Why Was Moody Avenue Shut Down―Again?

Last week, TriMet proudly announced that the tracks for Milwaukie light rail had successfully been laid in the South Waterfront district to allow light rail to cross SW Moody Avenue next to the new OHSU construction project. When finished, there will be a light rail stop at that location, and the train will then go up and over the new Willamette River bridge.

What TriMet did not say in its press release is that SW Moody had already been torn apart, raised 14 feet, and rebuilt over an 18-month period ending June 2012. The tab for this retrofit was $52 million. The whole point of raising the road was to allow the Milwaukie light rail line to cross it at grade. Thus, the light rail tracks should have been laid when the entire road was being rebuilt during 2011.

The most recent retrofit shut down Moody Avenue for three weeks and required the complete removal of the Portland streetcar tracks for the third time in three years. This was a severe inconvenience to South Waterfront workers and a waste of taxpayer money.

TriMet has yet to publicly say how much this second retrofit cost, nor has the agency explained why it was done 15 months after the first rebuilding. An explanation is in order.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Green to Gray: TriMet and SW Lincoln Street in Portland, Oregon

Narration text below:

In the 1960’s, SW Lincoln Street, near Portland State University, was part of Portland’s first urban renewal district.

Dilapidated buildings were cleared, new development built, and thousands of shade trees planted.

Today, those trees tower over SW Lincoln Street… but not for long. Sometime on, or before September 15th, TriMet plans to cut down every single tree on the street… to put in light rail.

Most residents of the neighborhood are not happy with the decision.

The street is currently served by TriMet’s #17 bus line. If the goal is more transit, why not just run the #17 more often?

The Rockwood MAXX station was recently refurbished. Does SW Lincoln street really want to trade shade trees for concrete and art like this?

Cascade Requests Congressional House Committee to Delete Funding for Milwaukie Light Rail

Portland, OR – Today Cascade Policy Institute sent a letter to Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the Congressional House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, requesting that he delete all $750 million in federal funding being requested by TriMet for the Milwaukie light rail project.

Noting that the recently-signed Budget Control Act of 2011 requires Congress to reduce federal spending by $917 billion over the next 10 years and that Rep. Mica has released a draft six-year transportation spending bill forecasting a 35% cut in federal highway/transit spending, Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr. stated that the price tag of $205 million per mile for Milwaukie light rail was “indefensible” and should be terminated.

Cascade sent a second letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber, informing him of the letter to Rep. Mica and asking that he intervene to terminate the Milwaukie project, but implement a low-cost alternative concept with the following elements:

  • Finish the new bridge over the Willamette River
  • Cancel the light rail portion
  • Connect the streetcar loop
  • Offer more “express” bus service to Milwaukie

Charles stated, “The Milwaukie project offers no new transit service, forces the relocation of 68 businesses and 20 residences, and degrades current bus service to Milwaukie. We can improve service while saving about $1.3 billion, and that plan would free up about $600 million in local dollars for other civic improvement projects.”

For the letter to Rep. Mica click here.
For the letter to Gov. Kitzhaber click here.
For a summary of the low-cost alternative plan for Milwaukie light rail click here.

 

John Charles message to the TriMet Board Members

Below is the message John Charles sent to TriMet board members on August 9, 2011. This comes one day before they vote on Resolution 11-08-58, which is the resolution “Authorizing TriMet to Acquire by Purchase or by the Exercise of the Power of Eminent Domain Certain Real Property Necessary to Construction of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project”.


Board members:

Before you vote on Resolution 11-08-58, I encourage you to stop by SW Lincoln Street tomorrow morning on your way to the Board meeting, and spend a few minutes enjoying the tranquility of this neighborhood. It has all the mixed uses that Portland planners love – residential, commercial and retail businesses, transit service (bus line #17), and two great pedestrian paths – along with more than 65 stately shade trees that were planted some 50 years ago as part of Portland’s first urban renewal project. Please visit the beauty shop that you will destroy with property condemnation, and talk with some of the clerks inside who are very distressed at what is about to happen.

Then imagine all the beautiful trees getting clear-cut by TriMet contractors on or before September 15. Imagine the entire street being blown up and widened to accommodate a slow, noisy light rail line. Picture a big light rail station in the middle of the block, with all the aesthetic glamour of light rail stations such as those located at East Burnside and 102nd, 122nd, 148th, or 162nd; or perhaps the station at North Interstate and Killingsworth, or the Beaverton Round.

Try and remember that even though Urban Renewal is supposed to be used to clean up “urban blight”, most light rail stations create urban blight. And remember that part of your light rail project is being financed with Urban Renewal dollars.

To truly understand the significance of the Milwaukie project, you need to go out to the neighborhoods and see how construction will actually affect them. It is not enough for you to stay above the fray. Light rail is not an abstraction, or just a series of drawings on a board. Light rail affects real people. You need to be aware of that before you pull the trigger and wreck their street.

The staff report is disingenuous when it states, “The business on site, Ed Wyse Beauty Supply, will not be directly impacted by construction. The building will not be affected and no relocation is required.” Of course it will be affected. It is a land-locked site. Customers cannot get to it from the west, south or east. Once you take their street frontage and have construction materials piled right up their front door, they will slowly twist in the wind and then go out of business. We saw this repeatedly on Morrison and Yamhill on the first MAX line, and again on North Interstate.

Don’t kid yourselves that your project is making some kind of surgical intervention onto Lincoln Street. You will be putting the Candlelight Café and Budget Rent-a-Car out of business directly (near 5th Avenue), and the Ed Wyse Beauty Supply out of business indirectly. You can’t pass the responsibility off.

Before you vote, I hope you will be able to state publicly for the record, in your own words, WHY you are doing this. If some businesses must be ruined and beautiful trees mowed down, what greater good is being sought? I don’t have an answer; I hope you do.

Sincerely,

John Charles

John Charles to TriMet Board: Understand Obligations Before Signing FTA Grant Agreement

Testimony before the TriMet Board of Directors

Regarding Resolution 11-06-38

Application for a Full Funding Grant Agreement with FTA for the Milwaukie Light Rail Line

June 8, 2011

In your consideration of this Resolution, please focus your attention on the second “Whereas” clause: “Federal assistance will impose certain OBLIGATIONS upon the applicant.”

I suggest you review and UNDERSTAND those obligations BEFORE you approve the resolution. Your predecessors approved a similar resolution for the Green MAX Line, yet TriMet is now operating that line at service levels 33% those originally planned do to financial problems.

How, specifically, will TriMet operate this line successfully when there is not even a plan to fully restore transit service over the next decade? I’ve sent you all a copy of my letter to FTA about the Green Line. No one from TriMet has responded or even acknowledged receipt of the letter.  I’ll take that as an admission that you don’t HAVE a response.

You have a fiduciary obligation to conduct proper due diligence. Have you accounted for the following factors?

  • The $25 million promised from Clackamas County is unlikely to be available when you need it, due to an initiative petition being circulated that would require a public vote on new urban renewal districts. The only option Clackamas County has to generate the $25 million is through Urban Renewal. We know from the recent county defeat of the small, $5 motor vehicle fee for the Sellwood Bridge replacement that Clackamas County voters would likely vote against Urban Renewal by a wide margin.  
  • The legislature may begin requiring all units of government to begin making annual required payments into OPEP trust funds, which would be a $60 million hit to TriMet’s general fund.
  • What is TriMet’s “Plan B” if you lose the arbitration dispute with the ATU? The boad’s only public statements have indicated that loss of arbitration would result in more service cuts.  How will you operate the Milwaukie line successfully if you are reducing service for the 5th time in less than 3 years?
  • What happens if someone on the relevant Congressional oversight Committee decides that your Milwaukie FFGA application should be held up until such time that you restore service to the Green Line? You’re going to be building this line for an entire year on SPECULATION that the FFGA will be approved. What if it isn’t? What is your back-up plan?

 Conclusion

You promised the legislature in 2003 that you would increase service if they gave you a payroll tax rate increase. They approved the tax rate increase, you took in $60 million in new revenue, and you cut service. You BROKE the promise.

You promised the FTA you would operate the Green Line properly if they gave you federal grant money. You BROKE the promise.

You promised the public last year that you would begin funding OPEB obligations in FY 12 at the rate of $1 million per year. You will BREAK that promise when you adopt the budget later this month, by only putting in $435,000.

This will be a dark day in the financial history of TriMet when you approve this resolution. TriMet’s “business model” is broken, and now you plan to make things much worse. I just want the record to show that you knew all of these risks when you voted YES.

John Charles testimony for the 9/22 TriMet board meeting

John A. Charles, Jr.
Subject: TM Resolution 10-09-44

Members of the Board:

I will not be able to attend the board meeting tomorrow. Therefore I wish to enter the following comments into the record today regarding TM Resolution 10-09-44:

There is considerable risk in purchasing this property because it is unlikely that the Milwaukie LRT line will ever get built.  Notwithstanding the oft-made claim by Mr. McFarlane that TriMet is considered to be “an A student” by FTA officials, TriMet has clearly been defrauding the federal government by taking capital grants for rail projects without operating them successfully for 20 years, as required by law. In May 2009 TriMet announced that service on the Green Line would be cut before it ever opened. Service was cut again earlier this month. Cuts have also been made on other federally-subsidized rail lines. Until TriMet restores service on those lines, they remain out of compliance with past funding agreements. Why would FTA spend even more money on TriMet under these circumstances?

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New TriMet Lines Expand Liabilities

Laura Lewis

QuickPoint!

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by Laura Lewis

New TriMet Lines Expand Liabilities

Download the PDF here

TriMet has doubled its transit police force from 29 to 58 officers during the past two and a half years. Despite these security increases, light rail continues to attract crime. The newly opened Green Line to Clackamas Town Center has experienced a 32% increase in reported crime and a 56% increase in calls for police service since the light rail opened in 2009. The addition of police forces will cost an added $140,000 per year per officer, or a total of $43 million for 58 officers over the next 5 years, adding to TriMet’s current $27 million budget shortfall.

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