Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Will a lightrail line be built on Oregon 99W in Tigard?

We came across a campaign mailer recently that's part of a Tigard group's effort to put the city on record as officially opposing light rail and high-capacity bus transit.

The mailer contains a question -- "Light Rail on 99W?" -- and, as such, doesn't fit neatly into PolitiFact Oregon's categories for assessing the truth or claims and statements.

But we still found it intriguing enough to make some checks.

A "yes" vote on Measure 34-210 would erect a couple of roadblocks to light rail in Tigard if the city and Metro, the regional planning agency, decide to move in that direction.

Our City-Our Vote, the measure’s sponsor, is distributing mailers with a photograph of traffic-clogged Oregon 99W -- a 50,000-car-a-day state route that slices through Tigard. Superimposed over the photo, in large letters, is: "Light Rail on 99W?"

And right below: "Demand your right to vote!"

Is the planning really that far along? Is a "yes" vote Tuesday all that stands between Tigard residents and a light-rail line on Hwy 99W?"

We wanted to brush up on what the measure would do. In checking both the city’s and Our City-Our Vote’s websites, we found it would:

  • Require the city to send an annual letter to Metro, the state Transportation Department and others reaffirming Tigard’s opposition to high-capacity transit (either bus or rail).
  • Require the city to get voter approval before adopting any ordinance that would accommodate the siting of a high-capacity transit project.
  • Include City Charter language saying Tigard opposes high-capacity transit.

That left us wondering if light rail, or even bus high-capacity transit, is now on the table for Hwy 99W. We called Craig Dirksen, the former Tigard mayor and now Metro councilor.

Dirksen said he joined the Southwest Corridor Task Force -- the Metro-run project examining transit options for the corridor -- when he was mayor.

"I made it clear from the beginning I wouldn’t support any proposal for high-capacity transit that went into the Pacific Highway (99W) right of way," Dirksen said. "Never since has a route down Pacific Highway through Tigard been considered."

The city of Portland, he added, is still considering using Southwest Barbur Boulevard as part of its high-capacity route, Dirksen said. Barbur overlays Hwy 99W.

"I can’t dictate what Portland does with its right of way," he said. "But even there, there is no plan to reduce capacity or take away lanes."

Elissa Gertler, Metro’s deputy director of planning and development, agreed with Dirksen’s assessment.

"Both light rail and bus rapid-transit are off the table for Pacific Highway through Tigard," said Gertler, who has led Metro’s long-term attempt to address congestion along the corridor.

We called Tim Esau, Our City-Our Vote’s chief petitioner for Measure 34-210 and asked about the campaign mailer. Will there, as it says, be "Light Rail on 99W?"

Esau’s first point was that voters should have a right to make their view clear on the issue. An earlier measure, passed in 2012, may require a vote before the city could increase any fees or taxes to pay for light-rail construction, he said. "But there are any number of ways they could skirt that. It’s really no protection at all."

Asked about the campaign mailer, Esau, a longtime Tigard resident, said, "It’s not false to say that light rail is being planned on Hwy 99. Barbur Boulevard through Portland is 99. But in Tigard? No. I’m not aware there are any plans to run it or high-capacity buses on 99 through Tigard."

Since Tuesday’s vote pertains only to Tigard, however, we asked if the mailer -- with words superimposed over what’s clearly a section of Tigard -- could be misleading.

"Come on," he said. "You’ve been around long enough to recognize a hook when you see one. We’re not trying to imply there’s rail going in Tigard. We’re trying to get people’s attention."

It remains to be seen if the group's advertising tactics work. If they do get people's attention, however, it may be more for throwing truth under both the bus -- and train -- than anything else.