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Vote could stymie area transit projects

Traffic and congestion are the top concerns of Tigard residents, according to municipal surveys. But next March, city voters will be asked to apply the brakes to the solution being prepared by regional leaders — a new high capacity transit corridor between Portland and Tualatin. by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A pedestrian makes a dash across a busy Highway 99 in Tigard, near where regional officials are considering a high-capacity transit project. Tigard residents will decide the fate of a ballot measure restricting the project in the city.

The transit corridor has won support from the Washington County Commission and most cities within the county, including Beaverton and Sherwood.

If approved, Ballot Measure 34-210 would make a point of opposing new high-capacity corridor projects in Tigard. It was placed on the March 11 special election ballot by activists opposed to the “Southwest Corridor Project,” a transportation planning process currently being overseen by Metro, the elected regional government.

Supporters of the ballot measure do not believe either transit option being studied — a new light rail line or a bus rapid transit line with its own dedicated lanes — would reduce congestion. Instead, they believe it will be used to increase density throughout the corridor.

“Replacing car lanes with a MAX train or dedicated bus line will increase congestion,” said measure supporter Art Crino, the co-chief petitioner of the initiative petition. “People want to live in houses with a back yard big enough for a swing set for their kids.”

But opponents of the measure say it is short-sighted to prohibit the city from considering high-capacity transit as an option at this time. The plan is still in the study phase and will not be finalized for years.

“High-capacity transit should remain a tool in the toolbox while the plan is still being developed,” said Thomas Murphy, a Tigard attorney involved in forming a campaign committee to oppose the measure.

Tigard has notified residents that passage of the measure would prevent city officials from continuing to participate in the plan, at least temporarily.

A front page article in the December 2013 issue of the Cityscape newsletter explained: “Should the initiative pass, the city would stop evaluating options to formulate a position on high capacity transit.”

The article also pointed out it was unknown whether passage would stop the plan itself, explaining that the city is looking into that question.

The fight over the measure is expected kick into high gear after the first of the year. Supporters have already filed the name of their campaign organization, the “Roads Not Rail Committee,” with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

Murphy said his committee, called “Stop Congestion, Vote No Committee,” should be filed soon. And the first public forum is already scheduled.

Supporters and opponents are set to square off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at the King City Club House, 15245 S.W. 116th in King City.

Scheduled to appear in favor is Steve Schopp, a Clackamas County activist who worked on the ballot measure to stop the Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail Line. Crino was asked to speak but said he will yield his place to John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, a well-known local light rail opponent.

Opposing the measure will be previous Tigard mayor and current Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, along with Tigard City Council member Jason Snider. Also scheduled are Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and Tualatin City Council member Joelle Davis.

Ballot Measure 34-210 is not simply an advisory vote but adopts a public policy opposed to new high-capacity transit project.

It would require the city to send a letter to various public officials each year notifying them of this policy.

It defines “new high-capacity transit corridor” as any portion of regional transit system proposed for development within Tigard that reduces available road capacity in favor of light rail, rail transit or exclusive bus lanes.

And it requires a public vote on any ordinance amending the city’s comprehensive land use plan or land use regulations to accommodate such projects.

Murphy fears passage of the measure would scuttle the entire Southwest Corridor Plan, not just the high-capacity transit corridor portion. He says federal transit funds are available for either a new light rail or bus rapid transit line, which would serve as a catalyst for the other projects.

“What are federal officials going to think if they get a letter from Tigard every year saying they are opposed to a high-capacity transit corridor?” questioned Murphy, who serves on the City Center (Urban Renewal) Advisory Committee.