U.S. Senator visits Milwaukie for a progress report from local leaders
by: patrick sherman, Sen. Gordon Smith and Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard listen to the input of city councilors.

Milwaukie's political leaders welcomed Sen. Gordon Smith to the city on Wednesday, and gave him a sense of the challenges they will face in the years ahead.

'It's not often we have a United States Senator visit city hall,' said Mayor Jim Bernard, waiting in the lobby for Smith's arrival. 'We're excited to talk to him about what's happening in Milwaukie and find out what he can do to help us, and what we can do to help him.'

Ushered upstairs, Smith sat down with Bernard and members of the city council to discuss a range of topics.

'What are the feelings about light rail at this point?' Smith asked, opening the discussion.

'I would say it's very mixed,' said Bernard. 'I think the biggest issue is going to be the terminus of the line.'

Councilors Susan Stone and Carlotta Collette debated the merits of a proposed light rail line serving Milwaukie.

'I feel that light rail doesn't address the core of our traffic policies,' said Stone.

Collette responded: 'Right now, about one third of Tri-Met's total ridership is moving up and down McLoughlin. We need transportation options.'

Smith weighed in, saying: 'It's very expense, and it requires a community to reach a certain level of density before it makes sense, but I can't imagine Washington, D.C. without light rail. It moves a lot of people.

'I'm not here to push it or discourage it - I'm here to help facilitate what you want to do.'

He added: 'I think it's fair to say that with so many countries out of the third world and their acquisition of automobiles, fuel is going to be expensive for a long time to come.'

The meeting also provided Bernard an opportunity to brag about some of Milwaukie's achievements, including the demolition of the buildings on the waterfront.

'It's amazing,' he said. 'This is the first time that some of our citizens realized that we have a river.'

He also highlighted the North Main development - an $18 million project that will bring 200 new residents to the downtown area. Bernard estimated that $80 million of economic development had occurred in the city during his tenure as mayor.

Afterwards, Smith said: 'I have my marching orders. There is no substitute for going out and kicking the tires to see what a community needs and how the federal government can participate - to really comprehend the problems that local people are dealing with.'

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