BushCo didn't screw us! Does this mean we will see construction by this fall?
Metro rail projects hit funding fast track
Transit - The president's budget includes $393 million for an I-205 MAX line and a westside commuter rail
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The federal government has approved a $557 million expansion of Portland's light rail south to Clackamas Town Center plus a spur down the transit mall to Portland State University.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta announced funding for five new transit projects nationwide Tuesday, two of which are in Oregon. The second is a $117 million Beaverton-to-Wilsonville commuter rail line in Washington County.
The federal government would pick up about 60 percent of the cost for the light-rail project and half of the commuter rail, with state and local governments picking up the rest.
The projects are not done deals, but they are close. The project funding needs congressional approval, which appears almost certain. And they must get through intense contract negotiations before construction begins.
"It is a very big deal, very exciting," said Olivia Clark, executive director of governmental affairs for TriMet.
President Bush's budget released Monday included $1.5 billion for transit projects, but gave no specifics. These were included in the report released Tuesday by Mineta. The other three new projects are in Denver, Dallas and Salt Lake City. The report also proposes money for existing projects in 25 other cities.
"As a nation choked with congestion, we must turn to transit as one way to make it easier and faster to get to work, relieve crowded roads, and keep our economy moving," Mineta said. "An investment in transit is an investment in fighting congestion."
The announcement is "very good news for the region," said Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, who leads a regional committee that makes transportation decisions. The announcement is particularly welcome, Burkholder said, in light of the administration's tepid enthusiasm for transit in the past.
"It's a very important landmark," said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. "I think it represents the continuation of 30 years of work here."
Blumenauer, who has been a key rail booster for decades, said the region's success with rail has spawned a lot of competition among cities for federal money, even in places that once hated the idea.
"I've been in Houston and Denver and Salt Lake when light rail wasn't controversial; it was poisonous," he said. "Now, they are onboard."
Specifically for Oregon, the Federal Transit Administration will contribute $59 million for the $117 million Washington County commuter rail project, and $334 million for the $557 million I-205 light-rail line. In fiscal year 2007, the federal government would spend $27.6 million on the commuter rail and $80 million on the light-rail project.
Both projects are in the final design phase.
The 14.7-mile Washington County commuter rail would run on mostly existing freight tracks between Wilsonville and the Beaverton Transit Center. Self-propelled diesel cars would run every 30 minutes with five stops. Officials expect 3,000 riders a day.
Federal officials said the commuter rail project rose to the top because it serves a rapidly growing suburban area, connects to the existing light-rail system, enhances good land-use polices and has a strong financial plan.
The I-205 light-rail line connects to the existing MAX system in two places. The first is a 6.5-mile line that runs parallel to I-205, connecting Clackamas Town Center with the Gateway Transit Center. The second segment is a 1.8-mile extension which would begin at the Rose Quarter Transit Center and end at PSU. The line would run along the downtown bus mall on Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Clackamas County has waited a long time for light rail, and county Commissioner Bill Kennemer said it is badly needed.
"Increasingly, urban growth is going to be sent to Clackamas County because of the dynamics of land use in the area," Kennemer said.
"If we're going to begin to manage it, we need major transit coming in our direction. This is the first installment."
James Mayer: 503-294-4109; email@example.com