TriMet’s New Transit Bridge to the Last Century

On June 30 TriMet formally began construction on the new Willamette River Bridge for the Portland-Milwaukie light rail (PMLR) line. The bridge will be part of a 7.3-mile rail spur running from the Portland State University campus to a parking garage just south of Milwaukie on McLoughlin Boulevard. At a construction cost of more than $205 million per mile, this will be the most expensive transit project in Oregon history.

During the ground-breaking ceremony, economically illiterate politicians raved about how this project would “make Portland more competitive” (Portland Mayor Sam Adams), “reduce congestion on McLoughlin Boulevard” (Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Gail Achterman), and “show the rest of the country that this is not just spending, but a bridge to the future” (Congressman Kurt Schrader).

Any competent group of high school sophomores would know how silly these claims are. Building another rail line at a cost of $1.5 billion will make Portland less competitive than it would be otherwise, because the region has to allocate $750 million in “local funds” to match federal grants. All of that money could be spent on other more useful projects (like replacing the unsafe Sellwood Bridge) if light rail wasn’t constantly crowding them out.

Light rail has never reduced traffic congestion in the region and never will because it carries too few people. And contrary to the notion popularized by TriMet, the main corridor for this line – McLoughlin Boulevard – is not very congested, even at peak periods; it easily could be used for express bus service, which would travel at double the speed of light rail.

Finally, rail transit is not the future of cities. Passenger rail travel peaked in the Portland region and most other cities 100 years ago, and it will never come back due to the safety, speed and convenience of private auto travel.

Despite the vast expense, few people will ever benefit from Milwaukie light rail. TriMet estimates that in the opening year of 2015, the line will carry an average of 13,000 weekday “boardings.” Of those, 4,500 will be former bus rides diverted to light rail. Since each rider typically makes two “boardings” per day, the number of actual new transit customers will be around 4,250. So in construction costs alone, we will spend more than $352,941 per new rider.

I suspect that if we could locate these hoped-for riders and ask them how they’d really prefer to spend the taxpayer gift of $353,000, relatively few would choose a slow train to Portland.

The cost-per-mile numbers are staggering when compared with transit projects elsewhere. In 2002 Metro estimated that the same Milwaukie light rail project utilizing the Hawthorne Bridge would cost only $72 million per mile. The North Portland MAX line was built for $60 million per mile.

Express bus service is especially attractive in comparison. The Eugene Bus Rapid Transit line, known locally as the “Emerald Express,” cost $6 million per mile. The Los Angeles Rapid Bus system was implemented for a mere $335,000 per mile.

Because the LA Rapid Bus service is so economical, it has been implemented on 369 miles of routes in less than a decade. The service utilizes existing arterials and provides faster travel times than light rail by limiting passenger stops to no more than one per mile.

TriMet could have implemented a rapid-bus option on McLoughlin Boulevard years ago if good service was actually a priority, but it isn’t. In fact, during the past two years TriMet bus service has been cut by 14%, rail service by 10%, and the most recent new rail line – the Green Line to Clackamas Town Center – is operating 33% below planned-for levels. At certain times of the day, service is now down to one train per hour on the Green Line.

How many average taxpayers would vote to spend $1.5 billion on a slow train? We already know the answer. In both 1996 and 1998, the North/South light rail project to Milwaukie was on the ballot, and it was voted down each time. But those results clearly don’t matter to the seven members of the TriMet board, who are all appointed by the governor. They never have to answer directly to voters.

TriMet is taking a huge gamble with this project. The formal grant application for the $750 million in federal money has not even been submitted to the Federal Transit Agency; and local matching funds promised by Portland, Milwaukie and Clackamas County don’t exist. TriMet is building a transit-only bridge (no cars or trucks will be allowed) on pure speculation that more than a billion dollars will be forthcoming to finish the deal.

That speculation may prove fatal. Earlier this week the Oregon legislature revoked approval for $39 million in bond funding for another “iconic” boondoggle, the so-called Oregon Sustainability Center. Local proponents were shocked that the funding was pulled; they had assumed for years that the necessary tax subsidies for their green fantasy would be approved, and they were wrong.

TriMet could be building a bridge to nowhere. If it dies in mid-construction, it would be a fitting monument to the arrogance of the TriMet board.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to LinkedIn Post to Reddit

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Economy, Leadership, Oregon Government, Public Transportation, State Budget | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    D.C is looking at cutting discretionary expenditures, and things like light rail projects would seem an easy target.  Much easier than making more cuts to social security and medicare.  And the economy is strugglingly because of wasteful emphasis on “green” projects rather than “meat and potatoe” conventional energy supplies.

    I would rather the Federal government pull its funding of the Milwaukee light rail soon so TriMet might not be a much bigger financial disaster.

    Portland seems like a “Greece” in the making…decades of mounting public debt for money losing projects.  I’d say a new pedistrian bridge is yet another symbol of this.

  • Bob Clark

    D.C is looking at cutting discretionary expenditures, and things like light rail projects would seem an easy target.  Much easier than making more cuts to social security and medicare.  And the economy is strugglingly because of wasteful emphasis on “green” projects rather than “meat and potatoe” conventional energy supplies.

    I would rather the Federal government pull its funding of the Milwaukee light rail soon so TriMet might not be a much bigger financial disaster.

    Portland seems like a “Greece” in the making…decades of mounting public debt for money losing projects.  I’d say a new pedistrian bridge is yet another symbol of this.

  • wnd

    IMO, TriMet’s exclusive Willamette River Crossing is off track and their “Orange Line” (boondoggle laced with ill reckoned amounts of poonTang) in need of scrapping.

    The ‘falling down’ Sellwood Bridge really needs upgrading and a new transit corridor bridge for linking SW I-5 and SE I-205 seemingly more apropos than an ill-navigable “spontaneous buffoon bridge” spanning Lake Willamette.

    And, speaking of additional bridges, the I-5 Columbia River Crossing better off with an up or down steam companion mate in lieu of slopping in copious amounts of te$to$terone to
    keep it upstanding.  Prost!

  • valley dude

    Clever metaphors aside:

    As a former resident of Sellwood, the claim McLoughlin is “not very congested” defies the experience of those who live in that area and use that road. An express bus on that route would be sitting in traffic. Not very express.

    Its probably true that light rail does not do much to ease congestion. What it does do is provide an alternative means to get to the central city area without being part of that congestion. Decades ago, Portland decided it did not want its central city to be a parking lot. Light rail was the logical alternative. And if you spend any time in the central city, you can see that at least at that level, it is working.

    A lot of people can’t afford private autos, or can’t drive for various reasons (age, youth, disabilities). Its not a solution for everyone. Rapid bus, which is basically light rail without the tracks, is a promising alternative in some areas. Maybe here. But it takes up the same right of way space as a rail and does not share that space with cars. Its operating costs are I believe higher than rail, and it is less efficient at moving X number of people.

    And how are private autos any less last century than rail?

    The 1 train per hour on the Green Line is what….after midnight? So what?

    • wnd

      In retrospect, Rose City Transit could not make the Oregon City interurban line pencil out – and, TriMet’s red ‘pencil’ herring adipose fin not exactly a ‘caudal keel’ worth keeping in view of $20+ per ride subsidies required to keep things going swimmingly. 

      Really, many long time residents indeed regret Neil Goldschmidt and Bob Straub being able to put the kibosh on the Mt. Hood Freeway and other well planned routes, including a Johnson Creek corridor, that still manifest a lot more of common  affordable sense today.

      Instead, ‘governmentiumized’ of TriMet today drools with MAXimized effusiveness while taxpayers wallets (sound like pallets) pallets are being wrung dry.   Oh my! ;~(
       

      • wnd

        Instead, ‘governmentiumized’ TriMet today drools with MAXimized
        effusiveness while taxpayers wallets (sounds like pallets) are
        being wrung dry.   Oh my! ;~(

    • John Charles

      For many years I assumed, based on media reports, that both McLoughlin Blvd and HW 43 were massively congested and therefore express bus service would not work. However, during the past year I have been monitoring traffic on both roads and rarely found them to be crowded. I’ve sat at certain spots on HW 43 and done actual traffic counts, and I’ve assigned people in my office to make the same trip from Milwaukie to PSU over and over at various times in the morning. I’ve been quite shocked at how fast you can go even at peak periods. Certainly compared to I-5 north to Vanouver in the afternoon or the Sunset HW, McLoughlin and HW 43 are not very congested.

      So my own conclusion is that this image of “gridlock” in those corridors has been pushed to justify more rail transit, but express bus service would work well at a small fraction of the capital cost of rail. And all the money spent on the exclusive ROW for rail is wasted in Portland anyway because neither the streetcar nor LRT offer express service.

      If you want better transit for Milwaukie residents, you don’t need to spend $1.5 billion and kick out a bunch of businesses through eminent domain; you just need to offer express bus service and fix the Sellwood Bridge to put buses back on. There is no justification for exclusive ROW for buses or trains; express bus service can be quite viable in general-purpose lanes. The real time-killer on bus sevice is not traffic, it’s the excessive number of stops for local service. This can be observed daily in the Scholls Ferry/Beaverton-Hillsdale corridor where TM runs the local 56 and the express 92 on the same route. The 92 is in mixed traffic and has no ability to force traffic signals to turn green (that I know of), but has fast travel time because of limited stops. Quite a simple solution.

      Milwaukie LR is not about improving transit; it’s just pure pork-barrel spending and a total waste of money.

      JC

      • valley dude

        Highway 43? It is a veritable parking lot southbound most weekdays 3-6. I last lived there 18 years ago, so it is probably worse now. Northbound it is not much of a problem.  Honestly John, I don’t know how you conduct these studies or what data you use to define congestion differently than what actual transportation planners use,  but those roads are congested during normal rush hours, as experienced by the users.

        Streetcar does not need or use an exclusive ROW. Light rail does for the most part.  And so does Rapid bus, which should not be confused with Express bus.

        I get that you don’t like any rail and particularly don’t like the Milwaukee light rail. Since that project is under construction, it doesn’t matter what you like or don’t like about it however.  I very much disagree on your characterization that this is purely a pork barrel project that has nothing to do with transportation. That is way over the top.  People will ride it, and they will be transported.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Couldn’t $350,00 per rider be spent on a 007 Goldfinger jet pack that would cost less? It would reduce congestion even more than buses or choo choos and be really cool at the same time. I mean seriously, it would be a less expensive more cost effective program.

    • 3H

      Better yet..   why not just fix every car so that if you drive more than a certain number of miles every week, the exhaust is no longer vented outside, but, instead, recycled directly back inside the car.   Hardship and job/employment/business related exemptions can be granted.

      While we’re at it, let’s promote and adopt a Constitutional amendment that guarantees our GOD GIVEN right to drive and pollute?  Only Socialists care about the environment and we know how wrong they are. 

      • Bbrocketb

        Socialists do not care about the environment any more or less than anyone else. socialists use the environment for their own uses. It is completly apparent that
        the United States, in buying other countires products, for unbalanced free trade, competing with our own suppliers is stupid. Let France, Greece and every other
        socialist failing state save their own asses. These idiot projects are simply an obsession with the failed policies. There are no rights in China, hence the rail can go anywhere they just take your property. Metro in the 2009 climate plan desires
        to be the world Sustainable Hub. China has been building the empty cities, for people they intend to move into them. This will control the citizens. Portland is using the same technique, The Commons, and others. Agenda 21 is involved with all of this, and citizens will rue the day, if it happens, that you are 24-7 in Orwells
        world. Go to ORAgenda21, look for yourself.

      • Rupert in Springfield

        Actually I doubt one could make the case Socialists care about anything other than the expansion of government. There certainly is nothing in their history that indicates they care about anything other than that.

        My comment about the jet packs was tongue and cheek to make a point. The idea of equipping people with jet packs is inane on the face of it. However it would clearly be more cost effective, and arguably solve the problem better than the dopey solutions of the past.

        • 3H

          Ohhhh.. that wasn’t meant to be serious.  Mine was serious, of course.  

          “Actually I doubt one could make the case Socialists care about anything other than the expansion of government. There certainly is nothing in their history that indicates they care about anything other than that.”

          I’m starting to understand!  That was tongue in cheek too.  Good one.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Sorry, I guess when someone suggest using the same techniques as the Nazi’s, such as putting the exhaust into the car to kill people, the humor escapes me.

            Got any good Auschwitz jokes up your sleeve?  

          • 3H

            The Nazi card! Want to shut down a conversation, play the Nazi card!

            Hmmm.. we used the same techniques in our space program as did the Nazi’s in the development of the V-2.  So…  NASA is really a Nazi front?  

            And jet fighters, lets not get started on that.  Top Gun was really a Nazi recruiting film?  Triumph of the Will made modern?

            The Nazi’s hated the Communists…  the Right hates Communists… therefore…

            Nice try – but just didn’t quite get there. 

            You really have poor impulse control don’t you?

          • ja voul

            Dolt 3H:  “Whoever can conquer
            the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power
            politics and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the street.” Joseph Goebbels

          • 3H

            And.. on cue.  Thank you for alerting me to the tactics you plan to use and the source of your inspiration

          • 3H

            So, WND… why revert back to name calling?  Are you and Rupert psychic twins?  You have a hard time making a point without it?  

          • wnd

            Name calling, name reminding…hard times, indeed, if we continue kowtowing to omnipotent mind benders armed liberally with fan dangled nolo veracitas.    

            Propagandist Goebbels is no more, but Mary not-so-contrary Fetch, TriMetster Indoctrinateus Politiker, thrives on…with outpourings of drool-aid…tasting of ‘suspecious’ flavors like Eerie Orange, Orange Enerjooz, Rock-a-Dile Red, Sharkleberry Fin, Pink Swimmingo, Purplesaurus Rex and Groselha?, etc., no foolin’, 3H! 

            Frankly, minions in Clackamas County would just a soon ‘anti-dote’ on the transit travesty being foisted.  Selah.          

          • 3H

            Hey, name calling probably worked on the playground in the 6th grade.  No need to change it up and mature.  Right?

          • Billandchar

            Yet again, 3H hoisting signs of being a little light in his loafers.   Pity!

          • 3H

            “During World War II, Germany made late-war experiments of strapping two wearable shortened Schmidt pulse jet tubes of low thrust to the body of a pilot. The working principle was the same as the Argus As 014 pulse jet that powered the Fieseler Fi 103 flying bomb, though the size was much smaller.”

            Sorry, I guess your joke wasn’t so funny after all, was it.  Got any good dominate Europe under Nazi rule jokes?

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Sorry, I guess when someone suggest using the same techniques as the Nazi’s, such as putting the exhaust into the car to kill people, the humor escapes me.

            Got any good Auschwitz jokes up your sleeve?  

  • What else is new? As long as Portland is controlled by the Left, it will always be subject to the whims of utopian idealists. They cannot lose an election, so why not drop the reins on their inner leftist?

  • HoboJoe

    Hey you naysayers. Light rail is KING! Remember, without it, criminals would have to pay to get to your neighborhoods.
    205 million per mile is cheap insurance against the rising gas prices that will eventually force all of us to “take the train”.
    Of course it is slow – if it was fast you could not see the homeless lying around the tracks.
    And remember, the feds are helping with THEIR money, not ours.
    What could be better?
    Only if it ran all the way to Eugene.

    • 3H

      “Of course it is slow – if it was fast you could not see the homeless lying around the tracks.”

      Not even good tongue-in-cheek.  What is it with some people and the homeless?  Are they disturbed because they are a visible reminder that not everything is right with this country?

      • Bbrocketb

        3H & well others. How soon we forget the policies that moved people from safety and security in secure facilities to wander on the streets. All the better to create more programs etc. Oh, and I suppose freedom. Slavery of another kind.
        Nasa did’nt use slave labor that I know of, although in the interest of being first, we did look away at a few resumes back then. Why not stay on subject instead of  
        wasting space on bull, and prattle. Every country that has tried this is failing other
        than China. Common sense will show tachnology, not regressive practices will
        create the opportunities. Agenda 21, and all is nothing more than as attempt by elits to manipulate, dumb down, society. Since 1974, Oregon has been slowly sliding into a non-productive, socialist state. Count the business loss, poor schools,
        oppressive regulation– Hark, the Pied Piper plays on.  

        • 3H

          “Why not stay on subject instead of wasting space on bull, and prattle.”

          By all means, lead by example.

      • HoboJoe

        Because of the guy in the oval office they are homeless.
        You are right.

        • 3H

          Right.  Homelessness started with Obama.  Never existed before that.  Great point. So, what is the Republican/Conservative answer to homelessness?

          • valley dude

            It was Reagan, when he emptied the mental health hospitals.

          • Dean

            Dean Apostal, you colossal douchebag, you, of all people, should know that mental hospitals are state, and, in a few cases, county or city run.  The Federal government has NEVER run an asylum (outside of congress).  The states emptied out their asylums a couple years before Reagan was elected in a knee jerk response to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Thousands of mentally incompetent, but harmless, “Billy’s” were tossed out onto the street.

  • Norm

    “Light rail has never reduced traffic congestion in the region and never
    will because it carries too few people. And contrary to the notion
    popularized by TriMet, the main corridor for this line – McLoughlin
    Boulevard – is not very congested, even at peak periods; it easily could
    be used for express bus service, which would travel at double the speed
    of light rail.” Get the facts, the majority is opinion. That says nothing, facts say all.

    • Norm

      And yes it does help congestion. I ride the MAX daily, I see crowded trains daily! Show me the facts!

  • Bbrocketb

    To all of you posting on this quite important subject. 3H, while quite chatty is paid by someonr to move everyone away from the subject by shifting the debate. He simply avoids the facts. Ignore him for what he is. A shill.

    • 3H

      LOL.. then someone owes me a lot of back pay.  

      • wnd

        A lot, indeed.  Might send an invoice to George $oros who would then pass it along to MoveOn.org?  >;~)=)

  • Pingback: Blue Coaster33()

  • Pingback: weight loss()

  • Pingback: watch tv show episodes()

  • Pingback: water ionizer()

  • Pingback: water ionizer()

  • Pingback: kangen water()

  • Pingback: uk online casinos()

  • Pingback: DIRECTV vs Cable()

  • Pingback: parking()

  • Pingback: mp4 mobile porn()

  • Pingback: her og nu laan()

  • Pingback: alkaline water machine()

  • Pingback: car parking()

  • Pingback: find out more()

  • Pingback: plumbing plumbing()

  • Pingback: plumbing fittings 1 2 inch metal()

  • Pingback: pay per day loan plans()

  • Pingback: house blue()

  • Pingback: water ionizer()

  • Pingback: water ionizer plans()

  • Pingback: pay per day loans plan()

  • Pingback: pay plan()

  • Pingback: water ionizer()

  • Pingback: alkaline water()

  • Pingback: read more()

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)