Will Light Rail Win This Time?

by lewwaters

Light Rail HellI have said all along that the CRC did not actually die, but fell into an induced coma as both states, Oregon and Washington failed to fund their portions amidst much teeth gnashing and wailing on the part of proponents, some elected officials and business people that left the appearance of missing out on personal profits.

While there is no official announcement of a CRC light rail type of project coming back into play, there are a few indicators being heard of just that possibility coming out of light rail proponents.

The Lazy C has run numerous articles and editorials extolling once again, the need to replace the I-5 Bridges across the Columbia River between the states of Oregon and Washington. Of course, each makes sure to mention those that listened to constituents and worked to stop funding in a negative manner.

Commenters under the articles go a little further and give the impression of community support. But it is also known that several commenters previously seen there are either banned from commenting or have moved on.

A recent article covering Gov. Inslee quietly sneaking into town again and discussing, among other issues, what he calls a “First priority has to be the Interstate 5 Bridge, over any other crossing. It’s so critical to the economy of the region.”

Still left out is any plan for up to 8 years or more of easing even heavier congestion in an already heavily congested corridor that will be caused by the construction alongside the existing spans, people slowing down to view progress as well as the coming and going of equipment and supplies.

Also not mentioned is blocking access to downtown Vancouver, likely around the time they will be seeking tenants for their concrete jungle boondoggle on the waterfront.

The only other access across the river for several miles is the I-205 Bridge and clearly, it cannot handle the congestion now as we have seen when a traffic accident has shut down I-5.

What does Inslee believe will happen to the local economy with minimum wage jobs offered at the concrete jungle on the waterfront and traffic moving even slower than today for so many years?

Before the CRC was put into a coma, Inslee saw fit to join with Oregon Governor Kitzhaber’s cry of “no light rail, no bridge, no kidding.”

Where was his concern then over congestion and freight mobility, considering light rail carries not one piece of freight? And congestion? A look at downtown Portland shows light rail did not alleviate their congestion.

Just this past September the Lazy C ran an article on TriMet’s Chief saying the need for the I-5 bridge remains, expressing how congestion has increased. I cannot believe their inclusion of a photo of light rail with the article was accidental or without reason.

Light Rail, TriMet 2015, need for Bridge remains

And let us not forget that hastily agreed upon contract between C-Tran and TriMet that locks us into a light rail deal with TriMet and that TriMet refused to agree to terminate once they told us the CRC light rail project “was dead.”

TriMet General Manager, Neil McFarlane said in a letter,

“For its part, TriMet views the agreement as valuable and important to retain in the event that those milestones are achieved and a viable project emerges from future bi-state discussions. Given this view, TriMet will take no action to formally terminate the agreement.”

Many struggled for several years to stop the bloated and unnecessary CRC light rail project. Each year seemed to have more and more sign on to see it as not a beneficial project and faced much scorn, belittlement and push-back from light rail proponents.

Looking around the county, it appears that some of our best opponents are either gone already or will be voted out soon, likely to be replaced with supportive officials.

This blog was very active since its beginning in opposing the CRC light rail project, supporting elected officials opposed to it and opposing those supporting it.

I still oppose it and believe it will not be of any benefit to Clark County in the likelihood it is proposed again.

But, I’m getting old and tired and quite honestly, not too pleased still with actions taken against me directly by operatives from the Clark County Republican Party.

Likewise, having recently been copied a message to a third party from a prominent elected official by that very official that in effect places blame on me for the poor outcome of the last election and subsequent loses because I chose to stay out of campaigns after being told “[you] have reached the end of your relevancy in Clark County” is not setting too well with me.

Sorry, don’t place your own shortcomings on me, I tried to warn you that bull in a china closet tactics are not beneficial and you chose not to listen.

I have no idea just how soon light rail will be back on the table. I do know there is a proposal to form and fund a “Bi-State Transportation Committee” to begin anew discussions on replacing the I-5 Bridges.

I also realize that the bridge rests completely in the 49th Legislative District and all three Democrats elected to represent the 49th are each strong light rail supporters. It was they pushing the hardest to stick us all with the expense last time.

We also know Oregon is eager to push their financially troubled light rail into our community and gain access to more revenue from us while not giving us much in return.

But the question now is who will stand up to stop it this time?

I’m told by some of the same ones that felt it proper to stab me in the back before how easy it will be to stop.

I guess we’ll see when it is actually proposed again.

I see no reason Portland’s Metro will back away from their year’s long push to force it on us any way they can.

9 Comments to “Will Light Rail Win This Time?”

  1. I listen to the traffic report each morning as I commute to my job in Portland (using 205/Banfield). With few exceptions traffic in the I-5 corridor clogs up at the I-5/405 split in Portland then backs up into Vancouver. Sometimes there is an accident or something on the bridge or some other reason the traffic is slow through Vancouver, but most of the slowness is caused by the unresolved issues in Portland. I notice that this is never mentioned by bridge/light rail advocates. They invariably blame the bridge. The fact is, the bridge is rarely the problem.

    The 205 bridge gets more congested each year. Building a new I-5 bridge will not reduce the congestion on 205 by more than just a trifle if at all. I don’t understand why the proponents of a new I-5 bridge cannot realize that a third bridge is needed. I guess they’ll just keep pushing for a bridge with light rail until they get it. Of course when it turns out that the new bridge is going to cost billions more than the last plan, they’ll blame those who opposed the CRC plan in the first place.

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  2. Well, with Boldt on the council (And he’s very much pro-light rail) along with his two winged monkeys Stuart and Olson/Green, we won’t get any help there… And with Rivers showing she can be bought, we won’t get any help in the legislature…

    I’m thinking we’d better get used to the idea, since the left’s only focus is to get loot rail into Clark County, even though we need additional bridges before the I-5 Bridge is replaced.

    But then, that’s just me. And other than accurately pegging Boldt, Olson and Stewart’s actions on the council to date… what do I know?

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  3. I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of my life. I lived in the East Bay (various communities over the years, including Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond) and commuted to downtown San Francisco. I variously drove (across the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge), took busses (AC Transit across the Bridge to the terminal), and took BART.

    I can say unequivocally that “transit solutions” always cost more and took more time than driving (except when parking was an issue). When I worked at the foot of Market Street (Near the Embarcadero) for some years there were commercial parking lots with modest monthly costs … and for a time, I was assigned a free space in my employer’s property. Later on, after considerable further development, my advancement with the company eliminated the need for my private auto for my work … and commercial parking was unaffordable. That’s when I rode BART. Earlier in my career, as a low-ranked worker, it was cheaper to ride the bus … until my spouse also got a job in the downtown business district — then the costs of driving became much cheaper than both of us taking “transit solutions.” Years later, another job, near Mission and Van Ness, I had free parking on my employer’s property … and it was cheaper to drive rather than ride BART. (Plus it eliminated walking several blocks to/from the station each day.) Meanwhile, over the years, the “free parking at suburban stations” (a BART promise at the time it was seeking voter approval to begin construction) had turned into crowded lots that completely filled by early morning — and began to charge for parking (with cost steadily increasing over time). The incredible reality was, even at the end, due to “casual carpooling,” (where drivers would pick up two riders (to meet the HOV lane requirement of 3 or more per car) would easily beat the BART trains from the suburbs across the Bay to downtown San Francisco. Admittedly, the use of the HOV lane (and the “free” toll on the Bay Bridge) made this work quite well. Most casual car poolers would ride BART home in the afternoon — having parked near the BART station to commence the “carpool” (The east bound HOV lanes didn’t start until after crossing the bridge, and therefore offered no speed improvement.)

    BART proved inflexible … as ill-advised tax policies of San Francisco drove “back office” operations and manufacturing and warehouse distribution jobs out of the city, new office complexes were built in the East Bay to reach the large pool of potential employees (who appreciated the shorter commute) … and these complexes were often built far from any BART stations — so RAIL transit was not an option for most such workers. There was some efforts to improve bus routes and schedules … but the bus transit (government) operators tended to retain “traditional” routes long past the time when the routes should have been completely re-thought. Indeed, when I lived a few blocks from where my family lived starting in 1956, in the 1980s, 2 busses per day (one in the morning, one in the evening) had been routed nearby. However, these were simply an extension of an existing route … and it took nearly 40 minutes to reach the BART station on its meandering route. To make matters worse, the bus transit district (not part of BART) refused to promise a “firm” connection with any particular BART train … and for someone getting off work at 5 PM in San Francisco, there was a 10 minute window to catch the connecting bus. Unfortunately, BART’s ability to keep on schedule has been terrible, with delays exceeding 20 minutes not uncommon. Thus I’d likely miss my connection frequently, ended up stranded 8 miles from home.

    The principles:
    1. Trains are completely inflexible. Once you’ve built expensive tracks, they serve where they go, probably for a very long time. (BART, after 30 years, finally built extensions of its east bay lines to reach communities that had been providing tax support for all those years — with no service.)

    2. Busses that serve both the origin and the destination or a terminal in the destination (Portland) with frequent transit schedules reaching the working areas throughout the day and well into the evening hours is generally a better solution than busses that serve a terminal.

    3. Public transit may not be economically viable for the long term. Today, the Federal Government announced efforts to encourage fully autonomous “self-driving” automobiles. Uber and Lyft are working with automobile manufacturers. By sharing rides (in autonomous vehicles) commuters are likely to have lower costs and better schedules. Indeed, once a reasonable portion of vehicles are fully automated, they can increase the capacity of EXISTING highways quite significantly. (Inter-vehicle communication allows them to work in unison, with minimal spacing, increasing road capacity by a factor of 3 or 4.) For those who might not be able to afford unsubsidized private transit, some sort of voucher system or other taxpayer subsidy is likely to prove much cheaper than the capital costs of rail transit and/or the ongoing cost of moving empty busses around for most of the day.

    You can be certain that I will do all in my power to fight the extension of trolley cars into Clark County. Trolley cars are a 19th century technology that has long outlived its economic viability. Trolley cars require massive taxpayer subsidies and are about to be overwhelmed by private owned alternatives.

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  4. Friend of John Galt, very good write up. I would just add one thing that light rail is very good at: shower taxpayer money on political cronies, developers, consultants and union workers – that is the secret of light rail’s success.

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  5. Thanks for another good write-up Lew Waters. I’ll never understand how Wolfendale and Hamm got away with that sleight-of-hand Tri-met contract, or even why Wolfendale, or Hamm for that matter, had any authority to sign off on it. That C-tran Gang of Five was about neither good nor transparent governance.

    Yes, that is a good write by Friend of John Galt. Jim is also spot on. To which I might add that government centralized planners have adopted as their goal in life, finding ways to force people out of their cars and onto mass transit, (thanks C-tran Gang of Five). Rather contrary to that quaint idea of government actually responding to the citizens. And people do NOT want to be forced out of their cars. As John Galt points out, one can envision the future of public transportation, not as mass transit, but as one in which self-driving vehicles meet riders at their front door. All of which makes the efforts of government centralized planners, and those lite rail “visionaries”, a tad bit questionable.

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  6. Friend of John Galt – I won’t dispute your personal experience on BART. Mine were much different. Commuting by BART was always faster than driving for me, with the exception of occasional train operating problems. The one thing I will dispute is your assertion of BART finally extending itself further around the Bay Area. Those communities originally did not accept BART into their areas for service and did not pay taxes on BART for services not received. Thanks for your thoughts on this though, it’s always good to hear different perspectives.

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  7. Steve Lappier – The counties that first signed on to BART, when it was formed in 1957, were San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa. Other Bay Area counties (primarily San Mateo, and Santa Clara) that might have joined, did not, even though the western terminus, Daly City, is in San Mateo County. The northern counties associated with the Bay Area (Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano) eventually did not join BART, due to the geographical difficulties (cost) of extending the BART rail system into those counties.

    BART taxes are applied to real estate taxes and as added sales taxes in the counties that are signed on to BART. These taxes started up (initially very modestly) from shortly after the BART transit district was created and increased significantly when bonds were issued to commence construction of the system. BART was supposed to pay for operations out of the fare box, and the taxpayers were supposed to only pay for the capital costs. Of course, that fiction did not last long, with operating costs also being subsidized by the tax payers. (Fares pay about 68% of BART’s operating cost — better than most transit systems in the U.S.)

    Extensions of BART into San Mateo and Santa Clara has been controversial since the “buy in” represented by the taxes not paid by their citizens over the last 58 years has accumulated to a very significant sum. BART’s original plans included extending lines around the south end of the SF Bay through both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. These extensions get “discussed” every few years, but have yet to move beyond the planning stages.

    The initial BART system end points were (in the west) Daly City and to the east, Richmond, Concord, and Fremont. These points have had service since the opening in September, 1972. Notably, the bulk of BART service covers the west end of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, though the “Concord Line” reaches into the center of Contra Costa. Those living in the center and eastern portion of Alameda County, and those living in the northern and eastern portions of Contra Costa County have been paying BART taxes for 58 years… and have not had direct access to BART service. In the past few years, the Concord line was extended several miles to “Bay Point” (near Pittsburg, CA) and there are plans to extend service on that line with 2 more stations, reaching the town of Antioch, CA. Also, an extension (3 stations) was made to serve Pleasanton, CA (in west-central Alameda County) with further extension to Livermore, CA planned. The western line was extended beyond Daly City to the San Francisco Airport well into San Mateo County, even though San Mateo did not fully “join” BART nor pay a share of the initial system (as required of the original counties). Admittedly, one of the many stupidities of BART was its initial failure to directly serve both the Oakland and San Francisco airports. (The Oakland Airport is served by a “bus link.”)

    In the talking stage (where it’s been for years) are extensions of the Richmond line to serve Pinole, Hercules, and (possibly) Martinez. Costs are very high on this “suggested” extension due to the topography.

    These small extensions are what I was referring to… and it is most certainly true that significant numbers of taxpayers in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties have been paying for BART but benefitting very little from its services. And, even after these extensions, that inequity will continue for many taxpayers that live outside the service area — this is much like the situation with C-Trans and those who were disenfranchised yet still pay the sales-tax-based financing of C-Trans.

    My (generally negative) opinion of BART is based on the promises it made — with 100% of them ultimately unfulfilled. On background, aside from my having lived in the Bay Area (where I observed BART close up) for most of my life, my father was in the California Legislature and was involved in some aspects of the creation of the BART transit district. I recall “gee wiz” brochures showing very futuristic transit vehicles on elevated “monorail” that the promoters were using to persuade the politicians and public to go along with their plans — it was somewhat of a shock when the final plans involved (essentially) typical transit-system trains*. I also worked more than 20 years for Southern Pacific and for part of may career was involved with the SP commuter service between San Jose and San Francisco.) I note that operationally, BART was very slow to react to problems and their computerized systems are subject to frequent failures. Meanwhile the SP service managed 99.8% on-time performance, prior to its take-over by the state “Caltrain” service.

    *Unfortunately, BART hired aero-space engineers who ‘reinvented’ transit cars, making BART’s cars unique … and double the cost of ordinary transit cars. A price the taxpayers get to bear each time new transit cars are needed. At least Tri-Met didn’t fall into that trap.

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  8. Regarding the reference made by ‘Friend of John Galt’ to autonomous vehicles, I agree that AVs are more than likely to permanently kill light rail and bus transit. Companies like Google, Tesla, and eventually the traditional auto makers, will stop selling vehicles as a product (I question whether Google ever will sell a vehicle as a product) and will instead sell them as a service.

    You will still ‘own’ a vehicle, but more in the sense that you ‘own’ a Microsoft or Apple operating system or some other software product, than in the traditional sense that you own a car or a flashlight. The major reason will be that of liability. Who would be liable if an autonomous vehicle malfunctioned? Who would be liable in the event of serious injury or death? Currently, because users own the product they drive, they are liable (unless it can be proven to be directly attributed to a fault in the vehicle in which case the manufacturer is at least partly liable).

    Google, Apple, Tesla, and the rest of them will want to retain ownership of the vehicle so they can control the functionality of the vehicle, update the vehicle with patches and anti-virus definitions on a periodic or ‘zero-day’ basis, thereby reducing the chance that something could malfunction.

    Even for the poor it will be cheaper to commute via AV than the heavily subsidized current public transit methods.

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  9. In today’s Wall Street Journal (1/22/16) there was an article explaining how the Japanese are seriously focusing on self-driving automobiles due to the very large number of “elderly” (about 25% of their population is now over 65). Most of the Japanese elderly live outside the major cities, where “mass transit is impractical” (so says the article). We could be seeing fully self-functional vehicles in the next 3 to 5 years on the roads here. As it is, there are several vehicles (available now) offering various safety “assist” features that approach full automation … though these are mostly limited to the high-end and/or fully loaded models (such as Lexus, Mercedes Benz, Audi, etc.) The cheaper models (e.g. Toyota, who also manufactures Lexus, for example) only offer “warning” features that do not actively steer or brake the automobile, though most offer “collision avoidance” automation that uses the brakes to reduce speed if unable to avoid a rear-end collision.

    The liability will be worked out soon enough, either through legislation and/or court suits.

    General Motors recently made a large investment in “Lyft” (I think that’s how they spell it) that offers a competing service to Uber. Obviously, that is a natural for ownership of self driving autos in service for “as needed usage.”

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