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Public vote for light-rail approval is years away

Southwest Corridor planning pushes on, voter approval on mass rapid transit at least two years in future

Tualatin voters last week supported Measure 34-220, which grants citizens a vote before the City Council can authorize the use of city resources for public rail transit systems.

This might initially look like a hindrance for the officials working on the Southwest Corridor Plan, but so far, none appear perturbed by the measure’s approval.

“I’m looking at it from a regional perspective — I’m looking at the whole corridor and looking at a plan,” said Craig Dirksen, metro councilor for District 3 and former Tigard mayor. “My perception of the measure (in Tualatin) and in Tigard has to do with how we would implement the plan and how we would have to go to people for approval.”

According to Dirksen and Tualatin City Manger Sherilyn Lombos, this would have had to happen anyway. Final versions of the Southwest Corridor Plan are still at least two years away, they both said, which means voter approval of anything related to it are two years out, as well. Once a plan is finalized, the next step is finding the funds to actually implement it. Since there would be no way for the city to budget out the millions of dollars it would have to contribute, these funds would have to come from a bond, which the citizens would have to approve regardless of Measure 34-220’s passage.

“It reinforces that we need to come up with a plan that makes sense and that people will support,” said Dirksen. “These measures are an affirmation from the people saying that needs to be so.”

The Sept. 16 special election is estimated to cost the city about $14,000, said Lombos, as between $1 and $2 is spent for every ballot mailed to Tualatin’s 11,877 registered voters. This is roughly the amount Tualatin would expect to pay for every special election, whether related to light rail or otherwise. Unofficial results say that of those registered, 3,217 cast votes in the election, with 2,402 supporting the measure, and 814 voting against it.

But, the lasting effect of the measure won’t be known until 2016. If, at that time, a plan is put before voters to ask for money, and is then denied, the plan will be re-worked. As Dirksen said, doing nothing is not an option.

“Why are we doing this? Why are we looking at this? Because we’re responding to a problem with transportation in the corridor,” he said. “It’s only going to get worse and worse until it’s non-functioning.

“What are things going to look like in 2035? How do we plan a system that will still be adequate with the amount of growth? It’s not going to happen on its own.”

Dirksen, who’s been working on the Southwest Corridor Plan since he was Tigard mayor in 2008, said that for the past 50 years, the region has grown each year by about 1.5 percent, and recent projections say this trend will continue. With transportation already an issue in the area, the idea is to find a solution before the problem is significantly worse. It will be at least a decade before anything is in place, and waiting to start that minimum 10-year process to begin planning wasn’t a viable solution.

“We can’t wait to fall off the cliff,” Dirksen said.

Avoiding the cliff means planning, and lots of it, before Metro will be able to assess exactly what money will be needed and what options are even feasible. The next step in the process is whittling the options down to several of the most realistic choices and conducting a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, said Dirksen. That process is predicted to start in November and will explore everything in great detail, with the results ultimately pointing in the best direction to move forward.

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