Easy advice for a politician who can see disaster lying in wait just a mile or two down the road: Go public, and put your own spin on it, before the train wreck happens. Some of the leading lights in downtown Portland are on the verge of missing that advice before it's too late. They've been given a bit of a chance, though, thanks to the blogosphere.
The subject concerns one of the more ambitious ideas proposed recently for central Portland, the Tram. Portland's downtown is located close to the Willamette River waterfront. Its medical university and central health care center, the Oregon Health & Science University, is located not far southwest of downtown, but steeply uphill, centered on Marquam Hill (aka Pill Hill). That has long meant a disconnect between OHSU and the general downtown area, a frustration to a number of civic players.
The current solution in mind, greenlighted jointly by the city of Portland and OHSU, is the Tram, an aerial carrier that would - like a ski lift gondola - link the campus with South Waterfront, a gentrifying area (with, importantly, semi-decent parking and Tri-Met bus connections) immediately south of downtown. South Waterfront has seen investments of about $2 billion in recent years, much of it connected, if sometimes loosely, to concurrent development at OHSU. We are talking Major Money involvement here, and strong support from the Portland Establishment; the external signal there has been the enthusiasm on the Oregonian's editorial page.
The Tram would prospectively pick up people every five minutes and unload them three minutes later at the other end, up to an estimated 980 people an hour on two 79-passenger train cars. It sounds like a neat idea, though it has its skeptics.Planners still say they want it up and running by this fall, though that seems unlikely.
One reason is the cost, a figure that has gotten ever more slippery; numbers like $15 million were floated at one time, while figures like $60 million waft around now. The Tram web site does say that most of it the money will come from OHSU development funds and other partners, and little from the taxpayers: "At the present tram budget of $45 million, OHSU and its development partners pay all but $3.5 million of it. The $3.5 million of public funds (which is about 8 percent of the total project cost) does not come from general fund money that could be used to pay for police or city services. Instead, it will be collected over time from the rising property values spurred by the redevelopment of the South Waterfront."
Those assurances aren't convincing everyone. (more…)