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TriMet announces ‘buttoning-up’ of SW Corridor at final advisory committee meeting

Posted by on November 13th, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Sketch of 53rd Avenue Station taken from the SW Corridor Conceptual Design Report.

Last night’s final meeting of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Community Advisory Committee was subdued. Part wake, part anecdotal post-mortem, this group of citizen-volunteers had met monthly for almost two years, and they parted without the satisfaction of knowing how their project had gone awry, or even the possibility of hugging one another other over a beer.

Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.

The closest they got to electoral insight came from Tyler Frisbee, Metro’s Policy and Federal Affairs Policy Manager, who summarized the election results. She noted that voters in all three counties had rejected Metro’s measure 26-218 but that “We had stronger support along areas where some of the major corridors were. So, stronger support out along TV Highway. Frankly, not great support from Southwest Portland.”

TriMet’s SW Corridor Communications Coordinator Joshua Mahar explained that TriMet plans to “sleep” the light rail project in early 2021, but also mentioned that “we talked to the Federal Transit Authority and discussed that it was still very prudent” to get the federal environment impact statements “completed and in the books” because “it would make any portion of this project, I believe, eligible for federal funding at a later time.” And, “In terms of project buttoning-up, a lot of what we’re doing, our team, is trying to get everything into a place where we can put it away, but it’s also very easy to take back out.”

Several meeting participants noted that a Biden administration might offer a more favorable climate for funding infrastructure and transportation projects.

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If TriMet or Metro intend to ever revisit this project they should carefully consider that a majority of Southwest voters rejected this measure, despite being the recipients of its most expensive project.

After contacting several SW Portland transportation activists, I got the sense that the light rail project never had a strong, homegrown constituency. SW Portland has been underinvested in for decades. It has the least sidewalk coverage of any Neighborhood Coalition in the city — over 65% of its arterials and collector streets lack sidewalks — and its stormwater infrastructure is inadequate to support improving that network. It doesn’t have a connected bike network, large swaths of southwest have no bicycling facilities at all. Several advocates spoke of not having the basic infrastructure needed to safely reach a light rail on Barbur Boulevard. Others feared that the the project itself would divert funding from more modest needs, like bus service, or that it would suck the oxygen out of the room for future infrastructure funding.

Lisa Caballero

In the end it feels like Metro and TriMet offered SW Portland a pair of fancy skiis, when what they needed was some socks, boots and gloves.

There is an upcoming Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project Steering Committee meeting on Monday, November 16th, from 9-10 a.m. More details at TriMet.org.

— Lisa Caballero lisacaballero853@gmail.com
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Jon
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Jon

I live in SW an usually support these type of transportation funding proposals but a payroll tax (that exempted Tri-Met and other public employers) which literally increases the cost of private employers to have employees did not seem like a good idea when unemployment is high and likely to go higher. Now would be the time to increase the incentives for employers to hire and keep staff instead of what this measure proposed. Also the complete lack of greenhouse gas reduction in these times made it an easy no vote. Personally I would like to see this sort of thing funded by increased fossil fuel taxes on consumers and freight. Those sorts of taxes would make fossil fuel transport more expensive and that would create the right incentives.

 
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I still have yet to hear a coherent explanation for why TriMet/Metro proposed a MAX line over a significantly-cheaper BRT line here. All of the benefits, none of the drawbacks.

However, before anything else is done, I’d like to see every major street have sidewalks. It’s the absolute bare minimum and it’s almost criminal negligence how few there are currently in southwest. In the many cities I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything comparable to the lack of infrastructure we have here in southwest, an entire city region completely lacking basic infrastructure.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Light rail is a useful development tool for an up-and-coming city of 300,000 – 500,000. But Portland is now in a bigger league, 650,000+, and it really needs to up its game on mass transit. Proposing yet another light rail line on Barbur is simply underwhelming. Aim big, build a subway, or a continuous gondola, or an overhead maglev.

FDUP
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FDUP

SW is a pretty hard nut to crack, and I’m not sure TriMet is up to it; sorry, I don’t want to pay through my property taxes! Propose a new sales tax to fund it, and lower the income tax at the same time and I am all for it! Most of the recent arrivals to the Portland Metro area are used to paying sales tax, it’s only the minority of old native Oregonian curmudgeons who oppose it anymore. But they are also accustomed to driving and the density required for light rail is never going to exist in SW PDX, people aren’t going to bike to the stations on the narrow roads and hills, and building a bunch of park-n-ride garages just means more construction, congestion and subsidizing driving habits. And please tell me how would this be any better than the failed WES?

Keith
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Keith

To respond to the 1st comment, TriMet contended that labor is one of the largest operational costs, and a MAX train holds more passengers than a bus or BRT resulting in lower operating cost (in theory at least). The catch is, of course, the train needs to be full. for the math to work. Another part of the argument was that 50% of the capital costs to build the line would be bourn by the feds, but the O&M was TriMet’s responsibility.

As a long-time SW resident and active transportation advocate, I was really excited about the SW Corridor project when it started, but realized at the beginning that as the 7th light rail project in the region, it didn’t have the highest potential due to its low density suburban character. However, I felt that if done thoughtfully, it could still be a success.

Then as cost considerations forced the route to miss the important Portland destinations including OHSU/Veterans Hospital, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, and PCC for legitimate cost reasons, the line became less compelling because of reduced accessibility. But I continued to hope that with a serious plan and strategy to connect the MAX with these destination centers and surrounding neighborhoods with 1st class pedestrian and bike facilities, it could still be a success.

Unfortunately, the project went a different direction by:
1) Obsessing over vehicular throughput on Barbur and other major streets (12 of the 23 Draft Environmental Impact Statement documents pertained to traffic analysis) and glossing over walking and bicycling.
2) Making no serious strategic attempt to connect the missed destinations and surrounding neighborhoods to transit with good pedestrian and bike facilities. Instead, the project focus was on park & ride. Mostly eyewash and wishful thinking was applied to pedestrian and cyclist access needs.

I certainly can’t speak for other SW residents, but I reluctantly gave up on this project because it was clearly going to be very expensive without corresponding benefit.

qqq
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qqq

The thing I really liked about that light rail route was that if it were built, it would take other SW routes that I thought would be even worse off the table.

Matt D
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Matt D

TriMet and Metro are so out of touch with the community that it’s getting quite SAD. As a transit fanatic living in Portland, observing cities like Seattle and Austin, TX pursue much more visionary projects with voter backing, I’m just… Grumpy about all this.

CCT
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CCT

I voted no, despite being FOR the light rail. For those who say ‘the density isn’t there,’ it WILL be… some 10% of America – not 10% of Georgia, or Arizona, but America – will be moving, many to the PNW, to escape climate change (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html). All that light-industrial turned to housing means a light rail will be needed to unclog I5 and Barbur. However, what was also needed was a way to get those from new housing UPHILL from this corridor to it, and they simply failed to do so. You can’t reduce carbon emissions by making parkNrides your status quo. Or not connecting to OHSU and PCC. Or worrying about commuters on Barbur having one lane (take the train!). Or increasing suburban sprawl by fixing highways elsewhere to make traffic easier! So yes, please bring up light rail again, with adequate connections for all of those who lived off of it. Or re-plan SW as a region of small neighborhoods with services, so residents don’t need to commute for work, etc.

As for sidewalks in SW, it will never happen; PBOT has flatly said so. Why? Because the sewers out there can support EITHER the sewage from the projected 40% housing growth in SW, OR the stormwater runoff from new sidewalks, but not both… so they went with the growth, and pedestrians sharing shoulders with bikes, unprotected from all those new residents’ cars. It would take a huge bond to fix those sewers, and that’s outta PBOT’s hands. What they CAN do is stop pretending the best solution is no solution. SWIM is a great start, but the city needs to allot more money to programs like that. This isnt a case of taking money away from the east side needs, or equity issues (SW has plenty of equity issues, it ain’t all Dunthorpe) – it’s a case of expecting some 70K people to move to a region, give them no way to get around except cars, and then expecting to meet your Carbon, Vision Zero and transit goals. Lunacy.

Rail spine that has numerous bus lines, sidewalks and bike lanes leading to it should be the starting point for the next project.
Might actually pass…

David LaPorte
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David LaPorte

Real BRT would be a great alternative, but will never actually happen because of BRT creep, especially as long as ODOT owns Barbur. What we would end up with is a mildly more frequent and effective Barbur bus, like the Division Transit Project. And no change to driving capacity. “BRT” in the US is almost never true BRT.

Eawriste
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Eawriste

My hope for the future of this project is that the most important connection (ie to OHSU) will be built as a part of the downtown tunnel system connecting Lloyd, Goose Hollow and PSU/OHSU. Right now the MAX system is impractical for commuters traveling through downtown/Lloyd. A connection along Powell and a downtown tunnel should be the top priorities.

rick
Guest
rick

All of Southwest region needs a ban of new construction of new drive-thrus. It needs rerouted buses ((2014 TriMet sw service plan) and rebuilt paper street trails and boardwalks and new sidewalks and street lamps.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I’m a resident of SW Portland and I’m looking forward to all of the good ideas for improving transit in SW Portland in future – since this one obviously wasn’t good enough (or maybe too good, as Lisa implies). In the meantime – for the next 20-30 years – people will continue to drive in this part of Portland, since bus service is so scattered and irregular, and cycling facilities – even walking facilities – are largely nonexistent. The many old people who live in SW, who are used to driving everywhere, won’t change their behavior, and now neither will young people who move here.

I’ll be very interested in seeing PBOT’s new plans for dealing with the two Barbur bridges that are such an impediment to cycling. I had understood that PBOT was counting on the SW Corridor project to replace the two bridges and add cycle lanes. Now that the project is dead, what’s the new plan?

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I have in-laws that live near the PCC Sylvania campus, a few blocks off Capital Hwy. I’ve stayed there in the past and have commuted to work downtown via public transportation. It was hard. The walk from their house to the nearest bus stop takes about 7-10 minutes. Then the route to downtown isn’t too bad, but still takes a good 20-30 minutes, then I had a 5 minute walk to my work. So the minimum time to get to work was 32 minutes, it was usually more like 45. It was a heck of a lot cheaper to ride the bus than drive and park at one of the Smart Parks, however it was not nearly as comfortable. The bus ride home in the evening took usually an hour, which was on par with the drive home, but it’s hard for the bus to compete with the individual space a car brings.

I’ve also done the same trip by bicycle and I don’t wish that upon anyone that doesn’t have to. I suppose if you wanted to replace your workout with the ride then fine, but I never enjoyed how exhausted I was at the end of the ride.

And now for my in-laws, they would never take the bus or a Max if there was one. They’re liberal and open minded but they’re so used to driving. I imagine a lot of the neighbors are the same way. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone waiting at the bus stop other than me and I rarely witnessed someone riding their bike on Capital. I have to say, it’s just not a part of Portland where people walk, ride, or take transit to their destinations. It’s too hilly, people’s incomes are too high where they can afford to drive and park, and the overall culture is more car-centric. My in-laws voted no on the transportation measure because they think the Max is too expensive and no one would ride it to shop at a luxury mall with a bunch of Teslas parked in the parking lot…