The Oregonian reported today that an independent engineering review of the tram shows the cost of the controversial gondola that will rise from the OHSU South Waterfront development to the "Pill Hill" location of OHSU's current facilities is now estimated at $55 million. City Council has already approved two increases in funding since the project was originally approved at $15.5 million three years ago without a line item budget proposal, contingency analysis, or architect and engineering fees. The independent analysis also noted serious design problems with the tram and that as yet there remains no complete cost accounting of the project to date, nor a detailed projection of future costs.
The project was pushed strongly by former mayor, Vera Katz, and has continued under the "leadership" of her former Chief of Staff and current City Commissioner, Sam Adams. A "non-profit" organization, the Portland Aerial Tram Inc., included a virtual who's who of big developers being paid up to $250/hr, as well as former Commissioner (and probably now a happy loser in the 2004 mayor race), Jim Francesconi.
As the aerial tram project proceeded to run into greater and greater cost and schedule problems, local journalists began uncovering various memos indicating that both PATI and City Hall had foreknowledge of the weak estimates put forward to justify the project three years ago. Katz and Francesconi refuse to talk to the press about the issue, and City Hall has since blamed everybody from their own staff to the PATI board, to Portland citizens themselves for the fiasco. That obviously doesn't work for Sam Adams, who was Chief of Staff under Katz, and publically called for the resignation of PATI Director, Vic Rhodes. Adams went public that Rhodes had resigned, when in fact he did not, further embarassing the freshman Commissioner.
Meanwhile, OHSU and the City of Portland continue to point the finger at each other for the blame. Tom Potter, the only guy who wasn't around when the tram project began, has relieved Adams of supervision over the tram and has distributed responsibility to all of City Council. Potter has also suggested turning the project over to that black hole of non-compliance with State urban development, impact reporting, the Portland Development Commission.
Meanwhile Erik Sten, Randy Leonard, and Dan Saltzman (incidentally an MS in Engineering from MIT who should have been the first to spot the absurdity of the initial proposal) have voted to keep the project going with additional money on three different occasions. Only now has Leonard been the first to publicly declare an end to any additional city money. Sten and Saltzman, both up for reelection in May, have been the most vociferous in their accusation of being misled by their own staff and finger-pointing at others for the reason why they voted for the project three times without ever seeing a line-item budget proposal.
Nevertheless, the mainstream media, PATI, City Hall, OHSU's Board, and Portland's construction moguls, continue to insist that the project must go forward and the ends justify the means, no matter how much it costs. This at a time when Tom Potter is asking Portland residents to vote to amend the City Charter to allow for the imposition of a city-imposed personal income tax to keep schools open. Randy Leonard has publicly speculated that the aerial tram will ultimately cost in excess of $100 million, plus annual maintenance expenses--an amount exceeding what Potter hopes to get from his income tax.