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Failing Grade for PSU and Light Rail

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

On Thursday, July 8, a Metro committee will finalize the funding plan for TriMet’s $494 million “South Corridor” light rail expansion project. It will run to Clackamas County and through the Portland bus mall. The committee is counting on Portland State University to contribute approximately $5 million.

Unfortunately, putting light rail on the bus mall will reduce the total transit throughput of the mall because trains take up a lot of space, but don’t move as many passengers as buses. The light rail expansion will also cost at least 100 times more than increased bus service.

When asked why Portland State University is supporting such an absurd plan, a representative of the finance office responded, “Approximately 40% of PSU students and faculty use transit and this will improve transit service.”

PSU is already served by dozens of buses plus the Portland Streetcar. The most efficient way to improve that service would be to add a few bus lines and increase the Streetcar service above its current four times per-hour schedule. Neither of these options would necessitate ripping up the bus mall.

Academia is the one institution where rigorous analysis of alternatives ought to be expected. It’s what professors demand in the classroom. Too bad it doesn’t apply to the politics of light rail.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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