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Anti-transit bill could head to county vote

Petitioner calls for Washington County residents to have say on Southwest Corridor Plan


The man who brought about sweeping changes in the way the city of Tigard handles light rail is at it again, this time hoping to change the way the entire county thinks about the issue. Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tim Esau went door-to-door in Tigard last year to put an anti-transit petition on the ballot in Tigard. Now, hes set his sights on all of Washington County.

Tim Esau said plans to build a high-capacity transit line from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin affect all of Washington County, and county residents need to decide for themselves whether or not the project should continue.

Esau submitted an initiative petition to Washington County on Dec. 3, requiring a countywide vote on any new rail or transit project.

Under Esau’s petition, the county’s Board of Commissioners wouldn’t be able to finance new public transit projects — chiefly a new MAX line or a Eugene-style rapid bus service currently being considered as part of the Southwest Corridor Plan — without voter approval.

“I really want to make sure that we all agree to this, and not just 100 guys with a vision that can get their pockets lined and live some dream,” Esau said. “We will still be stuck with a traffic solution that doesn’t solve our needs in Washington County.”

The petition requires county commissioners to spell out exactly how much the projects would cost and forbids the county from diverting funds marked for road maintenance and construction for public rail transit projects without a public vote.

Although no funding options have yet been sought for the Tigard transit plan, Esau said he expects it to be paid for through already existing street fees and other services.

The petition also forbids Washington County from lobbying or influencing public officials to change how they fund road maintenance and construction projects.

County needs a say

The petition is similar to a ballot measure Esau put before Tigard voters in March, which calls for a public vote before the city can approve plans for either a MAX light-rail line or rapid bus line.

Since Esau’s ballot measure was passed earlier this year, Tualatin voters approved a similar measure, and Metro has had to rethink its plans for the line.

“We’ve got a serious need for transportation improvements, both in infrastructure and operationally,” Esau said. “Those won’t be served with a $6 billion rail project when you have real people trying to get from one part of the county to the other.”

Esau’s fight in Tigard earlier this year was largely centered on local residents taking a stand in local affairs. Proponents of Esau’s measure cried foul at outside influences, such as the city of Portland, deciding how to run a rail system through Tigard.

But Esau’s current petition would require all Washington County voters to weigh in on transit projects, no matter where they are being built across the county.

“When county funds are involved, it affects all of us,” Esau said. “When the county can’t pay for road maintenance, that impacts my tax statement every year.”

Two years to gather signatures

Many have claimed the ballot measures in Tigard, Tualatin and King City were thinly veiled attempts to kill the Southwest Corridor Plan outright, but Esau said it’s all about voter choice.

“I want to make sure voters get a say,” Esau said. “This will set guidelines at the county level.”

Esau and other opponents of the Southwest Corridor Plan have called it a boondoggle, saying the project is too expensive and the corridor would be better served by additional bus service and infrastructure.

Esau said a high-capacity transit system isn’t a bad idea for the area, as long as it’s well thought out.

“If it’s compelling, I’ll vote for it,” he said. “Make the case for me. Don’t just saddle me with a huge burden. People in the city of Tigard won’t be very happy to spend money here in the near future with all that we’ll have to pay for. I’m a cheapskate, but we have infrastructure obligations that we need to live up to.”

Esau will have two years to collect the 12,000 signatures he needs to get on the countywide ballot.

“I know of about 10,000 already who are willing to sign it from the ones who signed before in King City, Tigard and Tualatin,” he said. “I don’t see this as a super-huge challenge. If anything, our collection methods will be easier. I am very confident we can get the signatures we need for the measure.”

Planners for the Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee plan to make a decision next spring about which mode — light rail or rapid bus service — it wants to move forward with. Esau said he’d like his initiative to be voted on before that happens.

Washington County is expected to issue a title for the initiative petition by the end of this week, then Esau can begin collecting signatures.

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