Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick has for weeks been besieged by outrage over his plan to create a street fee changing Portland households up to $144 a year, as he tries to solve a road-paving backlog partly caused by big spending on capital projects.
Now he's warning regional government Metro to slow down on its biggest potential construction job: drilling a tunnel under Oregon Health & Sciences University to run a light-rail line to Tualatin.
Metro News first reported Monday that Novick and others asked a Metro committee to hold a discussion of the local costs of a new tunnel under OHSU and Hillsdale before including it in further studies.
Novick tells WW the cost of a tunnel could run as high as $2 billion—with local governments footing half the bill.
"We should have a community conversation about the tab," Novick tells WW. "The decision shouldn't be based simply on having the service without a discussion of paying the costs."
WW has previously reported that Novick asked to dedicate $650,000 in city funds to studying the environmental impacts of Southwest Corridor High Capacity Transit, a project led by Metro.
Mayor Charlie Hales has placed that money in his proposed city budget, even as he and Novick are trying to create a new fee to fund a $1.3 billion backlog of transportation projects. Both officials argue that even though the city doesn't have enough money to keep up with road paving, it should continue to invest in long-term capital projects.
The Southwest Corridor line to Tualatin may feature bus rapid transit—an increase in bus service and lanes along Southwest Barbur Boulevard—or light rail.
Construction costs—not including tunnels—could exceed $1.6 billion, according to Metro documents.
Metro News reports that other residents and regional partners in the transit plan are pressing not just for a tunnel, but for a "long, deep tunnel" with at least four stops.
There was vocal support at Monday's meeting for a transit line in a tunnel.
"Hillsdale was made-to-order for the type of project you're talking about," said Rick Seifert, a Hillsdale resident. "We really are a transit center, so to link Hillsdale into your plans is essential. Please honor your own past planning by giving strong consideration to the route."
Floyd Smith, a board member of the Association of Oregon Rail Transit Advocates, was even more ambitious, saying a tunnel from PCC-Sylvania to downtown Portland should be studied.
"We believe that it needs to be studied, that it's proper, and will bring a storm of discontent if a long deep tunnel with stations at Hillsdale and the Barbur Transit Center, OHSU and PCC is not considered," he said.