A committee looking at transportation in the southwest part of the region could change the study's approach Monday, in part in response to voter initiatives in Tigard and Tualatin.
Earlier this year, members of the Southwest Corridor Steering Committee told Metro to get some firmer numbers on what kind of transit line could be built between downtown Portland and Tualatin, by way of Tigard.
They were originally scheduled to make a decision in November on what to study in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an exhaustive, federally-mandated document for a big transit project. The statement, often shortened to EIS, has to look at the potential impacts of construction down to the presence of Native American artifacts and the effects of a project on endangered species.
The fewer transit options that are studied in an environmental impact statement, the cheaper it will be.
But instead of using the steering committee to whittle down what kind of transit project should be sent into the EIS process, Metro staffers are suggesting a new course – a more comprehensive look at the Southwest Corridor, focused on outcomes instead of picking a line for a transit project.
A decision from the steering committee is expected Monday.
A change of course could mean going back to a more local look at transportation in all of the cities in the study area, including Sherwood, Lake Oswego, Durham, Beaverton, King City and Portland.
"We realized we needed more time," said Southwest Corridor project manager Malu Wilkinson, "and a broader conversation."
Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said the streamlined process could be better for area residents.
"If we do our work right between now and probably the end of next year, we will have picked an alignment, a vehicle, station locations and community amenities – including roads, streets, sidewalks, and bikeways – that we can take as a preferred alternative into the EIS review process," Stacey said, "as opposed to having one bus, one rail, two corridors, and four to five subsets of alternatives, each of which would have to be studied in great expense, and in a much more bureaucratic process, than the technical and outreach work."
That sits well with Lou Ogden, the mayor of Tualatin. He said the conversation about whether to extend high capacity transit from Portland to southern Washington County has made more people aware of the broader transportation needs in the area.
With that awareness, Ogden said, now is a good time to start talking about roads, trails and long-term growth.
"The corridor analysis conversation at the community level needs to be much more than what kind of light rail project do you want to build," Ogden said. "It's about what problems are you trying to solve. There hasn't, in my mind, been adequate public conversation about that."
Early in the Southwest Corridor discussions, leaders from the seven cities in the corridor, plus representatives from TriMet, Washington County and other groups, put together a list of road projects that could be prioritized for improving transportation in the area. But with the new attention on the Southwest Corridor plan, in the wake of the Tigard and Tualatin ballot initiatives on high-capacity transit, a broader conversation is a good opportunity to talk about community aspirations, Ogden said.
"If high-capacity transit is a tool that benefits that aspiration, then it's something you want. If it doesn't, then you're agnostic or concerned because of what the negative impacts and costs are going to be," Ogden said. "They're not based upon the it, they're based upon the aspirations of what you want your community to be like."
And that's where the broader conversation – about roads, including Interstate 5; transit, including bus lines; and active transportation fits in.
That, of course, depends on what the Southwest Corridor steering committee decides to do Monday. It meets at 9 a.m. at the Tigard Public Services Center.