Both sides address measure to stop Southwest Corridor plan

More than 100 people watched the sometimes heated Jan. 8 King City public forum on high-capacity transit in Tigard — and perhaps the fate of the Southwest Corridor Plan that proposes to link Portland to Tualatin with a new transit line.

Residents were ready to discuss Ballot Measure 34-210, which would force the city of Tigard to hold a public vote before it allows light rail, or any other form of high-capacity transit, through town. Such a line is critical to the corridor plan, which is being overseen by Metro and supported by Portland, Multnomah County and most local governments in Washington County.

“This is your opportunity to intervene and decide your own destiny. A public vote is the only way you are going to have that,” said Steve Schopp, a Tualatin resident who helped put the measure on the March special election ballot.

Tigard City Councilor Jason Snider, who opposes the measure, told the crowd that it unnecessarily restricts the city from working on the one issue residents say is most important to them: congestion.

“Traffic congestion has been the No. 1 issue raised by our citizens in all our evaluations for many, many years,” Snider said.

If approved, Tigard would officially oppose high-capacity transit, and be required to send annual letters to federal, state and local governments reaffirming the position. In addition, the city would not be able to approve any plans for high-capacity transit without a public vote, and would have to say how much the project would cost, and outline how much existing or future road capacity would be taken up by the line.

Arguments on both sides

The forum was hosted by a number of Democratic activists in Washington County and included comments and questions from the audience. Members of Tigard First, a group formed in protest to block a Walmart under construction on Dartmouth Street, distributed fliers and information about the measure, which it described as a part of “a larger neo-conservative movement to reduce funding” for public transportation.

Tigard Mayor John L. Cook told the crowd the measure would unnecessarily tie the city’s hands. While the city would technically still be able to study transit, Cook said it could impact chances of getting future funding for other projects.

“If you don’t play nice around the table, you don’t get anything else,” Cook said. “That’s just plain politics. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s how it works.”

The measure’s proponents disagreed, saying the measure would instead force Tigard officials to work harder.

“No, what you are doing is negotiating with a very, very firm hand,” said Eric Meyers, a Wilsonville lawyer who wrote the measure. “You have to be able to tell the people across the table, ‘I need to get the voters’ support, so whatever we’re going to work out, know that I have to be able to sell it back home.’ It’s a much stronger hand when you are coming to negotiate.”

No silver bullet

Tigard has scratched its head for yearslooking for ways to decrease congestion through town. Former Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen said that while many people have suggested widening Pacific Highway to accommodate more lanes and more cars, that plan wouldn’t reduce the road’s traffic jams.

“It would take widening the highway to eight lanes” to fix the city’s congestion problem, he said, eliminating hundreds of businesses.

Whether it’s light rail or rapid-bus service, a proposed high-capacity transit line isn’t a silver bullet for Tigard’s congestion concerns, Cook said. But it will take some pressure off Pacific Highway.

“In the future as Sherwood grows, as Newberg grows, as Yamhill County grows, they’ve still got to drive up and down that road,” Cook said. “This will reduce the increased congestion, it won’t solve the congestion, but you have to look to the future.”

And the measure will also impact Tualatin, where the proposed transit line was expected to end. “We have horrible bus service in Tualatin,” said Tualatin City Councilor Joelle Davis. “It’s very challenging for people who live in Tualatin to get pretty much any place in the metro area using public transit. As our communities grow, we will continue to have populations that will continue to rely on this type of transit.”

John Charles, chairman of the Cascade Policy Institute, said Tigard’s measure was about giving people a say.

“I see this as voting before people take action,” Charles said. “You could say that’s too much democracy, but I don’t think it’s much different than a school board requiring a vote to approve bond measures. Is that too much democracy?

“You can be pro-high-capacity transit and still be in favor of this ballot measure.”

But Metro Councilor Dirksen disagreed, saying that a charter amendment adopted by voters in 2012 gave Tigard residents exactly what they asked for.

“We live in a representative democracy,” Dirksen said. “Don’t tie hands of your elected officials. These are your friends and your neighbors that you elected to do this job. Don’t add red tape and bureaucracy for them to wade through to get things done. This is already a hard enough job — don’t make it any harder.”

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