Portland-Area Revolt Against Light Rail Continues

Published March 13, 2014

In a hard-fought election campaign, voters in the city of Tigard, Ore., narrowly enacted another barrier to light rail expansion in suburban Portland. The Washington County Elections Division reported that with 100 percent of precincts counted, Charter Amendment 34-210 had obtained 51 percent of the vote, compared to 49 percent opposed, in the March election.

The Charter Amendment establishes as city policy no transit high-capacity corridor can be developed within the city without first having been approved by a vote of the people. High-capacity transit in Portland has virtually always meant light rail.

Anti-Rail Candidates Win

In a previous ballot issue, Tigard voters had enacted an ordinance requiring voter approval of any city funding for light rail. Similar measures were enacted in Clackamas County and in King City in Washington County. Across the Columbia River in Clark County (county seat: Vancouver), voters rejected funding for connecting to the Portland light rail system.

After the Clackamas County Commission rushed through a $20 million loan for light rail (just days before the vote against light rail), two county commissioners were defeated by candidates opposed to light rail, with a commission majority now in opposition.

In addition, the Columbia River Crossing, which would have included light rail to Vancouver, was cancelled after the Washington legislature declined to fund it. In a surreal aftermath, interests in Oregon seriously proposed virtually forcing the bridge on Washington, fully funding the project itself. A just-adjourned session of the Oregon legislature failed to act on the proposal, which now (like Rasputin) appears to be dead.

Transit Faces Money, Ridership Woes

Portland’s transit agency faces financial difficulty and has been seriously criticized in a report by Secretary of State. The agency has more than $1 billion in unfunded liabilities and carries a smaller share of commuters than before the first of its six light rail and commuter rail lines was opened.

Moreover, the latest American Community Survey data indicates 3,000 more people work at home than ride transit (including light rail and commuter rail) to work in the Portland metropolitan area. Before light rail (1980), transit commuters numbered 35,000 more than people working at home. Since then, transit’s market share has dropped by one-quarter.

Used with permission of NewGeography.com.