OHSU Tram: Forward into the Past!

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The recent decision by the Portland City Council to build a tram from Oregon Health Sciences University to the North Macadam district is reminiscent of the decision to fast- track the construction of light-rail to the Portland airport. In both cases, the transportation projects were deemed essential to the development of vacant land that would eventually create 10,000 new jobs.

Both projects were also “railroaded” through the political process in a period of months by small groups of private interests working together with the City Council, outside the normal planning process that involves years of public debate.

And finally, both the airport MAX and the OHSU tram are fixed-guideway projects that fit the nostalgic vision Portland planners have for a 19th century city that doesn’t rely on private automobiles for transportation.

Unfortunately, few people share that vision. Airport light rail opened last September, and none of the development that was planned for the Cascade Station “transit- oriented” village has occurred. The 10,000 new jobs are just a dream. The train runs through the middle of vacant fields, completely isolated from commercial activity along I-205.

The same fate awaits the OHSU tram. Fixed-guideway transit is simply irrelevant to most people. Making a tram the focal point of the North Macadam transportation system almost guarantees that the 10,000 jobs will never materialize. Lenders will simply refuse to finance investments that lack sufficient infrastructure for driving and parking.

Mayor Vera Katz describes the tram as a future post card. That may turn out to be true. Too bad it won’t actually serve a transportation need.

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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