Normally we wouldn’t comment on a ballot measure going before the voters of another city. But as we read over Ballot Measure 34-210 in Tigard and consider its potential impact not only on Tigard but on all of Washington County, we believe it’s critically important to weigh in.

The ballot title of Tigard’s Measure 34-210 — which will appear on the city’s special election ballot March 11 — reads as follows: “Shall Tigard adopt a public policy opposing high-capacity transit corridor projects unless voter authorization is obtained?”

Note that under this measure, the city’s default position would be to just say no to mass transit ideas.

If Tigard voters support this measure, the city would immediately be on record as having a “declared public policy” of opposing any construction of “new high-capacity transit corridors within the city, unless voter approval is first obtained.”

The measure defines a “high-capacity transit corridor” as any portion of a regional transit system within the city that reduces available road capacity in favor of light rail, rail transit or exclusive bus lanes.

And the measure goes to great lengths to keep transit options at bay: It would prohibit the city from amending comprehensive plan or land use regulations to accommodate a transit corridor project unless the public says “Yes” in advance via a special election.

Even more extreme, the measure would compel the city of Tigard to send letters to a series of public officials, every year, to provide notice of the city’s opposition to transit projects. These letters would go to the governor, the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Metro Councilors, the TriMet Governing Board and even to the director of the Federal Transit Administration.

Wow. With this aggressive approach, it’s difficult to imagine any transportation grants — and the hundreds of construction and operator jobs that go with them — would be coming Tigard’s way any time soon.

There are a multitude of reasons why requiring a public vote before going ahead with a regional transit project is a bad idea, but we believe the primary reason is this: If any one jurisdiction in a larger network in effect has veto power over a project, the result would be planning gridlock. Remember, if Tigard can grant itself this power, what’s to prevent any and every other municipality around the region from demanding the same clout?

By their nature, transit systems are linear. In general, transit routes radiate out of population centers and go to other population centers. Currently, for example, a proposal to link Portland and Tualatin with a new transit line — the “Southwest Corridor Plan” — is under consideration. But to get to Tualatin, the route from Portland must pass through a number of separate communities, including Tigard, King City and Durham. Under the system that would in essence be created if this measure is approved, even if four of these five communities see the benefits of enhancing their mass transit connections and value the service, if any one community along the way does not want it and votes “No,” the plan might have to be dropped. How is that fair to neighboring towns and citizens?

Many in Forest Grove would like to see a new transit system — light rail, perhaps — connecting Forest Grove with Hillsboro and Portland. But what if, for example, Cornelius wants no part of it? The existing transportation corridors go through Cornelius, and having to detour around Cornelius would add tremendously to the cost. But under the system Tigard is proposing, this type of route blockage could become commonplace.

Also, elections take time. They have to be scheduled months in advance. By definition, planning would be on hold until the elections are held. That means more delay, and that typically results in more cost for a project — if the project is indeed approved by voters.

It's interesting to note that in November 2012, Tigard voters approved Ballot Measure 34-203, which requires a public vote before any new taxes or fees could be authorized for light rail construction. Since a vote of Tigard's citizens is already necessary before any local funds could be directed toward light rail, that's all the more reason we question the motivation behind this measure.

We believe Ballot Measure 34-210 is a recipe for chaos, and not just for Tigard but potentially for all of Washington County. We hope Tigard's voters soundly reject it.

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