President Obama wants $200 million for Portland-Milwaukie MAX as TriMet scratches for local funds
Published: Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 1:30 PM Updated: Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 5:16 PM
Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
President Barack Obama’s budget calls for $200 million in federal funding to go toward the proposed Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the administration’s funding recommendations Tuesday for 10 new transit construction projects around the country, including the newest MAX line.
President Obama’s budget proposal includes a record $3.2 billion in funding for 28 transit construction projects across the U.S. that LaHood says will increase mobility, reduce energy consumption, curb air pollution, and help the nation compete economically.
The president, LaHood said, wants $200 million in the next fiscal year to go toward a full-funding grant for the so-called Orange Line extending 7.3 miles from downtown Portland to Milwaukie over a new bridge.
Construction on the new 1,720-foot bridge bridge, which will be used only by trains, buses, streetcars, pedestrians and bicyclists, is expected to begin this summer. The Orange Line, which TriMet says will better serve the southern transit corridor, downtown and emerging growth areas in east Portland, is scheduled to open in September 2015.
“As President Obama made clear in his State of the Union Address, we must win the future by investing in a modern transportation network that will enable us to out-compete the rest of the world,” LaHood said in a statement. “Portland already boasts a world-class light rail system, and this addition will enhance access to the South Waterfront and destinations across the Willamette River.”
LaHood also noted that the Portland-Milwaukie light rail project has met the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, which are in place to ensure a project is a good investment of taxpayer dollars.
Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman, said the $200 million is a big chunk of the $745 million that the federal government has promised to construction of the Orange Line (.XLS Spreadsheet) -- but it’s a larger amount than the agency expected this year.
“They’re not writing a check today,” Fetsch said, “but this project has never gotten into the president’s budget this early.”
TriMet is still scratching to find an additional $35.2 million in state and local matching money to cover its share of the most expensive transit project it has ever undertaken. The new MAX line is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, with half coming from federal transportation grants.
Fetsch said the Oregon Transportation Commission is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal to direct $4.5 million from the Department of Transportation’s flexible funding program into the Orange Line. ODOT is also looking at "various other unobligated pots of transit funds" that would add another $9 million, she said.
Although alternative transportation groups such as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance support the Orange Line, they have expressed concerns that the so-called “Flex” money going into the project might hurt funding for bike and sidewalk projects. The libertarian Cascade Policy Institute, meanwhile, thinks the flexible funds would be better spent on replacing aging buses.
“This is unacceptable,” said John Charles, the institute’s president, in a statement. ”The majority of trips taken on TriMet are on buses; the continued under-investment in bus replacement harms the overall transit mission of TriMet. If the agency had a bus capital crisis last November that was unaddressed by the voters, then clearly that crisis is on-going. The Milwaukie project is a huge distraction from the core requirements of the agency.”
Last fall, Charles and the institute openly opposed a bond measure that would have allowed TriMet to replace at least 150 aging buses. The measure failed at polls.
The president’s budget also includes new funding for rail and bus rapid transit projects in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Utah and in Washington. The budget also provides $835.4 million for the continued funding of seven additional rail transit projects already operational or under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia.
LaHood said the beleaguered Columbia River Crossing might also "become ready" for part of $400 million for unspecified transit projects in the president's budget.
-- Joseph Rose; Twitter, pdxcommute