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Monday, August 29, 2005

More on the Alexan

Last week's Portland City Council denial of the tax abatement for the proposed luxury apartment tower in the SoWhat district continues to provoke thought and commentary. Here's today's installment.

I am reliably informed that in his comments before he led the charge to kill the abatement, Commissioner Randy Leonard borrowed heavily from a post (or perhaps this one) that Isaac Laquedem had put up the day before. The blogosphere strikes again. Bully for Isaac.

The other angle I'd like to cover today is what's next. There are doubtlessly many more City Council decisions coming up on which we nattering naysayers opposed to SoWhat may want to get in our licks.

One of my pet issues is who is going to pay for the operations of the ridiculous aerial tram that's going to be built to serve the project. Although it's going to benefit no one except the medical school, it's been cast from the beginning as "public transportation," Vera-speak that means that the general population, most of whom think it's ridiculous, will be footing the bill to run it year after year.

How much is the tram going to cost to run every year? To give you some idea, I'm told that the existing streetcar boondoggle runs up a tab of around $3 million a year. Of that, $2 million comes from Tri-Met, and $1 million comes from the city. Most if not all of that $3 million is local tax money -- the Tri-Met payroll tax, the city's share of property taxes.

How much will the tram add to that burden? Have you read a word about that anywhere? I sure haven't. But it's going to be enormously expensive -- the insurance alone is going to be a bank-breaker -- and there hasn't been even an educated guess in the media. I'm going to stick my finger into the wind and say $300,000 a year.

Who should pay that bill, year after year? The present value of $300,000 a year forever, discounted at 5 percent, is $6 million. Who pays?

I'm assuming it's the city, and that's just disgusting. Especialy in light of all of the city's other screaming transportation needs that are left untended to. Did you catch the story about the Thurman Street Bridge in the Trib the other day? The city's watching it slowly decay, and doing little about it:

But for now the city has more projects on its plate than it can pay for, among them extending the Portland Streetcar, renovating Burnside Street, building the aerial tram and rebuilding the downtown transit mall. The Thurman Street Bridge, beloved as it may be, is barely on the city’s list of priorities.

So far, through smoke and mirrors, the city's been able to say with a straight face that it doesn't have much money into the construction of the aerial tram. I think they've been saying something like $1 million.

But nobody's been talking about the many, many additional millions behind the curtain, and it is high time for that discussion to begin, as serious construction on the city's Goofiest Toy Ever is reportedly about to begin.

Comments (5)

[rim shot]?

[my cheap shot at Comrade Leonard in comments to Half a Story should be here but I don't think the rules allow it.]

I'm already paying for the tram (via police cutbacks) to the tune ot $1,000-a-year due to car break-ins. But since the brake-in kid is back in the neighborhood (2 cars hit this week) maybe I can get a discount off my 1.25%-PDX-kiddy-tax by showing my receipt for glass replacement.

The irony is that even PDOT --in their Strategic Plan-- recognizes "in order to protect the long term viability, safety, and cost effectiveness of the transportation system, steps to slow the rate of asset growth and complexity must be taken in the near term."

In other words, when you can't afford to maintain the streets you have, or, put another way, can't afford going to the doctor...maybe that's NOT the time to buy a new Plasma TV.

Whether the Tram's a good idea or not --and there's plenty of room to debate that-- the real question should be: can we afford it when we can't afford so many other, more pressing, needs?

The probelm is there is zero judgement applied.
The Tram [rim shot]is moving forward because the cost doesn't matter.
We are to belive it was a good idea at the original $8.5 million,
still a good idea at the current $40 million
and will be a good idea when it is completed at $60 million with operating costs resulting in each ride costing $50.00 in public services dollars with no genuine transportation benefit.
Vera will be long gone, OHSU Peter Kohler will be gone, PDOT directors gone, PDC Mazziotti gone, probably Planning director Gill Kelly gone and the dysfunction will settle on the mounting heap of other boondoggles.

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