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Thursday, February 12, 2004

And she's buying a stairway to heaven

As Rob over at AboutItAll predicted, a couple of pieces in Wednesday's Oregonian really shizzled my bizzle. They were both about the current state of the most foolish public project I have witnessed in my 25 years in Portland (and that's saying a lot), the OHSU aerial tram.

Wham, tram, thank you, ma'am, Vera. This incredible little toy will allow the doctors at OHSU and their lab workers to ride from Pill Hill to their new biotech-wannabe building in the North Macadam district in three minutes, rather than taking a 10-minute ride in a van.

The cost of that convenience? At least $28.44 million to build -- the vast, vast majority of it being public money -- and who knows how much a year to operate. Nobody's saying how much. I'd guess around $1 million a year. Forever.

There are so many problems here, it's hard to tell where to start. From a political junkie's standpoint, the most significant aspect is that the tram will connect one Neil Goldschmidt client, OHSU, with another N.G. client, Homer Williams, whose development has broken ground down on the old brownfields below. Who's your daddy, Oregon? We all know.

Yesterday's paper pointed up two more problems. The first is that the tram folks are $13 million short of the $28.44 million they need to build.

It's so sad. They sold this to the City Council on a $15.5 million budget, with the mayor saying it was going to be a beautiful picture postcard. Now, at $28.44 million, they've got a nasty looking bunch of concrete boxes and plastic towers about which even the Architecuture Dandy (see below) can't find much good to say.

And where is the other $13 million going to come from? Here's the latest rap from the tram people:

The board also asked an informal finance committee to figure out new revenue sources without asking the city for general fund money, and without reducing city funds designated for transportation maintenance and operation.

The guidelines suggest looking for additional contributors from the Marquam Hill community, such as the Veteran Affairs Medical Center and the Portland Shriners Hospital for Children. OHSU committed to $9 million of the original $15.5 million budget.

Other potential sources include possible tradeoffs for federal funding in the urban renewal area; energy tax credits based on the efficiency of tram operations; and additional property tax money generated by the estimated $1.8 billion of development that the tram is expected to help stimulate.

Mike Lindberg, a former Portland City Council member who serves on the nonprofit board, recalled earlier instances when the city faced shortages for Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Performing Arts Center. Instead of cutting important details, the city found additional money, he said.

I repeat, where is the additional money going to be found this time? I'm sure, in the pockets of people who pay (a) local property tax, (b) state income tax, and (c) federal income tax.

Hey, all you folks who voted against Measure 30, do you want public money to pay another $13 million for the aerial tram?

If not, tell your elected officials. Take two minutes to send a message to Mr. Hopes-He'll-Be-Mayor Jim Francesconi here. Randy Leonard can be contacted by leaving a comment to this post -- he's a pretty regular reader here. I wouldn't bother with Vera or Erik, but you might also try Dan Saltzman. And be sure to drop a line to your state representatives about this, too. Their e-mail addresses can be found here and here.

And don't be fooled by this "urban renewal" mumbo-jumbo. Those are tax dollars. Look on your property tax bill -- you'll see them (or ask to see your landlord's bill -- he or she passes that on to you as a renter).

The idea that the Shriners Hospital should pony up is certainly a new one. When the Shriners call me asking for money, I picture my money helping sick kids, not building eyesores for the benefit of West Hills big shots.

The other huge, new problem with the tram appeared on the front page of the Living section, where the O's Architecture Dandy, Randy Gragg, did one of his design "analyses" of the drawings released so far. This guy cracks me up. He gets on his high horse as "architecture critic" -- of the Portland Oregonian, for crying out loud -- and discusses this collection of junk as if he were giving a guided tour of the Taj Mahal.

Hey, Randy. Open up your thesaurus dialog box and tell it to add these two words: tacky and ugly. Ug. Ly. As in, U to the G to the ly-ly-ly.

Picture postcard? Maybe from Newark.

Comments (24)

You know, I've been wanting biotech to take off in Portland for quite some time now, as I'm a out-of-state researcher with family in the Portland/Van area. But even I, much as I hope this would stimulate biotech development, think this is a hideous idea. Ugh Ugh Ugh. If Portland wants to boost biotech, this isn't the way. If they want to move people, this isn't the way. What's the third strike? Oh yeah, waste of money.

JBog, think the line from Fast Times at Ridgemont High: "U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi. You're ugly, you're ugly..."

Addendum 1: please replace "a" with "an" in the 1st sentence above.

Addendum 2: Can we mention the psychological joy of riding an elevated tram, on skinny supports, that has been subject to budget trimming? "Hmmm, maybe we can save another million by making these struts a little narrower..."

I'll continue to play my role as the repeating broken record on this issue. How can you base a transportation plan for a major development merely on a gimmick that only moves people between businesses? Yes, some people will live in the South Waterfront area but a whole bunch of the people working there will not. As of late I have yet to hear how the city plans to move traffic through or to this area. As a Brooklyn resident we fear the large uptick in traffic past/through our neighborhood to get across an already at-capacity Ross Island Bridge. Of course the Oregon Department of Transportation which controls Powell Blvd..errr.Highway 26 would probably just prefer to turn Powell into another freeway like McLoughlin just south of the Ross Island Bridge.

Uh -- what's a shizzle?

and how does it affect your Nizzle?

With the cost of a tram ballooning (hey! how about using tethered hot-air balloons to move people between Up There and Down There?) and nearly doubling, it's time for the City to revisit using a tunnel and high-speed elevator. The tunnel would be about 1600 feet long if it follows the Gibbs Street alignment. Stick two moving sidewalks inside it, build an elevator at the top end like the ZOOmer, and they're good to go. Lots cheaper than $30 million.

Build the tunnel wide enough to handle a train track, and later on it can be connected to the light rail or to the streetcar.

I don't think the people who voted for Measure 30 or any of its predecessors are that wild about it either.

Well, someone's got to defend the damn thing, so I will. Is it necessary? No. Should we build it if the choice is between a tram or health care? No. But I don't think that's the choice at all. We build things all the time that aren't strictly necessary but that add value to the city. The tram is the kind of showcase amenity that just might convince high-flying biotech firms to locate in the S. Waterfront. In the scheme of things, its cost is a drop in the bucket. It's the kind of gee-whiz thing that differentiates Portland from other comparably sized metro areas that don't have the same cachet. In short, it's the kind of thing that makes Portland Portland.

How's that for a half-assed defense.

Newark would not buy into that Tinker-Toy-looking thing. Besides, that contraption would last about one day in Newark.

I don't know how all the OHSU-types would get up the hill every morning, but it seems like the Zoo Bombers should be able donate some bikes and get them down every afternoon at significantly lower cost.

I think Brett has made better than a half-assed defense of the tram.

And as for the Newark example, I think not building things like trams and planning for the redevelopment of "brownfield" sites like South Macadam and planning for keeping "Pill Hill" in Portland rather than Hillsboro is something that would happen in Newark. If we don't do these kind of big vision things, we'll end up more like Newark ourselves.

If you think the rich West Hills docs of OHSU are going to move their shop to Hillsboro because they don't have an aerial tram, you're about as gullible as the city commissioners.

as for shizzling someone's nizzle....i think everyone ought to figure out what the slang means before they say it...try looking up those words at might be surprised and somewhat ashamed...

I had no idea what it means. Here's what the dictionary says: "Fo shizzle my nizzle" means "I concur, my african american friend."

Is "nizzle" the N-word? I don't get it. For the moment, however, the shame is not upon me. I'm willing to revizzle this, however.

look up nizzle...and as i understand it, nizzle is the "N-word".

Oh, I see that now. O.k., no more nizzle.


apparently it's ok to say "fo' shizzle mah bizzle" though.

Now you tell me! I'll chizzle it rizzle now.

could always use crizzle instead of Nizzle, crizzle being cracker n all. or "alrighty, my whitey"


Brent, that was a pretty good half-assed defense :) What is keeping high-flying biotechs from Portland is certainly not the lack of a tram. Trust me.

I don't doubt that. Maybe it has something to do with our new Brand Oregon slogan - "Oregon - we tax dreamers."

But even so, I think it's an item that would bolster Portland's quirky image, in the vein of Pioneer Cthse Square, MAX, the Streetcar (which I know is not popular round these parts), Forest Park, etc. I hope that we don't stop building these kinds of things because of a temporary money crunch. They will be around a lot longer than the deficit.

Pio Cthse Square was done largely, if not entirely, with private money. People paid $15 each to buy a brick.

Maybe Neil can give the tram people one of his many millions to get the ball rolling. Don't hold your breath.

I'm a resident of the Arlington Heights neighborhood and wanted to contact someone in the "Zoobombers" group. We live on a corner that the group does alot of yelling on in order to warn each other of oncoming traffic which is a real nuisance when we're awoken late at night. I don't want to spoil the groups fun by involving the cops, so instead I have a quiet solution I wanted to suggest for them to try.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference And she's buying a stairway to heaven:

» Aerial Tram Faces Design Reductions, Cost Hurdles from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
A pair of articles in today's Oregonian provide an update on the progress of the aerial tram project. First up from the Metro section is a report on the current funding situation for the tram: Proponents of an aerial tram... [Read More]

» The tram scam of portland, oregon from
In beautiful downtown Portland, OR there is a tram that is mighty important to some strategically place rich people. Most of the financing is coming from the less wealthy taxpayers of Portland. For background information you can go here and... [Read More]

» Aerial Tram Faces Design Reductions, Cost Hurdles from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post. A pair of articles in today's Oregonian provide an update on the progress of the aerial tram project. First up from the Metro section is a report on the curre... [Read More]


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