SW Corridor Project: A Net Negative for the Environment

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Portland politicians claim to be concerned about carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. That’s why so many of them support TriMet’s proposed 12-mile light rail line from Portland to Bridgeport Village near Tigard. They think it will reduce fossil fuel use.

Their assumptions are wrong.

According to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, energy used during construction of the rail project will equal 5.9 trillion Btu. Much of this will be in the form of fossil fuels needed to power the heavy equipment. Additional energy will be used to manufacture the rail cars, tracks, and overhead wires.

The EIS claims that the negative environmental consequences of construction will be made up by energy saved from operations of the train. However, the operational savings are so small it would take 61 years to mitigate the carbon dioxide emissions of construction.

2035 Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled and Energy Consumption 

Vehicle Type Daily VMT – No build option Million Btu/Day – No build option Daily VMT

With Light Rail

Million Btu/Day

With Light Rail

Passenger vehicle 51,474,286 249,084 51,415,071 248,798
Heavy-duty trucks 3,389,982 73,132 3,389,288 73,117
Transit bus 100,122 3,546 97,501 3,453
Light rail 19,189 1,247 21,200 1,377
TOTAL 54,983,579 327,009 54,923,060 326,745

                                          Source: Draft EIS, SW Corridor Project

Unfortunately, all of the light rail cars will need to be replaced before then. Building new cars will require more energy, resulting in additional CO2 emissions and a longer payback period.

Light rail is not a solution to a perceived climate change problem; it IS a climate change problem. Any further planning for the SW Corridor project should be terminated.

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

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Comments 2

  1. Avatar for Tom Hansen

    Tom Hansen

    5:45 pm - June 10, 2019

    Thank you for your study and press release on the bridge. These findings were very predictable and were brought up as problems and likely outcomes at early presentations and community hearings on the proposed replacement bridge.

  2. Avatar for Joe Hughes

    Joe Hughes

    12:16 pm - February 17, 2020

    HI John- I saw a program this weekend, didn’t catch the speakers name but assume it was you. Before listening to the program I thought the SW rail was essentially a done deal except financing. I’ve been resigned to the fact that my Property at 11125 SW Barbur will be swallowed/scraped by the station at 53rd. I own and occupy the 8,200 SF office building, have 2 storage buildings and out side storage on my 1.5 acre site. I operate a $25 million dollar a year Construction business out of this facility, employ 32 people and have owned this site since 2004. Every scenario of alignments over the years has had the 53rd station in the same place, essentially my property and several to the north of me… My question- is there any viable strategy to get the project stopped? Thank you in advance for any insight you can provide. My direct line is 503-542-9269…Company is Joseph Hughes Construction…….joe

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