TriMet bond measure delayed, turned over to Metro

"TriMet is enthusiastically passing the baton to Metro"

A MAX train at the Convention Center platform, May 25, 2015 (KOIN)
A MAX train at the Convention Center platform, May 25, 2015 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Big changes are in the works for the $1.7 billion regional transportation funding measure TriMet has been considering for the November 2018 ballot.

The changes include delaying the vote until November 2020, having Metro place the measure on the ballot instead of TriMet, and possibly having Metro submit an affordable housing bond measure as early as November 2018, too.

“This is a pivotal moment for all of,” Metro Council Craig Dirksen said when the changes were discussed Monday morning at a meeting of the financing subcommittee of the regional government’s Joint Police Advisory Committee on Transportation, which has been discussing the original measure.

TriMet officials have been talking publicly about a November 2018 regional transportation measure for more than a year. But at the subcommittee meeting, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane said the situation has changed and the transit agency has run out of time to respond.

“TriMet is enthusiastically passing the baton to Metro,” McFarlane said.

Not everyone at the meeting was pleased, however. Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp was among that who said TriMet and some regional leaders had worked hard to build support for the original measure.

“We’re changing horses in the middle of the stream,” Knapp said.

TriMet has long believed that a regional transportation measure is necessary to help fund the $2.4 billion MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor between Portland and Tualatin. As originally envisioned, $750 million would be used to help match the 50 percent of the project expected to be paid by the federal government. The remaining $950 million would be divided between congestion relief, safety, and alternative transportation projects in the rest of region. A poll conducted by Metro in July by DHM Research found that such a mix was required for the measure to have any chance of passing.

TriMet, Metro and other regional officials originally expected the transportation plan approved by the 2017 Oregon Legislature to partly fund a major freeway congestion relief project in each of the three counties in TriMet’s service district — reconfiguring the I-5/I-84 interchanges in the Rose Quarter and widening sections of Highway 217 in Washington County and Interstate-205 in Clackamas County. Bond funds could complete each of the projects, giving voters in each country a reason to support it.

But instead, the Legislature dealyed funded the Rose Quarter and Hwy. 217 projects, while requiring the Oregon Department of Transportation to pursue tolls for the I-205 project. A subsequent attempt to find shovel ready alternative congestion relief projects in all three counties ran out of time. The measure must be finalized in coming months to meet the deadlines to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

The affordable housing crisis has also complicated matters. The new MAX line is expected to increase property values in the Southwest Corridor, increasing housing costs and potentially displacing lower income residents within it. Mayor Ted Wheeler publicly called on TriMet to include $100 million for affordable housing projects in its measure during a community meeting on the corridor project on Oct. 14, citing the interstate MAX line in North Portland as an example of a light rail line that contributed to gentrification and displacement.

TriMet replied that it cannot legally include housing funds in a bond measure, but Metro has the legal authority to offer voters a measure that funds transportation, transit an housing project. Or it could ask voters to approve a regional measure that only funds affordable housing projects, something that Dirksen said could happen as soon as November 2018.

“That way voters will no the houisng issue has already been addressed when we ask them for transportation and transit funds,” Knapp said.

According to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey, more than 67,000 renter households in Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties were paying more than half of their incomes for rent at that time. That is over 25 percent of all renter households in the counties. About half of them (33,130) were in Portland, while the remainer were in the rest of the three-county region. Rents have gone up about 25 percent since the data was published while incomes have increased at a slower pace, so the number of severely cost burdened renters is likely higher now.

The Metro Council will review the evolving situation before Thanksgiving. The subcommittee will meet again in January.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.