Lars & John discuss the $78 million pool and rec center bond
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The Reflector published my letter – here.
Portland has our nation’s 10th worst traffic congestion. Now that we have five years to design and begin construction of a new bridge, we must fix the traffic congestion. But there are a multitude of issues to be addressed.
Washington and Oregon have five more years to break ground replacing the Interstate 5 bridge, avoiding a requirement to pay back $140 million spent on the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC). Oregon owes $93.3 million and Washington owes $46.1 million.
The Reflector reported: “A restart of environmental review in spring 2020, a completed review and the start of acquiring right-of-way for the project in the summer of 2023, and beginning construction by summer 2025.”
Yet, Sen. Ann Rivers told citizens “there is no project” last December at the Bi-State Bridge Committee meeting. Now, less than a year later, officials must begin engineering and an environmental review in a matter of months. What will they be engineering and environmentally reviewing if there is no specific project?
The 10-lane, failed CRC bridge offered only a one-minute improvement in the morning southbound commute. How much time must the undefined “replacement” bridge save commuters? The real bottleneck on I-5 is the two-lane, two-mile section at the Rose Quarter.
The failed CRC was a “light rail project in search of a bridge,” adding $850 million to the cost of “the bridge too low.” Will special interests force light rail on Clark County?
The failed CRC was laden with pork-barrel spending. There was millions for a TriMet headquarters; an upgrade to Portland’s Steel Bridge; an overpriced expansion of TriMet’s Gresham maintenance facility, and even something in Hood River. A noted forensic accountant revealed the real cost of the CRC bridge was $792 million, not the $3.5 billion boondoggle.
Why are Washington legislators spending $35 million to avoid “repayment” of $46 million? That’s three quarters of what’s owed. That’s just the first two years cost, with double that likely for the ensuing two to three years when ground “may” be broken.
What are the specific details of the unnamed project? Oregon already has $80 million in its transportation plans for a separate bridge off Hayden Island. On and off ramps at Hayden Island aren’t required if vehicles can exit 1 mile south at Delta Park. Oregon has a lift span planned for the BNSF rail bridge, eliminating the need for 95 percent of Interstate Bridge lifts.
What are the requirements and who are giving them? How much must traffic congestion be improved? One minute was outrageous for the CRC’s $3.5 billion price. How high must the bridge be for river traffic? Will any project require Oregon to add multiple through lanes to I-5 at the two-lane Rose Quarter?
A third and fourth bridge are truly needed to relieve traffic congestion. A $1 billion very basic bridge would allow precious funds to go towards a third bridge.
Will Oregon step up and solve traffic congestion problems on all of I-5, including the Rose Quarter? Build a simple $800 million bridge. Tolls not required!
Of the nearly $200 million spent on the failed CRC, both states spent federal transportation dollars. If they build nothing, they have to pay it back.
(Graphic courtesy of Oregonian).
The CRC project office published bad cost numbers, miss-allocating costs. A local forensic accountant reviewed reams of data and provided the following — the actual cost of the Interstate Bridge in the CRC was $408 million LESS than advertised.
In fact, the fudging of numbers was spread among several CRC’s major components.
(Both graphics taken from the Acuity Forensics reports on the CRC.)
From the Dec. 2018 Bi-state Bridge Committee meeting hosted by Washington state legislators.
WSDOT staff gave the legislators and citizens attending the Bi-state Bridge Committee meeting a high level review. It included the following slide.
(Graphic courtesy of WSDOT).
The Portland Metro regional transportation organization is JPACT. (Similar to our RTC). Here are graphics showing JPACT’s future plans which total over $4 Bill. This includes funding for a separate bridge connecting Hayden Island to Delta Park, and an upgrade to the BNSF rail bridge inserting a lift span.
$3.169 billion for a replacement I-5 bridge.
This shows the separate bridge connecting Hayden Island to Delta Park for $80 million.
BNSF rail bridge “lift span” is proposed for $35.5 million. The lift will match one installed on the exact same BNSF rail line as it crossed the Willamette River.
This shows the inclusion of “high capacity transit” on Metro’s plans for a new Interstate Bridge. At $850 million, it can only be light rail, as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would cost a fraction of the price.
My thanks to the Cascade Policy Institute for continuing to research and shine the light of day on TriMet, light rail, and mass transit. The original story is here.
By Rachel Dawson
TriMet has proven time and again that it is unable to live up to past promises. The MAX Green Line, which first opened 10 years ago, is no exception.
The Green Line is fifteen miles long and runs along I-205 from Portland State University to the Clackamas Town Center (CTC). It began as a portion of the North-South light rail alignment, which was canceled in 1988 after failing to secure voter funding. TriMet attempted to scale the alignment down to run from North Portland to the CTC, but the project was again rejected by voters in 1996 and 1998.
The plan for light rail to the CTC was later resurrected in 2001, and planning for the Green Line commenced in concert with the more recently implemented Orange Line to Milwaukie.
The alignment eventually earned federal approval in 2006. Of the total $575.7 million price tag, $478.2 million came from the federal government, $23 million came from the state, and $74.5 million came from local jurisdictions.
Of the local match, $69 million came from the City of Portland, $39.3 million from Clackamas County (the majority of which came from the county’s urban renewal funds), $23 million from the Oregon Department of Transportation, $20.5 million from TriMet, and $6.2 million from land donation and other funds.
The Green Line has failed to live up to these promised expectations:
Ridership is lower than projected. When the Federal Transit Administration completed its 2015 “Before and After Study” on the line, there was an average 24,000 daily weekday boarding rides. This is well below the 30,400 riders that TriMet predicted at entry into preliminary engineering for the line’s opening year. That number has continued to decrease to just over 16,000 average daily riders in August 2019, making up only 34% of the FEIS’s predicted ridership levels for 2025. With five years to go until 2025, it seems unlikely that the Green Line will garner the 30,500 riders needed to hit TriMet’s promised level of 46,500 boarding rides.
The line has lower frequency than promised. Trains arrive at stations every 15 minutes during peak periods and every 35 minutes at other times of the day. TriMet promised trains would arrive every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 during other times. TriMet attempted to blame this low level of service on a decline in tax revenues during the recession, but train frequency has not increased since the economy has recovered. Furthermore, TriMet’s total operating and non-operating revenues increased from 2009 to 2018 by 54%, and revenue from payroll and other taxes increased by 71%. The payroll tax rate will continue to go up every year until 2024, although it appears the Green Line’s level of service won’t increase with it.
Instead of the promised passengers, light rail brought increased crime to the CTC area. Clackamas County experienced heightened crime in the corridor from 2009-2012 after the Green Line opened and an increase in graffiti around MAX stops, according to a survey by the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program sent to the Clackamas County Sheriff.
Unsurprisingly, the line’s cost was higher than TriMet originally anticipated. The final price tag of $576 million was 14% greater than the anticipated cost in preliminary engineering, a difference of about $70 million.
TriMet is now planning for a 12-mile line from downtown Portland to Tigard. Elected officials from Tualatin, Tigard, Durham, and Washington County should take a sobering look at TriMet’s track record on the Green Line, the Yellow Line, and WES. It shows a consistent pattern of over-promising and under-performing. Given this history, TriMet’s projections for the SW Corridor project should not be trusted.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
TriMet MAX light rail yearly traffic with start dates of four MAX lines.
(Federal Transit Administration graphic, with my addition of Red, Yellow, Green, and Orange light rail line start dates.)
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this op-ed piece are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com.
The city of Camas decided to scrap its old pool rather than spend $1-2 million to fix it. They are now proposing a very “nice” facility near Lacamas Lake. The new pool and rec center our city council is proposing will allegedly cost around $72-$78 million.
The Camas City Council is asking citizens to approve a property tax levy of $1.04 per thousand of your property valuation. That is an additional $416 on a $400,000, $832 on an $800,000 home, etc.
What are we already paying in tax rates by comparison? From my 2018 property tax statement.
VOTED Levy and Taxes
Per $1,000 of assessed value
|City of Camas||$0.4954|
|SD117 Camas School||$6.7051|
|City of Camas||$2.8900|
|State Schools – part 2||$1.0187|
|TOTAL voted & non-voted||$14.4844|
Think of all the services we get from the city. Police and fire departments and EMS for our public safety. They maintain our roads and parks. We have a public library, plus water and sewer systems. The pool proposal would have citizens paying almost one third (30 percent) the price of all the city services, just to build a new pool – ($1.04 vs. $3.385). We don’t know the cost of operating the facility which will be an added cost.
Consider the services we get from the county. We get the sheriff for public safety and our county judges and jail. They maintain rural roads and parks, and provide a host of other services. The city council wants us to spend over 93 percent of what we pay for Clark County services, on a pool – ($1.04 vs. $1.1089).
The Port of Camas/Washougal helps attract businesses and jobs to our area. They maintain the marina and the airport (Grove Field). The city council wants us to pay three times our Port taxes, for a pool – ($1.04 vs. $0.347).
Camas citizens have a very important and costly decision to make this November. Is paying $78 million a responsible use of our money, and will we get appropriate value for that money?
Some good articles for more information.
As metro area citizens are faced with the renewed effort to replace the Interstate Bridge, most of us believe it is a resurrection of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). As an Oregon Supreme Court Justice correctly stated, it was “a light rail project in search of a bridge”.
In the current discussion, both Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have demanded, “no light rail, no bridge“. That just echos what happened in the CRC, as Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber issued the original “no light rail, no bridge” demand, which Jay Inslee promptly repeated.
Is there a need for light rail, or ANY form of mass transit on a replacement Interstate Bridge?
The Cascade Policy Institute recently published this “looking back 15 years at the MAX Yellow Line” report. Here’s their web link to the article.
By Rachel Dawson
TriMet’s MAX Yellow Line first opened 15 years ago in May 2004. The Yellow Line’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) made a myriad of predictions for the year 2020, which makes now the perfect time to reflect on what officials promised and what taxpayers and transit riders have since received.
Yellow Line History
The Yellow Line originated in 1988 as a 21-mile project connecting Vancouver, Washington with Downtown Portland and Clackamas Town Center. This plan was scrapped after Clark County voters defeated a proposal to raise $236.5 million in 1995 and Oregon voters turned down a $475 million regional ballot measure in 1998.
Not to be deterred by a lack of voter support, officials developed a shorter alternative in 1999 that would run from the Expo Center to Downtown Portland along Interstate Avenue. This alternative cost $350 million, 74% of which came from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
The construction of the new alternative was not put to a public vote. Portland officials instead expanded an urban renewal district to include the Interstate Avenue Corridor. Doing so allowed them to appropriate $30 million in tax increment funds to finance the rail that otherwise would have gone to other tax-collecting jurisdictions, including Multnomah County. The county commissioners opposed expansion of the urban renewal district, but the Portland City Council approved it anyway.
Looking back after fifteen years, we find that key promises made in the FEIS were never kept:
1. Frequency of Service
What We Were Promised: TriMet promised FTA in their Full-Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that peak-hour trains would arrive every ten minutes and off-peak trains every 15 minutes. The promised service according to the FEIS was supposed to reach eight trains during peak hours in 2020.
What We Received: Instead of having 10-15-minute headways between trains, the Yellow Line runs every 15 minutes during peak-periods and every 30 minutes during other parts of the day.
2. Travel Times
What We Were Promised: TriMet predicted travel times to be 24 minutes from Downtown Portland to the Expo Center and 19 minutes from Downtown Portland to N Lombard. Light rail speeds were projected to reach 15.3 miles per hour (mph), and bus speeds were projected to be 13.2 mph in 2005.
What We Received: Actual travel times are slower than predicted. It takes 35 minutes to take light rail from Downtown Portland to the Expo Center and 28 minutes from Downtown Portland to N Lombard, even though light rail has its own exclusive right of way. Actual travel times are 45.8% greater to the Expo Center and 47.4% greater to N Lombard. Actual light rail speeds in the corridor only hit 14.1 mph in 2005 while bus speeds averaged 16.1 mph—significantly faster than predicted.
3. High ridership
What We Were Promised: The FEIS forecasted ridership in the corridor to dramatically increase with the building of the Yellow Line. By 2020 the line’s ridership was expected to have 18,100 average weekday riders.
What We Received: At no point since the Yellow Line opened has ridership met projected levels. In April 2019 ridership only reached 13,270, 26.7% less than projected. This number will not meet 2020 projected levels based upon the negative trend observed over the past three years. From March 2016 to March 2019 ridership levels decreased by 3.6%.
Lower than promised ridership isn’t unique to the Yellow Line; every TriMet rail forecast has been wrong, and always wrong on the high side.
The Yellow Line was expected to provide superior service compared to the no-build bus alternative. This forecast hasn’t panned out. The Yellow Line replaced Line #5, which if it were still operating, would have seven-minute headways between Vancouver and Downtown Portland. C-Tran express service was forecasted to have three-minute headways.
Light rail does not reach any more people or businesses than Line #5 did. In fact, Line #5 had more stops along Interstate Avenue, meaning some riders now have a longer walking commute to the MAX stations.
TriMet bus service from Vancouver to Downtown Portland continues to be an option even after the Yellow Line’s construction. Line #6 was changed to pick up the link between Jantzen Beach and the Yellow Line’s Delta Park stop that Line #5 had previously serviced. It then continues down MLK Boulevard to the Portland City Center.
In Spring 2019, Line #6 saw 665 average weekday on/offs at Jantzen Beach and only 190 total on/offs at Delta Park. This means that the vast majority of Vancouver commuters on Line #6 opt to stay on the bus to Portland instead of transferring to the Yellow Line.
Given the Yellow Line’s history, we can expect the prospective SW Corridor light rail project to increase traffic, have fewer trains than promised, and have lower ridership than predicted. If ridership levels are 26.7% below forecast 15 years into service, why should the SW Corridor ridership estimate of 43,000 daily boardings be taken seriously? The FTA should not offer TriMet additional light rail funding in the future if TriMet is unable to honor its past promises.
TriMet may argue that service levels are below EIS forecasted levels due to a lack of funds. However, TriMet’s revenue increase in recent years tells otherwise. Between 1998 and 2018, passenger fares increased by 116% and tax revenue increased by 64%. TriMet’s payroll tax has been increasing since 2005 and will continue to go up every year until 2024. There is no issue with revenue; rather, the issue lies with light rail.
Moving forward, Metro and TriMet should focus on creating a more reliable bus network that runs on an already built road system. Doing so will benefit riders and taxpayers alike.
 Federal Transportation Authority, Interstate MAX Before and After Study, 2005, 2-5.
 Id, 2-10.
 North Corridor Instate MAX Light Rail Project, Final Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary, October 1999, S-17.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
Click here for PDF version:
For added perspective, here is a graphic showing MAX light rail ridership from 2001 to 2016.
More importantly, CTran offers the only bus service across the Columbia River into Portland. They offer SEVEN different “express” bus lines, using either the I-5 corridor or the I-205 corridor. How is CTran’s ridership into Portland fairing? Badly.
Here’s a Columbian graphic showing the decline in cross-state express bus ridership.
The Bi-state C-Tran ridership has continued to drop the last two years. In the fall of 2018, CTran told me they had just 1,422 express bus riders on an average day. That’s on SEVEN different bus lines; which means an average of just over 200 riders per day per express bus line.
When compared to the 310,000 vehicles crossing the Columbia River on the two bridges on an average day, that means 0.45% or less than half of one percent use the bus.
All this comes as TriMet ridership peaked a decade ago.
And CTran ridership has experienced a similar decline.
It’s been almost 40 years since the Portland metro region added new vehicle capacity and a new transportation corridor — I-205. Regional population has doubled. We need new transportation corridors. We need more than two bridges across the Columbia River.