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Tigard voters should vote 'yes' so light-rail project can proceed

Democracy can be a messy process, and you don’t have to look to the recent Trumpapalooza in Cleveland for proof.

The Tigard City Council has referred a question to the November ballot, asking voters whether the city should support the Southwest Corridor transit project.

It doesn’t matter that most of the elected officials, business leaders and residents in the suburb have already made it clear that they favor the proposed light rail line that would start in Portland, be routed through Tigard’s downtown and continue to Bridgeport Village in neighboring Tualatin.

Nor does it matter that they also back other components of the proposal, including better bus service and road improvements.

A public vote is needed because a small but well-organized group of light-rail critics led an effort to pass a 2014 charter amendment requiring the city to officially oppose projects unless a majority of voters gives it their blessing.

All of this brings the city — and the region — to the November election. We urge Tigard residents to support the project, which is aimed at benefiting the entire region by expanding its westside transportation system.

Residents in Tigard (and elsewhere) have raised valid questions about the project, from its $2 billion-plus price tag and the possibility that it would constrict traffic along heavily used Southwest Barbur Boulevard. They are understandably nervous, too, that the exact alignment through Tigard hasn’t been settled.

A vote to support the proposal doesn’t mean those questions go unanswered. Rather, it means the debate over details big and small can continue.

The Portland region has a lot of experience with light-rail lines, and one thing we’ve learned is that creating new ones takes a long time.

Plans for the Southwest Corridor line have been kicking around for nearly a decade. And even if everything went perfectly, it would likely be another decade before the first train would leave Portland, head out through Tigard and arrive in Tualatin.

An expensive tunnel through Mount Sylvania to reach Portland Community College’s largest campus has been removed from the proposal, but the exact route needs to be hammered out. Related road, bike and pedestrian improvements need to prioritized. And most importantly, a funding plan needs to be finalized and brought before regional voters — likely in 2018.

A “yes” vote moves the process forward; a “no” vote stops it in its tracks.

We, too, have questions about the project, but we also see a huge potential, for Tigard and the entire region. Here’s why:

— Washington County is booming and Tigard’s infrastructure cannot handle the influx of cars that will arrive over the next several years. Traffic concerns are consistently the No. 1 issue for residents in city surveys.

— The light-rail critics are loud, but they are not the majority. A city survey of Tigard residents last year found support for light rail by a 3-1 margin.

— Both Tigard and Tualatin have lousy bus service. And while the light-rail part of this project draws the most attention (both good and bad), the proposed bus improvements are just as important to reducing residents’ dependence on cars in a city that, sadly, is becoming known for its sprawl.

— Although economic development along some light rail segments has lagged below expectations, Tigard’s downtown — which is already undergoing redevelopment — seems particularly well-positioned to benefit from a well-planned, integrated public transit system.

Clearly, people have strong views and legitimate questions about this proposal. Our support is contingent on any final plans keeping faith with Tigard voters and ensuring that the project does benefit downtown Tigard, delivering other promises made and answering the lingering questions stated above.

In short, we’d like to see the conversation continue, and the best way to do that is a “yes” vote in November.