Senator keeps commuter trains rolling
Federal funding for a proposed rail line between Beaverton and Wilsonville is secured, thanks to a phone call by Gordon Smith
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
BEAVERTON -- A friendly telephone call Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., made to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta a few weeks ago looks like it will pay off for Wilsonville-Beaverton commuters in three to four years.
At a hastily arranged celebration and press conference Tuesday, Smith said he implored Mineta to shunt Washington County's long-planned commuter rail project past a recent federal rule change that threatened to kill the $103.5 million project.
Mineta, who months earlier toured the proposed rail route with local officials, called Smith back last week and said: "I did it."
The senator said Mineta convinced the Office of Management and Budget that the proposed Washington County rail line deserved $37 million in previously budgeted federal dollars, even if it didn't meet a tighter cost-per-rider rule that the office imposed in March.
The Wilsonville-Beaverton line's per-rider cost through 2020 is calculated at just less than $25, assuming the expected 3,000 riders a day show up. The budget office had lowered the bar from $25 to $20.
Without the crucial $37 million from the Federal Transit Administration in Mineta's department, however, construction couldn't proceed, TriMet officials said earlier. The Portland-area transit agency is managing the commuter line's construction.
Smith said that because the project's planning and previous local spending -- including $3.9 million from TriMet and $2.5 million from the county -- were more than five years along, it would be unfair for the federal government to withhold money the Bush administration had proposed for the line this year.
"It's about getting aboard before they pull up the ladder," Smith said of the budget office's change of heart. He said another transit project in Utah received a similar reprieve.
A majority of the Oregon rail project's total cost is allocated to TriMet. The rest is set to come from the county, state lottery funds and cities of Wilsonville, Tualatin, Tigard and Beaverton, some using grants from other federal agencies.
Mostly using freight tracks of Portland & Western Railroad, self-propelled diesel commuter cars would run every 30 minutes during rush hours from near Wilsonville's 2,700-home Villebois real estate development, now under construction, to the Beaverton Transit Center off Southwest Lombard Street and Canyon Road.
A new rail approach from the Portland & Western tracks near Lombard's intersection with Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway will be joined with a widened and realigned Lombard crossing Beaverton-Hillsdale, Southwest Broadway and Canyon. The terminus at the Beaverton Transit Center will parallel TriMet's light-rail tracks on the south.
Trips the entire distance are expected to take 37 minutes. The 14.7-mile line also will have stops in Tualatin and Tigard, along with one directly across Oregon 217 from the Washington Square shopping center. The latter stop will be connected to the shopping mall by a pedestrian bridge over 217.
With the funding authorization secured by Smith, construction probably will begin in 2007 and could be finished by late 2008, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said.
Hansen said the line's six self-propelled passenger cars will be ordered from Colorado Railcar of Fort Lupton, Colo., as soon as TriMet receives a funding contract from the transit administration.
Richard Colby: 503-294-5961; firstname.lastname@example.org