For the second time in a month, city council last week batted around funding figures for the proposed $147 million Eastside streetcar extension, which will bring the trolley over the Broadway Bridge and down MLK to OMSI.
The hearing, on Thursday, September 6, was crucial—the following day was the deadline to submit a funding plan to the Federal Transit Administration to qualify for $75 million in federal grants. In order to get the feds to pay for more than half of the project, City Commissioner Sam Adams' office had to draft a plan that would convince the agency that Portland is really, truly serious about paying for the other half.
The biggest question is how the line will be operated once it's up and running. There's already a built-in $2.45 million subsidy required to run the streetcar, split evenly between the City of Portland and TriMet, but TriMet has only officially agreed to chip in $1 million. Another $510,000 is planned to come out of "reallocation of bus service"—specifically, the proposal is to shorten the popular #6 bus line, which runs down MLK and into downtown, forcing passengers to transfer to the streetcar.
That possibility concerned Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Erik Sten, among others—Saltzman called it an "awkward impediment" to getting Northeast Portlanders to jobs downtown.
Adams' response was that the figures are "low confidence" and were put together in order to get federal funding. Since the engineering phase won't begin until early next year, "we've got three months to figure this out," Adams said. He assured council that he'd direct the planners to come up with a plan that doesn't cut the #6 line.
Others, though, are worried that because so much effort and money has already gone into the proposal, there's little chance that major amendments will be possible. "It's a good thing these are low-confidence numbers," one city hall staffer said, "because my confidence in them is pretty low."