United Streetcar failed to live up to jobs expectations

Officials thought hundreds of full-time manufacturing jobs would be created but the final tally was 59.

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Officials thought hundreds of full-time manufacturing jobs would be created by investing in United Streetcar. The final tally was 59.

State officials earmarked $20 million for the project that was run by Oregon Iron Works, the parent company of United Streetcar, OregonLive.com reports.

In 2007, the Legislature authorized $20 million in lottery money to buy more streetcars from “an Oregon-based and Oregon-owned manufacturer” – a description that fit only United Streetcar. The bill cited “an emerging market” that Oregon was uniquely positioned to serve. Portland in 2009 again turned to United Streetcar, using the $20 million grant to order six vehicles. After design problems and delays, Portland reduced its order to five and eventually dipped into about $2 million in discretionary money to buy the sixth – delivered by United Streetcar in November 2014.

But with no future business lined up, United Streetcar cut ties with its president, Kevin Clarke, late last year. Oregon Iron Works converted its streetcar factory to produce high-speed boats. And in February, state officials administratively dissolved the company because it didn’t submit an annual report or a $100 filing fee. Yraguen, the Oregon Iron Works president, said in a December interview that entering the streetcar business “has not proven to be a good return on our investment today,” but the company would “take risks and continue to pursue opportunities.”

United Streetcar could have earned an additional $350,000 if the company could prove it had created 100 jobs by Nov. 21. The company never submitted a request for the funding.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports the “streetcar revival is wavering in some cities.”

Arlington, Va., and Washington D.C. are both backtracking on plans to lay the expensive tracks.

Yet as several cities inaugurate new systems or expand older ones, the streetcar revolution, facing fiscal and operational challenges, has stalled elsewhere. Last July, San Antonio abandoned its planned streetcar system after changing mayors, reallocating the $92 million it had set aside. Even the most ardent streetcar supporters acknowledge that the challenges are daunting, though they argue that the rewards far outweigh the costs in terms of the economic development and quality of life that make cities more livable and attractive.

William S. Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation and a strong right-leaning voice for streetcars, said that trolleys remained “not only a viable but an essential component” of successful cities. “That said, there have been some blunders.” These include, he said, building short lines “that don’t go anywhere,” infrequent service and excessive and widely varying costs per mile, from $5.1 million in Kenosha, Wis., to $67.5 million in Washington.

Meanwhile, Metro is seeking a funding source for transportation infrastructure projects.

An advisory committee has been launched to address the matter, the Portland Tribune reports.

“We don’t have a specific direction yet. We’re just aware that transportation is very important to the region and funds are limited,” says Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, who chairs the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and the group’s Finance Subcommittee, which is exploring the new funding source. The advisory committee, known as JPACT, is a 17-member panel that advises the elected Metro Council on regional transportation issues.

At the subcommittee’s request, Metro held a workshop with local transportation officials last week to discuss defining “a regional transportation system of mutual funding interest.” The goal was to see if regional leaders could agree on such a definition, which would then be presented to the JPACT and ultimately the Metro Council. Only then will potential revenue sources, such as a new tax or fee, be discussed, Dirksen says.

RELATED NEWS: Oregon Business debuts a new “Hot Topics/Cool Talks” breakfast discussion series on April 21. The discussion, “Will Portland build the next Uber?” features representatives from the mobile tech startup community, regulatory agencies and Uber. Register for the event here: http://orebz.com/1HYfM37