When the Lake Oswego City Council walked away from a proposed streetcar line three years ago, it locked up $5.86 million in bond funds that had been intended for engineering and environmental studies for the project.
On Thursday, the Metro Council voted unanimously to unlock those funds and redirect most of the money to high capacity transit project development in the Southwest Corridor and along Southeast Powell Boulevard and Division Street between Portland and Gresham.
The decision, made with unanimous support of local elected leaders who sit on the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, essentially resolves a loose string from the now-shuttered Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project.
But it will make a big difference for three other projects, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane told the Metro Council Thursday.
McFarlane praised the reallocation decision as an example of strong regional collaboration. "This was really a very broad regional conversation," he said.
Conditions on the funds, which originated in a tax-exempt TriMet bond in 2010, required that they be spent for specific transit project development activities – meaning they couldn't be reallocated toward other transportation priorities like trails or roads.
The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project will receive $1.5 million, which could be put to use this summer. The project is exploring a new rapid bus line from downtown Portland to Gresham. Its steering committee expects to make final route decisions in June, and would next begin the engineering and environmental studies for which the funds are earmarked.
The Southwest Corridor Plan, studying a range of transportation improvements between Portland and Sherwood, will receive $3.5 million. The money will be dedicated to an element of the plan exploring light rail or bus rapid transit between Portland, Tigard and Tualatin.
The Southwest Corridor steering committee expects to identify a final package of transportation projects including high capacity transit by June 2016, triggering a federally-mandated draft environmental impact study process. The new project development funds would be not be used until December 2018, project managers estimate.
Funds from both the Powell-Division and Southwest Corridor projects will be matched by local governments and potentially the federal government.
Some of the original funds will stay in what was once the intended Lake Oswego streetcar corridor. $861,000 will pay for safety improvements along the publicly-owned rail line currently there, so a vintage summertime trolley can continue carrying sightseers along the Willamette River.