Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wording to change on TriMet LRT referendum

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A Clackamas County (Ore.) Circuit Court has agreed with a lawyer challenging the wording of a county measure up for vote May 21, involving extending light rail transit 7.3 miles from Portland to Milwaukie, Ore., southeast of Portland.

Judge Deanna L. Darling agreed with plaintiff Keith Garza, who in a filing March 7 argued, "The Board of County Commissioners is misleading voters with its attempt to place this measure involving the Portland-Milwaukie project on the ballot ... All of the legal agreements have been signed, and those agreements are binding."

The judge approved Garza's suggested changes to the summary of the ballot measure. The revision aims to remove any suggestion that the result of the vote would change whether the county fulfills its contractual obligations to TriMet.

The new language reads: "This Measure seeks voter approval of an ordinance authorizing the Board to use those County resources to meet the County's previous contractual commitments toward the Portland Milwaukie Light Rail Project."

In essence, the referendum up for vote is nonbinding, and at present is not expected to alter or significantly delay construction of the LRT line. TriMet says the line, already under way, is roughly 35% complete.

The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners has approved two Portland-Milwaukie LRT measures for consideration. Voters are being asked whether to approve the transfer of two small land parcels to TriMet, sign an agreement with the agency to allow LRT operations and maintenance, and allow TriMet to fund related road improvements.

The referendum is spurred by Measure 3-401, passed last September, which requires countywide approval before officials can spend money to finance, design, construct, or operate any rail lines in the county. LRT advocates nationwide see the move as troubling, an indicator resistance to LRT development intended to benefit the Portland suburbs.

TriMet has not been idle; it sued Clackamas County earlier this month to force the county to fulfill commitments already made to transfer property and support construction of the $1.5 billion project.