THE PORTLAND BUREAU of Transportation (PBOT) is looking to tighten its belt in any way it can—but Lake Oswego did some unexpected cutting for the city last week. Citing the weak economy, Lake Oswego's city council took a surprise vote nixing an extension of Portland's streetcar to the suburb. Portland had invested years of planning and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the line.
Meanwhile, PBOT is still scrambling for ways to cut its budget by $16 million ["Overcommitted!," News, Dec 15, 2011]. Late last month, the bureau released a draft list of projects it will likely slice.
Sadly, the scuttling of the Lake Oswego streetcar project won't actually save Portland any money. The city set aside $300,000 for planning and refinement last year, but that money has already been spent—on a report that city council will receive this week, post-mortem.
Unlike Lake Oswego, Portland seems very committed to the streetcar's continued expansion. The Eastside Loop, running down Grand and Martin Luther King, is slated to open this fall.
"When the Eastside opens, we're going to have a whole different set of streetcar users than we have now," says Catherine Ciarlo, the mayor's transportation director.
The Eastside streetcar line is one of the most expensive projects in PBOT's capital budget, costing a total of $5.6 million over the next five years. TriMet's light-rail line to Milwaukie, whose new car-free bridge over the Willamette will link both halves of Portland's streetcar system near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, will cost $8.3 million more.
Instead of easing expansion efforts, PBOT will likely shave from existing service. The draft budget cuts proposed by PBOT last month recommend reducing streetcar service during off-peak hours (when trains run every 15 to 20 minutes) and also cutting cleaning staff.
Other proposed Portland transportation cuts in the 2012-2013 budget include:
• 30 percent of the sidewalk construction fund, which means pushing back plans to create disability-friendly curb cuts and build more sidewalks throughout the city. The city would also make sidewalk inspections complaint driven rather than proactive ($1.4 million cuts total).
• 10 percent of the budget to turn neighborhood streets into bike boulevards ($100,000 cuts total) and reducing the number of bike racks installed, repaired, or moved in the city from 1,400 annually to 900.
• $2.6 million from the street-paving budget, meaning big repaving projects will be delayed.
• 73 percent of the special events budget, which could reduce city funding for Sunday Parkways and also Last Thursday.
• $550,000 of the street-cleaning budget, so street cleanings would be about half as frequent through most of the city.
• Overtime paid to parking enforcement workers, and halving the frequency of parking meter maintenance ($285,000 total cuts).