Good transit bill in peril as legislative session winds to a close

Imagine being able to take public transit from the Portland Airport to the Salem capitol, with only one transfer, for a few dollars, and without the traffic or associated carbon pollution. Right now you can get as far as Wilsonville before you need to rely on a vehicle or some other creative means.

The first step in filling that gap – connecting two of Oregon’s major metro areas by public transit for the first time since the 1940s – is passing Senate Bill 1572. This widely supported bill would study the feasibility of extending TriMet’s WES (Westside Express Service) an additional 31 miles from its current southern terminus.

But right now, this visionary opportunity is sitting idle while the Joint Committee on Ways and Means decides which bills receive funding and which don’t. We have less than a week left in session, if that, and little indication that this bill will ever make it to the Senate or House floors for a vote.

We're pushing hard, along with partner cities and organizations, to get this study prioritized this session. SB 1572 would require ODOT to report back to the legislature in December 2024 with findings and recommendations to ideally use the former Oregon Electric Railway line, now owned by Portland & Western and BNSF railroads, and add WES stops in Donald, Woodburn, and Keizer, as well as Salem.

We’ll keep working until the last gavel drops, but the reality of short sessions is that they have to pack in the bills and rush timelines in order to pass legislation by the end of their five-week crunch, which under normal circumstances lasts more than five months. Pair that with headline-worthy bills that get priority attention, and it’s inevitable that less notable, good bills will risk petering out.

We hope SB 1572 isn’t one of them.