TriMet MAX light rail train in Portland

While King County decided not to run a county-wide ballot measure this year to fund King County Metro (though Seattle still running its measure, which cruised to victory), Portland (and the surrounding area) still had its own measure 26-218 on the ballot in 2020. TriMet (which operates in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties in Oregon), as part of their plans for the SW Corridor, would have constructed light rail from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin. This 11-mile, 13 station extension would have given riders southwest of Portland a more direct ride into downtown Portland than the existing WES commuter rail (which requires a transfer in Beaverton). The measure would have also funded four different bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in the area.

Unfortunately, the measure is losing quite decisively, with (as of Wednesday evening) 56.78% of voters rejecting the measure and 43.22% of voters approving.

36 Replies to “Voters reject TriMet expansion in measure 26-218”

      1. Metro is a regional government agency. Visualize Sound Transit and its county-spanning district. Sort of like that, but Metro isn’t a transit agency. It does transit stuff, but it’s not limited to transit stuff.

        Oregonians, do I have that right?

      2. Metro is the regional government, it sits above all three metropolitan counties and is responsible for long range planning of land use and transportation. It also runs some other random services, including the Zoo, but its their land use and transportation management that is key. All federal transportation grants go via Metro, for example. Recently, they added bond financing for affordable/low income housing to their remit.

        There are few equivalent government entities out there. It’s sort of the EU of the metropolitan region.

      3. Mike, the difference is that PSRC isn’t independently elected. It’s a committee of people elected to do other things, like the Sound Transit Board. They are ex officio, not chosen to do transportation planning.

        Metro Board members are directly elected to that position.

    1. Getting kind of gun-shy about linking anything overpoweringly video these days. But doesn’t take prohibitive time to search out “streetcar inclines” including pics of inclined platforms that could carry a streetcar and both its horses.

      Or fitted with an overhead wire that could let First Hill Rail Route 12 put a Harborview station a five-minute really spectacular I-5 aerial crossing away from the Pioneer Square elev-escalator. Or at least the park on the east side of Third.

      Story has it that San Francisco’s cable cars owed their invention to Alexander Hallidie’s Scottish outrage at watching horses get killed and injured by a car-line that forgot that Dorothy wasn’t the only one not in Kansas anymore. Also interesting historic connection with mining in general.

      Heavy loads, heavier demand, and steep hills just seem to spawn things. Cable flat-car for, well, cars? Bet me nobody’s long held the patent! Since the future’s ours, both George Orwell and his villains agreed the past is too!

      Mark Dublin

    2. That looks like a nice little project. Estimated cost was around $40 million, which isn’t too bad. I could see Seattle adding that from Jackson to Yesler Terrace (Washington Street) as an alternative to the Yesler Hill Climb ( Ideally it would be farther west, but the freeway would complicate things.

      1. It would have been good to study in ST3 in my opinion. Though probably a big engineering challenge, something like a funicular-streetcar hybrid would have been good to study for the Tacoma Community College Link extension, so that the line could go directly to TDS from TCC and Hilltop instead of requiring riders to detour to the Stadium District.

      1. The gondola goes to South Waterfront. The Green Line extension was to have run along Barbur Boulevard easily a half mile (and a freeway) away from SoWa.

  1. Since this morning’s STB started out down for Scheduled Maintenance- since I just got up, any chance that includes our whole country? Though certainly not the case with Portland.

    What else could anybody expect voters in Portland or anyplace else to do, seven months into a worldwide pandemic that’s crashed the whole planet’s economy, with no end in sight on any horizon?

    For at least 45 years, look how much Portland Tri-Met has accomplished already! Question for Portland’s STB delegation: Is the theater scene still as wonderful as in years past?

    I’ll never forget a 1976 streetcar fact-find visit that also included a local theater presentation called “Ten November”, based on Gordon Lightfoot’s memorial tribute to the crew of the Great Lakes freighter Edmond Fitzgerald. That hit a rock and sank with all hands. Violent and treacherous, “Superior” in November makes the Pacific look like a duck-pond.

    This vote, not even paint-damage to the hull of the SS Tri-Met, let alone a “Stop Engines” command. “Full Ahead” will sound when the MV United States of America acquires a helmsman of either gender who can “clear” a bathtub with the hull intact.

    As part of a fleet including Sound Transit and whatever-else on wheels will have become part of it. Since sea-faring inclines to the superstitious, it might attract Fortune’s favor to inaugurate the effort with a Roosevelt line named for Franklin. Express or RapidRide, safe-side should dictate wire overhead.

  2. Glad to see Portland finally shifting focus to bus transit improvements, but sad to see the measure go down. Portland’s system needs core speed, reliability, and capacity upgrades more than another extension. Particularly, a plan to replace Steel Bridge with a new bridge or tunnel.

  3. I recall reading somewhere that the Portland transit measure had a bunch of road pork thrown in. Kind of reminds me a bit of Roads and Transit in 2007, here, which also failed.

    In the case of Roads and Transit, I recall the Sierra Club endorsing a “no” vote, due to all the road stuff, which I took as a red flag since, normally environmental groups should be endorsing “yes” on transit measures. I ended up personally voting no on that one, in spite of voting yes on every local transit measure since.

    1. Wow, I completely forgot about Roads & Transit… I need to refresh myself on what was included and how that ended up comparing to ST2.

  4. Here’s a no on 26-218 ad. No matter what side you’re, you’ve got to admit, this is an effective ad.

    1. The add made me want to vomit. It’s so obviously a skewed bit of anti-tax, anti-transit propaganda. They didn’t even get their facts right. They only mention light rail, which would not have gotten most of the money. Half was supposed to come from the feds. Also, it doesn’t go to an upscale shopping place in Tigard. It goes through a major business area in Tigard; the shopping center is in Tualatin that actually draws a lot of traffic. They never mentioned any of the bus improvements, or sidewalk and bike projects either. I can’t believe people actually fell for this.

      1. There was huge money against the measure coming out of Intel, Nike, and other Silicon Forest firms, as the new finance mechanism would primarily have targeted large employers like themselves.

        Nike specifically is a hard anti-tax scammer company–their HQ is in unincorporated Beaverton, fully surrounded by incorporated land, specifically so they can avoid paying city taxes in Beaverton. Years ago, the Beaverton mayor attempted to annex the Nike campus and in return Phil Knight/Nike heavily backed an opposing mayoral candidate in the Beaverton election. Nike won that round, too.

        In the past, Nike has also threatened to leave the state if it was forced to pay more taxes. The big Washington County employers are, despite social liberalism, hardcore anti-tax republicans when it comes to financial matters. Even Intel.

        So, in a time of economic anxiety, the Portland metro area bought into fear. Ironically, Nike then announced 700 permanent layoffs this week anyway.

        As for the merits of the program itself, they were thin. For some time now, the Portland region has been suffering an identity crisis about its future and its transportation priorities, especially in regards to Washington and Clackamas Counties, the suburbs, and the future of transportation and density in a climate changed world. ODOT remains firmly fixed in 1980s thinking, with plans to widen freeways. The Metro package was an attempt to unite disparate political factions and their various infrastructure pet projects under a unified big umbrella. By being a jack of all trades, it became a master of none.

        All too often, when public transit projects go from planned ideals to built reality, they shed many layers of crucial functionality. Doubtless this would be true of a Barbur Boulevard MAX line as well–heck, its metamorphosis into its proposed engineered specifics are already far suboptimal, in that its service to both OHSU and PCC Sylvania are marginal at best. Southwest Portland and the burbs just beyond–where I spent thirty years of my life–are not all that transit friendly to begin with. There were not enough transit advocates in the heavily car dependent SW and suburbs who were willing to accept a compromised light rail line in exchange for new freeway lanes and other 20th century thinking. Nor were there enough people who thought that BRT was either a meaningful investment or likely to benefit them or their communities–a matter that *might* change once the Division rapid is operating, but which for now is the reality.

        Had the transit components been stronger, or the auto-centric elements less significant, or the taxation burden spread with less burden on the Silicon Forest, the outcomes may have proved different. I am not, however, all too shocked by this outcome from a metro area whose reputation is far more liberal and socially oriented than its reality.

      2. Thanks for the info, Alex. Any idea what the plan is going forward? Smaller projects, or maybe a Portland only project (if that is possible)?

      3. It’s the usual anti-tax, pro-SOV message. The first 25 seconds talks entirely about the impact of the tax as if there’s zero benefit. When it finally gets around to talking about what the tax is for, it focuses on SOV congestion, and nothing at all about the benefit to transit riders and low-income people, as if they’re not a substantial part of the population. A fairer ad would have compared this project to some other transit project, or said that riders in another part of Portland are more underserved, or something like that. To just ignore riders completely is just feeding into SOVist prejudice. I;m not surprised anti-tax SOVist responded positively to this message, of course they would. Just like their counterparts here voted for I-976 so their tax bill would go down to $30 as they thought.

        There may be valid arguments that this wasn’t the most urgent corridor, or the mode was inappropriate for the corridor, or a smaller proposal with just the BRT lines and no road projects would have been better, but none of that was in the ad.

      4. When you decide whether to buy a shirt, you debate whether the benefit of that particular shirt is worth the cost, and whether you can afford it. You don’t just say “All shirts are bad” or “The store is taking my money without giving me anything. The money is just going to overpaid workers and executuves who have no right to expect it.” So we should evaluate transit projects the same way. First, the city’s non-car mobility needs are real. Second, does this project address the most urgent needs? Is it adequate and cost-effective? If not, what would be an alternative? (And you must argue in good faith, not just put up a strawman alternative you wouldn’t vote for either, like anti-rail advocates saying it should be BRT). If the message doesn’t do those, it’s just a misleading piece trying to appeal to emotions, in this case anti-tax emotions.

      5. RossB, I don’t know. My contacts at TriMet either retired or moved on, and their replacements have been, well, less friendly. So I have no inside scoop.

        Based on the past? I’d expect TriMet to keep moving the MAX project forward, but with either a delay in timing, a truncation, or both.

        For comparison, funding for the original “South/North Light Rail” of the 1990s was defeated at the polls in 1998. TriMet built some of it anyway, but in pieces, and over a longer period of time: The yellow line opened 2003 (with very tight budget controls as an outgrowth of constrained funding) and then the orange line to Milwaukie opened in 2015. Some portions of the original proposal–the extension north into Clark County, and south to Oregon City–remain long range plans only. The argument after 1998 was, as I expect it to be now, that the concept isn’t what was rejected, only the funding package.

        The high costs of the Southwest Corridor line–to be an extension of the green line along the I-5/Barbur Boulevard corridor to Tigard and (barely) Tualatin had already caused some kerfuffle among political leaders about a truncation at Tigard. The idea has been breathed before. This said I find it unlikely that the present proposed alignment and infrastructure to Tigard can justify the costs of the route–it’s another of those cases where adding miles helped justify the high cost of the initial segment.

        For my own part, I think it would make more sense to place the MAX line on/along the extant WES commuter rail operation, allowing that constrained and expensive limited hours operation to be replaced by true HCT, however, that would not touch Portland city limits and there is not the political will in eastern Washington County to support that, nor the money. It would also leave Southwestern bound light rail dependent on the Robertson Tunnel. And, if anything, the Barbur corridor feels smarter for a Portland-only BRT–and I hate saying that for a variety of reasons–but it would be far easier to eliminate traffic lanes on Barbur, paint and barrier them, and give them to busses than it is to engineer a railroad.

        At this point, though? Still all speculation. Metro’s president has stated she intends to keep moving these transportation projects forward, but what will happen once we get a bit more distance from the election is uncertain.

      6. @Mike Orr

        I might be a little careful with that shirt analogy. Many people (yourself included, I believe) refuse to buy online from Amazon, and some (perhaps yourself included) do it due to social issues, such as the perceived effect of the Amazon behemoth on local stores, or the perception of mistreatment of their employees (I say “perceived” because the point is not whether this is correct or not; it is that people interpret it as such and act accordingly).

        For another analogy, some people prefer to “buy American” because it may help the local economy, even if the product does not serve their purpose as well as another that was made elsewhere.

        The point I am trying to make is, there is more to an evaluation of a product than just its technical merit relative to its monetary price. At a minimum, the social impact and the long term cost of ownership (including cost of disposal once the product is no longer viable) are becoming part of the general decision-making process for at least some people.

        Now, do any of these issues apply to the ad in question? Perhaps not, but I do think that they apply to _your_ example, and this is exactly why I think your example is not a great analogy.

        Finally, to your broader point about the ad being biased. Of course it was. It is a political ad, and political speech in this country is allowed to be biased. The point is, it is an effective ad with at least a large minority of voters in the target population, and wishing it were not so and explaining to each other why it should not be so does not change the fact that it _is_ so. So, in my humble opinion, what we should do is find ways to write more effective ads of our own, by learning from the techniques that work, such as – perhaps – this particular ad.

        Thank you in advance for any replies, as always I will appreciate your thoughts and insights.

      7. The problem with the Green Line extension is that it doesn’t have an anchor at the end point. There’s no “there” anywhere in Tigard or Tualatin to attract or generate all-day riders. It bypasses PCC Sylvania with about a 1/3 mile walk, misses the OHSU campus, and ends at a relatively insignificant shopping development with some sprawl businesses across the freeway.

        The #12, which is the route which this will supercede runs only every 15 minutes, so there is no real demand for a two railcars every 15 minutes.

        Spending the money on a tunnel through downtown will improve many more riders’ experience and can make MAX much more useful for East Multnomah to Silicon Rainforest trips.

      8. “The #12, which is the route which this will supercede runs only every 15 minutes, so there is no real demand for a two railcars every 15 minutes.”

        Beware of assuming the current service is the optimal service. The current service can be simply due to budget limitations, higher priorities elsewhere, status quo inertia, or an agency that doesn’t recognize the importance of frequency.

      9. Mike, they’re 40 footers. Tri-Met doesn’t have any artics because the Transit Mall doesn’t accommodate them well. There is no “there” there anywhere between a little cluster around Hall Street and downtown Portland. It’s some serious sprawlsville. Follow the “fly through” here:

        It doesn’t even have an adjacent transfer to WES unless WES gets a station at Bonita Road. The walk from Hall Blvd Station to the Tigard TC (where all the buses go) is about 1/3 mile.

      10. And, yes, I advocate for clusters of dense development along LR lines all the time. But this route runs down the middle of Barbur Boulevard which is topographically challenged, to say the least. Between Hamilton Street and 13th Street is a mile and a half with no development opportunities. Barbur’s cut into a steep hillside above the freeway’s notch. Thirteenth, Nineteenth and Thirtieth Avenue Stations are all at places where the freeway is 2/3 of a block to the east, severely restricting the TOD opportunities that direction and pretty hilly topography to the west after just a block.

        I guess Portland is going to have to absorb its part of the climate refugee tsunami, but I don’t think that they can build enough along this line to make much of a dent in it.

      11. Tom, in the before times, the 12 was routinely jam packed during peak hours, and the 94 express busses in peak hours often jammed as well. Certainly a MAX line in the Barbur corridor would work on ridership, though not perhaps as high as some other options.

        That said I agree with you about the limitations of present endpoints, and about the lack of (direct) service to both OHSU and PCC Sylvania. Those are both, in my view, serious flaws. And while the funicular proposed for OHSU looks super cool, I don’t see that as sufficient for the matter.

        The basic issue was that the line was already costly by most estimates, and adding in a tunnel under both OHSU and PCC Sylvania was a price ticket too far for most decisionmakers. Also, the neighbors around PCC Sylvania have a decades long NIMBY campaign about campus growth.

        I don’t think adjacency to the Tigard WES station matters much. WES ridership is so low as to be inconsequential. And I say that as someone who loves riding it, and wishes it ran more frequently and all day. But that’s another story for another time.

      12. AM, I take your point challenging the pro-transit side to come up with ads that are as persuasive. I don’t expect those who believe this ad to be persuaded: I don’t see how you can show shiny happy people on transit in a way that they wouldn’t see as “collectivist”, “too many strangers in my space”, “irrelevant to my values of low taxes and the American dream of SOV driving”, etc. But there’s another group of people who could be persuaded, the swing voters of transit. They rarely see a non-bureaucratic pro-transit message, and never anything that gives a glimpse of how much better and more convenient transit is in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

        Tom, I don’t understand how bus length relates to this. I know all Portland buses are non-articulated because Glenn said so, and I’ve ridden the 12 down from OHSU. I took the tram up but the tram got stuck for half an hour just before the top due to technical problems, so I abandoned my return ticket and took the bus down. (The tram operator later gave me an unexpected credit-card refund.) I noticed the bus was every 15 minutes, and the landscape looked like typical American mediocre density. 15 minutes is minimally frequent and may be frequent enough for that corridor. But my point is , you can’t just assume the current service is the optimal service. If you doubled the frequency, maybe ridership would double or more. Transit would certainly be more convenient, and it might be able to gain mode share. Current service levels in both Portland and Seattle and elsewhere, are based on a variety of arbitrary political decisions, budget limitations, and random precedents. Especially in the US.

        What I still don’t understand is how a funicular can be an extension of a light rail line? Doesn’t a funicular have much smaller vehicles, and a slope too steep for modern light rail vehicles? Is this like the rapid-transit line in Switzerland that goes horizontally and then at one end goes vertically up to a ski resort or mountain village, using some kind of lift mechanism?

      13. Mike, the funicular would have been a separate construction that would have connected a light rail station to the OHSU hilltop campus. You were to transfer from one to the other.

        Years ago, when planners dismissed a tunnel under OHSU and elevators, they proposed a “connector” that would link the station to OHSU. One possibility was an underground passage to a set of elevators. Another was a set of escalators. Ultimately, a funicular was proposed, which Metro and TriMet called an “inclined elevator.”

        See here:

        FYI, the present TriMet statement says this:
        “Over the next few months, we will work to conclude the Final Environmental Impact Statement and temporarily shut down the project while we explore a path forward. We will have advanced the project to a point where it could be efficiently restarted at a future date, when resources become available. “

    2. Sam, as both the late Walt Disney and any assistant DA in New Jersey can tell you, an ad can make its author’s nose lengthen in direct proportion to its effectiveness and still win at the polls. The ones where the ballots are counted, not the ones that get lied about to pollsters.

      “Head Tax” does seem to carry some bad resonance. Income tax seems the fairest. Is there such a thing as a progressive (which does not mean Communist!) sales tax? In a cause like a public transit system that can only be business-beneficial, how about the Chamber just calling it an “Investment?”

      And as a motorist of 58 years tenure who loves his car so much no seventeen year old should even be allowed into the movie, well-designed light rail is a lot more justifiably automotive expense than a lot else urgently advertised to me.

      At age 7, my car is too young to be exposed to the indecency of a 100% bi-directional I-5 freeway blockage at the gates of JBLM at morning rush, where every crash involves more trucks than cars. And triple-X-rated when it’s touched off by a police car both crashing and getting crashed into by another one. Talk about PORN!

      But for my car’s whole life, ever and ever more urgently, my dashboard display will routinely start notifying me of “Maintenance Required” ’til the only way to shut it off is get the oil changed. If Toyota would start doing the same thing for a light-rail vote, I’d be a lot less inclined to let the bloomin’ thing flash and just ignore it.

      Mark Dublin

  5. Portland voter and big transit advocate here. I couldn’t get behind this proposal because of the light rail component. Barbur Blvd is jammed between I-5 and a hill for much of its length. The neighborhoods it serves today are auto-oriented and low density, and there are very limited opportunities for TOD and growth along the corridor. It cheaped out on major design decisions and avoided key regional hubs (OHSU, PCC). I don’t think anyone would have ridden it under current land-use patterns and I didn’t see enough TOD opportunities to justify the investment.

    Bus service in Portland needs to improve and yes, even limited road projects are needed too. But for me it was this bad LRT routing that doomed the project. I’d like to see them try again with the light rail funding dedicated to a tunnel through Downtown (and possibly the Pearl) to speed up service, and more investment into BRT and possible LRT into the denser East Portland neighborhoods.

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