need to engage the public more about what role the city should play in planning in the Southwest Corridor.Regional planners looking to build either a MAX light-rail or rapid-bus line to Tigard say they support plans for a clarifying vote in November, after last month’s passage of ballot measure 34-210.

That measure — which was passed by 51 percent of Tigard voters with 37 percent voter turnout — calls for the public to decide whether or not to allow construction of a light-rail or rapid-bus line through town.

The new Tigard rule throws a wrench in the Southwest Corridor Plan, which has been working to bring some sort of high-capacity transit line and other improvements to the area to ease traffic congestion.

But city officials said they aren’t sure where to go from here. Was voter approval of the Tigard measure meant to demand the public have a voice in planning, as proponents said, or did voters approve the measure because they are against the Southwest Corridor Plan and the idea of ever bringing a transit line to Tigard?

After the March 11 vote, Tigard city councilors pondered the idea of placing an advisory vote before voters in November.

That vote wouldn’t change the outcome of the March election, but rather provide direction on how the community wants city officials to proceed in regional transportation planning.

Measure 34-210 does not prevent Tigard from exploring high-capacity transit options, but city officials said they want to make sure they are doing what voters want by even considering to put a plan proposal before voters in the future.

At Monday’s meeting of the Southwest Corridor Plan Steering Committee — comprised of mayors and city councilors from cities all along the corridor — planners said Tigard needs to decide where it stands on the issue before it can move forward.

“I think that some of us around this table might feel a little more comfortable if six months from now, there is a clarifying vote and people do think that we should continue to study high-capacity transit,” said Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck said that was the motivation of some voters.

“There clearly will be some folks who say that this vote is against high-capacity transit (rather than about getting a vote),” he said. “We know that’s going to happen. Many folks will use this as their victory call. But until Tigard does a clarifying vote, we won’t know and can’t say publicly that it’s not. It is speculative at best until we have further analysis that says that the public wants to weigh in that they are not against high-capacity transit.”

“(After November’s vote), then we can move forward with confidence addressing the issues that the public supports,” Duyck said.

Important vote

Tigard City Councilor Marc Woodard said the city plans to seek public comment and get an answer to that question as quickly as possible.

“Tigard really wants to listen to the voters and understand what they would like to see,” he said.

Woodard read a statement at Monday’s meeting, which he has since posted to the city’s website, outlining the City Council’s position on the potential advisory vote.

“We want to respect the voter’s intent but also realize the passing of the measure was by a narrow margin,” Woodard said. “That said, we need to find better ways to communicate with our citizens to help them understand the best high-capacity transit options and opportunities and (learn) what priorities they will support.”

City surveys in 2011 and 2013 showed support for some form of high-capacity transit.

“The majority of residents like high-capacity transit, but we don’t know what that looks like,” he said. “That advisory vote will be very important to us.”

Before a vote this fall, city councilors are planning a public engagement blitz over the next several weeks where they can speak directly to citizens and public events and learn how they feel about the Southwest Corridor project and how involved Tigard should be in the planning process.

What those events will look like, or when they will be, is still being decided. Woodard said he hopes to hear from everyone, including younger residents and other members of the community who may not have voted in March’s special election.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said that the amount of community outreach should be done across the corridor, not just in Tigard.

“It is critical and important to me that we are able to communicate to the public — whether in Tigard, Tualatin or Southwest Portland — the value (of this project) and what it means to their lives,” Ogden said. “If we can’t do that in a way that garners support, we probably don’t have a project that we should advance.”

Planners are beginning work on a draft environmental study, which will begin to narrow down where the proposed line will run and where stations might be.

That work is important, Duyck said. “Before we do that, we have nothing to put before the voters in Tigard.”

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