Portland, Oregon: Plan would raise parking fees - TriMet's financing for the proposed Interstate 205 light-rail line includes $1.25 an hour meter rates until 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Oregonian

TriMet's final financing plan for the proposed $494 million Interstate 205 light-rail line includes Portland parking meter increases that ruffled feathers inside and outside City Hall a few months ago.

The modified parking package is expected to win City Council approval on Aug. 4 as TriMet hurries to meet an Aug. 20 application deadline with the Federal Transit Administration.

TriMet's target of $197.4 million in local funding amounts to 40 percent of the project cost. The other 60 percent would come from federal transit grants.

The light-rail project includes new rails between Clackamas Town Center and Gateway, and revamping the Fifth and Sixth Avenue transit mall between Union Station and Portland State University in downtown Portland to include light-rail tracks.

Portland's share of local matching money includes $15 million in bonds to be paid off by increased parking-meter fees. In April, Mayor Vera Katz proposed the increases as part of the city's 2004-05 budget, but Commissioner Jim Francesconi, who heads the city's transportation department, attacked fees.

Francesconi will be proposing a modified parking-fee increase as part of a city funding package totaling $45.3 million for the rail project.

The proposed package would raise short-term parking meter rates from $1 to $1.25 an hour and long-term rates from 60 cents to $1.25 an hour. Meter hours would be extended from 6 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, but not to 9 p.m. as first proposed. They would take effect July 1, 2005.

Francesconi said revamping the transit mall to include light-rail tracks is "the most important downtown project in 25 years." He said it would boost jobs and housing downtown, as well as in Lents and Gateway.

The revised parking-fee plan would not impose meter fees on Sundays as earlier proposed. "We heard pretty loud and clear that everyone wanted to keep Sunday as a meter-free day," said Brant Williams, director of the Portland Office of Transportation.

Williams said the meter revenue also would raise $300,000 a year to increase Portland Streetcar service from every 14 minutes to 11 minutes during peak hours, and $500,000 annually for transit-mall management and maintenance.

The revenue also would make up about $300,000 a year on lost revenue from meters that would be removed from Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues as the transit mall expands to the south.

Scott Farris, a spokesman for Katz, said the argument between Francesconi and the mayor was over when the increases would take effect, this year or next.

"As a general notion, this has always been a part of the plan for paying for the transit mall," Farris said of the proposed increase in parking fees.

Overall, TriMet has negotiated with several local governments to arrive at $197.4 million in local funding. The final pieces include the city's $45.3 million as well as $20 million in tax increment urban renewal money from the Portland Development Commission.

Neil McFarlane, TriMet's capital projects director, said the transit agency can't afford to miss the federal application deadline because local match percentages are likely to rise.

He said there is "significant pressure" in Congress to raise that figure on major transit projects from 40 percent to 50 percent.

"There is risk if the project is delayed," McFarlane told the TriMet board of directors on Wednesday. "We feel some urgency to get this project approved at the 40 percent level."

Contributors to the $197.4 million local match package include Portland, TriMet, Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland State University and Clackamas County.

Portland's component includes $17 million from a local improvement district composed of downtown properties near the transit mall and $6.3 million composed of systems development charges and water and sewer relocation work.

Farris said he expects some objections to the local improvement district but not enough to scuttle the plan.

As part of its federal application, TriMet also must persuade federal officials that the agency has enough money to run the new light-rail trains for 20 years. To help meet that requirement, TriMet's board took the first step on Wednesday toward boosting the region's transit payroll tax by .01 percent, effective in January. A final vote is expected Aug. 11.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said the increase would generate $2.3 million a year. He said the added revenue would be devoted to new transit service only.

An increase in the payroll tax from 0.622 percent to 0.632 percent would raise the annual tax on a $50,000 salary from $311 a year to $316.

Some business advocates questioned whether the economy is strong enough to bear additional taxes. Jackie Babicky, a Portland Business Alliance representative, asked the TriMet board to hold off for a year.

"We do not think the economic recovery is sufficient at this time," she said. "It's still fledgling and fragile."

Last year, the Oregon Legislature authorized TriMet to raise the payroll tax as much as 0.1 percent, but with the increase spread over a decade.

Fred Leeson: 503-294-5946; fredleeson@news.oregonian.com



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