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TriMet: Tigard voters could kill southwest MAX line in November

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Tigard voters will determine the fate of the Southwest Corridor Plan in November.Tigard voters could kill the new MAX line being planned in the Southwest Corridor if they vote against it during the upcoming general election, according to TriMet General Manager Neil MacFarlane.

Speaking to the Pamplin Media Group's editorial board on Wednesday, McFarlane said regional transportation planners will stop working on the project if Tigard voters reject it in their city. The Tigard City Council is preparing a measure to approve or reject the line for the Nov. 8 ballot.

“If Tigard voters say they don’t want the line, it would be very hard to secure the federal funds necessary to build it. The federal government will ask if all of our regional partners are on board, and we’d have to say, ‘Not exactly,’” McFarlane said. The project is currently estimated at between $2.4 billion and $2.8 billion, with half expected to be paid by the federal government.

Metro, Portland's regional government, is currently overseeing the lengthy process for planning a new high capacity transit line between Portland and Tualatin. It is intended to provide transportation options for people living and working in the corridor, which is already congested and projected to see a 48 percent increase in households and a 38 percent increase in jobs over the next 20 years.

A Metro steering committee has picked light rail over bus rapid transit for the transit mode, and all three possible alignments pass through Tigard. Voters there earlier approved a ballot measure requiring a public vote on any new light rail line in their city.

“There are many other corridors in the region where we could be working to improve their transit options,” McFarlane said.

During the wide ranging discussion, McFarlane also said TriMet is hopeful a bus rapid transit line along Division Street could increase ridership and reduce travel times between Portland and Gresham. A Metro steering committee had been studying such a line from outer Division to Southeast 82 Avenue and inner Powell Boulevard. The committee recently concluded such a line would not reduce travel times between the two cities because of congestion on 82nd and Powell that would be too costly to overcome.

So the focus has now shifted to a bus rapid transit line that would follow Division from inner Portland all the way to Gresham. According to McFarlane, although inner Division only has one lane in each direction, proper planning and traffic management techniques should reduce travel times on even that stretch of the major east-west thoroughfare. Options being studied include spacing stations farther apart and building them on the far sides of intersections, so buses don’t block traffic while loading and unloading passengers at green lights.

“We believe it is workable,” said McFarlane, who added a decision on whether to proceed with the project will be made this fall.

McFarlane estimated the cost of the project at between $100 million and $150 million, including $25 million for new articulated buses. Metro recently approved $25 million for the project and TriMet will ask the federal government for $100 million.

McFarlane also said he was hopeful TriMet and most of its workers can agree on a new contract without the acrimony that has characterized previous negotiations. He said the Amalgamated Transit Union is currently surveying its members on whether to extend the current contract, which expires in November.

If no new contract is approved, state law allows an arbitrator to impose one, which it what happened with the contract before the current one. It was much closer to what TriMet wanted than the union.

And McFarlane said the regional transit agency is also working to increase the safety of its drivers. Crime on TriMet buses and trains has declined in recent years, except for assaults on drivers, which has increased. McFarlane said most incidents begin when riders refuse to pay their fares and drivers try to collect them. He said TriMet is working to help driver de-escalate such incidents.