In bid for federal funding, Metro shares list of regional transit project priorities

A new streetcar line into northwest industrial area is on the list.
(Graphic: Portland Streetcar)

A new streetcar line in northwest Portland, bus rapid transit on 82nd Avenue, the SW Corridor.

“We need to… make sure that any pricing program helps the region create a stronger transportation system, rather than stranding people without options.”
— Shirley Craddick, Metro councilor and JPACT chair

These are just a few of the projects at the front of the line for $108 billion in Federal Transit Administration grants that will be available via the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The list was shared by Metro at this morning’s meeting of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT), a group of 17 mayors, commissioners, and other elected officials and transportation agency representatives from around the region.

In a letter addressed to Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as Oregon’s Congressional representatives (minus Peter DeFazio, who’s retiring this year), Metro lists seven transit projects they want to see funded over the next five years.

“We are excited about the numerous ways that [the IIJA] legislation could benefit the greater Portland region including funds for repairing roads and bridges, building a network of electric vehicle chargers, and improvements to our transit system, all with a focus on equity, safety, sustainability, and climate change mitigation,” the letter, which is signed by Metro Councilor and JPACT Chair Shirley Craddick, says. “We wanted to take this moment to provide you with a preview of [these projects] so that you can help us advocate for them with the Federal Transit Administration.”

Metro’s priorities are based in part on a perceived need to respond to impacts from various road pricing programs. As Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation all prep for tolling and congestion pricing plans, elected officials are aware of rising concerns that the plans won’t get support unless people have quality alternatives to avoid new driving fees.

“The projects identified below are critical components of the cross-regional network we will need to invest in to make sure that any pricing program helps the region create a stronger transportation system, rather than stranding people without options,” the letter says.

The projects, which the letter says are listed in no particular order of priority, are outlined as follows:

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Regional Bus Rapid Transit network beginning with 82nd Avenue and Tualatin Valley Highway
JPACT says the 82nd Avenue and Tualatin Valley Highway projects are “critical early components in the development of the region’s bus rapid transit (BRT) network plan,” and they seek federal funds to modernize these corridors, focusing on increasing transit. The TV Highway BRT plan was part of a funding measure rejected in 2020, so federal funding will be necessary.

These projects are anticipated to be Small Starts or New Starts projects, which are federal grants coming from a different pot of money than the IIJA grants.

Zero Emission Bus infrastructure
Metro wants to veer away from diesel buses and implement electric buses to operate in the Portland region, but these are costly and require more funding. South Metro Area Regional Transit began operating electric buses in 2018, and TriMet is working on purchasing 24 of them, with both transit operators intending to phase out diesel buses by 2040. This transition will require federal funding.

Interstate Bridge Replacement High-Capacity Transit Component
Metro has provided funding support for the controversial Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP), which is the project to widen Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver across the Columbia River. But it did require the IBRP team to include high-capacity transit – either light-rail or bus rapid transit with a dedicated lane – in the project, and they want federal funding help pay for it.

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Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project
Apparently, the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project, which Portland region voters nixed funding for in 2020, isn’t dead yet.

The JPACT letter says this project is critical for “connecting the southwest part of our region with major medical and education centers, including OHSU and VA medical centers, Portland Community College, and Portland State University, and downtown Portland” and it’s close to shovel-ready and in the pipeline for a New Starts Capital Investment Grant. Metro, TriMet and the Federal Transit Administration, the agencies behind the project, recently released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project, an indication it’s something they aren’t ready to shelve yet. Now that they’re asking for federal funding, SW Corridor enthusiasts may have more reason for hope.

Light Rail overpass at 185th Avenue in Washington County
JPACT says this light rail overpass was identified as a need almost 30 years ago when the MAX Blue Line was developed. But now, Washington County is heavily developed, so JPACT says it’s really necessary to move the light rail from its at-grade level, which results in long traffic delays. A light rail overpass at 185th Avenue would allow the train to go over the street instead.

Portland Streetcar extension in Northwest Portland
The Northwest Portland Street Expansion, has been in the works for several years and was approved for an FTA land use planning grant in 2018.

According to the JPACT letter, this project “offers an opportunity to leverage existing streetcar service with a 1.3-mile extension through undeveloped property adjacent to Montgomery Park, “connecting two large formerly industrial sites which could be potential areas for rezoning and equitable development.” “This streetcar extension has the potential to create a walkable, climate-friendly neighborhood with hundreds of units of additional affordable housing.”

Transit infrastructure investments in the South Metro I-205 Corridor to support regional transit access
ODOT is implementing regional pricing programs to charge people driving in the south Portland Metro area on I-205 and I-5. Metro is seeking federal funding to make sure people who commute in the region are able to access affordable transit alternatives to driving, and will likely ask for assistance with projects including “improvements to the Oregon City Transit Center and SMART transit facility, as well as facilities to support operations connection residential and employment areas between Clackamas and Washington counties in the southern part of the region.”


ODOT estimates there will be about $100 billion in competitive federal grants up for grabs and Oregon will receive about $1 billion of it. Stay tuned as the lobbying efforts intensify.

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cmh89
cmh89
4 months ago

Looks like a good mix of projects. Yes to BRT in east Portland! I see the SW Corridor real estate development project is gonna be a zombie. Do we know which firm greased Metro’s palms to get that travesty so high up their priority list?

maccoinnich
maccoinnich
4 months ago

That seems like a very long list of projects if there’s going to be $1 billion available for the entire state.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
4 months ago

Federal funding? Fuggitabaudit when repubs reclaim Congress. It’ll be TAX CUTS for the rich!

ivan
ivan
4 months ago

Metro lists seven transit projects they want to see funded over the next five years.

In 2050 when I land my spaceship in Portland, I look forward to seeing the 1.5 projects that have been completed. (Metro will have been hard at work, you see, writing Very Stern Letters opposing a new 12-lane expansion to I-5.)

Brendan P
Brendan P
4 months ago

rapid bus on 82nd and tv hwy would be amazing and a huge benefit to the region!!!

Tim
Tim
4 months ago

Can we please stop building useless streetcar lines. BRT is amazing, but streetcars are just buses that get stuck behind poorly parked cars.

Asher Atkinson
Asher Atkinson
4 months ago

Didn’t voters overwhelmingly reject the SW Corridor Light Rail project in the last election? Technically, voters rejected the funding mechanism, but generally the vote was a reflection of citizen priorities. Given the project price tag is three billion, even if the presumed one billion is available and the project took it all, two billion remains. Can we please accept this project is dead and focus on less grandiose dreams.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
4 months ago
Reply to  Asher Atkinson

But but think of all those constructions jobs . . .
But but think of all those over projected ridership figures . . .
But but think of those poor CEOs who’ll have to forgoe having a new beach house if we don’t have them build the light rail for us . . .
But but think of all those campaign donations lost . . .
/s

John D.
John D.
4 months ago

A few thoughts:

Regional Bus Rapid Transit
This is great. We really need to step up our game when it comes to our major bus routes. Both of these projects would be great as catalysts for other safety changes. TV Hwy is one of the deadliest roads in the state, and desperately needs safety improvements. I hope that a BRT(or BRT-ish) project can help with that.

Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project
Glad to see this is still on the table. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that “voters killed it”, it was more like multi-billion $$$ corporations spent a ton of money fighting the funding mechanism. Getting better transit into Southwest won’t be cheaper in another 10, 20, or 30 years in the future, so let’s get it done, and start seeing the benefits.

Light Rail overpass at 185th Avenue in Washington County
While I don’t like the way that the need is framed, I do think that this project is a good idea, IF they make sure that the 52 bus on Farmington is improved to frequent service, and IF they fix the terrible, car-oriented intersection at 185th and Baseline. Create an actual protected intersection, and get rid of the terrible clover-leaf style turn on Stepping Stone.

Portland Streetcar extension in Northwest Portland
This is fine I guess. It will help connect the far Northwest part of Northwest, and could help spur transit oriented development north of Vaughn. I’d be much more excited to see the Streetcar extended south to John’s Landing/Willamette park (Basically the old Lake Oswego expansion, minus Lake Oswego.) John’s Landing feels so cut off from downtown, despite being so close, and the South Waterfront could really benefit from more people traveling through (on bike/transit) to help the neighborhood feel more alive.

Transit infrastructure investments in the South Metro I-205 Corridor to support regional transit access
This one could be quite interesting. There’s a real gap in Transit service between the southern parts of Washington and Clackamas Counties. I’m generally hesitant about limited stop express buses, but I do wonder if a bus connecting Clackamas, Oregon City, West Linn, Tualatin, and Tigard could work. It’s also worth remembering that the largest chunk of unbuilt Urban-Reserve land in the Metro area is along 205 in the Stafford area. Whenever that gets added to the Urban Grown Boundary and development is planned, there needs to be a good High Capacity transit plan from the start, or we’ll end up with another car-oriented hellscape.

 
 
4 months ago

TriMet’s and Metro’s infatuation with streetcars is bizarre. They take the bad aspects of buses and light-rail from each: they’re slow and get stuck in traffic like buses, but don’t have the flexibility a bus has and have to stop at their stops regardless of if someone needs to use it.

Seems like they’ve learned nothing from the Southwest Corridor failure in 2020. If the line misses all of the regional destinations, nobody’s going to use it. It needs a tunnel under OHSU and needs to serve the PCC campus, at a minimum, or it’s going to be an expensive waste of money.

BRT on TV Highway and 82nd though? Heck yes! This is the sort of transit we need more of. Metro and TriMet should divert the funding from the streetcar expansion to build more BRT lines elsewhere too, like along Lombard, Chavez, or Beaverton-Hillsdale/Farmington.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to   

Streetcars are also loud and uncomfortable, or at least the ones we build are. It feels like there is a flat spot on each of the wheels.

Bobby U
Bobby U
4 months ago
Reply to   

RE: SW Corridor
I have the same issues with exiting WES stations. They are in the middle of no where AND they have piddling bus connections. Why don’t the 36 or 37 have stops at the Tualatin Station? Why is the Washington Square transit center half a mile away from the Hall/Nimbus Station?
It seems like the WES would be much more effective as a trunk line if it actually had feeder buses, not just car-dependent park and rides.

Luke
Luke
4 months ago

I still feel like as much as Portland definitely could use more transit, it needs to make much, much better use of what it already has. Better frequencies would help, but there’s still far too much single-family housing throughout the entire region. Unmet housing demand is among the things slowly killing California; don’t let that process start here.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Luke

We shouldn’t be building any new high-capacity transit until we can commit to running 10-minute or better service frequencies on all of our MAX lines on peak, and no worse than 15-minute headways off-peak. Trimet is spending $200 million to improve the Red Line to the airport, but I can’t even rely on it to catch an early flight at PDX because it runs 30 minute headways until 7:30am. If you miss your train, you would miss your flight because you’ll be waiting 30 minutes for the next one.

cmh89
cmh89
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

The MAX is basically like a very expensive, slow local bus. TriMet has never successfully developed feeder lines to the MAX. Most people aren’t even worried about the 30 minute head way because the 45 minute ride to get to a red line stop makes it a no go.

I live in North Portland and worked at a building located at a yellow line stop and utilizing the yellow line wasn’t even in the list of options Google Maps gives you for transit it was so slow.

Luke
Luke
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I can’t deny; every time I walk through Beaverton Transit Center and see a Red Line train just sitting there (to say nothing of all the buses), it drives me nuts. Yes, it’s a terminal station, but think of all the money being wasted on vehicles not in service! I’m also still very much so of the opinion that the Red Line needs to go down to Tigard and Tualatin, maybe even Wilsonville, but that would require Trimet to buy the rail from the freight line, and the freight line to build a spur from Wilsonville to Hillsboro. A fantasy, for now at least, anyway.

Dave
Dave
4 months ago
Reply to  Luke

Running the red line down to Tigard and Tualatin and moving the freight line is likely much less expensive than building the SW corridor project. I’ve been pushing this for years but none of the elected officials will take it seriously.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Red Line to Tualatin and BRT on Barbur to Sherwood would boost ridership more than the proposed SW Corridor light rail, and cost significantly less.

Bobby U
Bobby U
4 months ago
Reply to  Luke

While there are certainly housing supply issues, most of the Metro area has sufficient density to support a high quality transit system.
But I definitely agree that Trimet could make better use of the infrastructure it already has. Better frequencies would help a lot, which is why I’m confused why they’re using the articulating buses on the new FX line. Why not use regular buses and increase frequency to every 8 minutes? It gets you the same increase in capacity with the added benefit of better frequency.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Bobby U

Best practices for BRT are bendy busses with all-door boarding to reduce station dwell times. If you have a busy stop like 82nd and Division where dozens are getting on and off at a time, an articulated bus with all-door boarding will have significantly shorter stop times. This adds up fast on busy lines, and speeds up the entire trip. Articulated bus operating costs are barely more than a 40ft bus, because the biggest cost is the operator.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

But sending those same bendy buses down slow congested streets like inner Division and across the often-blocked UPRR crossing at 8th undoes all the gain they get with faster boarding elsewhere.

The FX feels like a project that was designed to capture funding, not something that was planned for maximum benefit of riders.

Laura
Laura
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Agree. Also the new bendy, bright green buses were spec’d too wide…parts of SE Division are so narrow they need to come to a near stop to pass. Saw it at SE 45th and again by SE 26th. Nothing is going to be “rapid” about this implementation of “BRT.”

Matt D
Matt D
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes, it is. The Steering Committee said that themselves after cutting Mount Hood Community College from the route.

curly
curly
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It was designed with the available funding. The original project was true BRT from MHCC to Portland city center down Division then south to Powell and to the central city. A $375 million project (New Start), shaved to $175 million (Small Start) probably because of the political climate at the time, but Outer Division was in desperate need of improvements, so the decision was made for the Small Start funding source.

Note that the Outer Division portion of this transit project is being built on existing ROW. No one really knows how the bike infrastructure will work. I’m skeptical.

82nd Avenue will have to be true BRT. It would be a travesty if the busiest bus line in Portland is considered for anything less.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  curly

TriMet told our neighborhood that the #2 bus is the busiest line in Portland. So… travesty incoming!

curly
curly
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It must be true then….or maybe they dropped the 7 from Bus line 72.
I believe they ranked 1 & 2 for most ridership.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
4 months ago
Reply to  Bobby U

Tri-Met just reduced service because they don’t have enough operators. This problem will likely persist. So there really isn’t a way to increase capacity by increasing the number of buses at the moment.

Add in the advantages of all door boarding and using these on high volume (especially the proposed BRT lines) is a no brainer.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
4 months ago

This list of projects just reinforces my desire to leave the Portland area once my child is off to university. Not that I oppose alternative transportation, but because all of these seem like a band-aid sort of solution. BRT is the only one that seems cost effective and actually “rapid”. The 185th Overpass and the Streetcar will cost a ton and take many years to happen after NIMBY lawsuits, impact studies, bid processes, and the like.

If tolling is the ultimate goal, suburbanites will bear the brunt of that since everything that Portland and Metro government does is hyper focused on getting city dwellers out of cars. It’s a big middle finger to people that moved a little further afield to find affordable housing. We’re not all SUV driving monsters that poo-poo livability. We also don’t see much advantage to trading the already expensive car commute for a longer commute time, packed buses and trains, and personal safety concerns (let’s be very honest about this – crime associated with homeless encampments and those suffering mental health issues is greater along transit corridors. The city is doing very little to protect the populace or help those souls that need housing/services).

Where is the innovation and the long-term vision? How about a wholesale revamp that buries some elements of the MAX? How about a true higher speed above ground express rail that connects the ‘burbs with the city core (We can sacrifice some road lanes to get this done!)? I can dream but our crop of “leaders” can only think to expand inefficient legacy systems and find more ways to tax us into compliance.

Allan Rudwick
4 months ago

The “light rail overpass” better be coming out of car driver’s pockets. It is totally unnecessary for the functioning of our transit system.

John D.
John D.
4 months ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

I’d be in support of it if, and only if, it came with a fix to the horrible intersection at 185th and Baseline.

As it stands, the Eastbound bike lane on Baseline interacts with BOTH the cars that are turning Northbound and turning Southbound from Baseline onto 185th, and cars turning Eastbound from 185th (in two different spots).

And by fix, I mean a real protected intersection, with concrete to separate bikes from cars, and with the ability to make safe left turns.

It should also include increasing the line 52 to frequent service.

If the only change is elevating the MAX line, then yeah, nah.

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
4 months ago

Some thoughts. First, transit is a mess right now, but will eventually recover.
Over the dozen plus years that I worked for more transportation options on Swan Island I heard many times from folks relocating here from comparable cities how good our transit system here is! Not to be taken for granted, but not to be just dissed either.
re Streetcar, it is worth noting that huge numbers of new housing units, affordable and otherwise, have been constructed over the last 20 years within a stone’s throw of our Streetcar lines. That alone is justification for its expansion to Montgomery Park and, I hope eventually to Hollywood. Dense urban communities are key to addressing global warming, and Streetcar has been transformative in that regard. Always cross tracks at 90 degrees!
Last, BRT sounds nice, but without a dedicated transit lane, it’s just a bigger bus with all door boarding. If you build a transit only lane to Tigard along Barbur…very expensive…why would you run a vehicle that at best can haul 100 riders in the peaks? Operators are the cost center of transit…why not a vehicle that can carry 400?? MAX.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Lenny Anderson

Why is the streetcar necessary for density? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that was full, so what am I missing?

The problem we have now is that transit has become unrideable for anyone who has a choice (witness TriMet’s plummeting ridership numbers). I believe security is the key, and I don’t know how we can make riders feel safe again, short of having guards everywhere.

I think that is the problem we need to solve, even before we start thinking about expanding the system. And I would also choose more frequent service over more area served, because I think if people feel they can depend on the service more, they will use it more.

Phillips
Phillips
4 months ago

I say this as a huge transit advocate and great remorse: the present time and conditions it seems wholly irresponsible and to be lining up at the trough after we have witnessed the abject failure of all our major transit projects to alleviate congestion, make meaningful transit based development popular and profitable, provide quality travel options to all classes of people. The list goes on and on. Outside of large events downtown LRT is not working. Purple line is a failure of design and imagination. Streetcar is an expensive marketing asset for real estate listings. And it all being ruined by out of control crime and vagrancy.

Danny P
Danny P
3 months ago

Why spend money for public transit adding lanes to TV highway when there’s a perfectly good railroad next to it? It would be cheaper and more efficient to build passing tracks in the railroad right of way and run low floor DMUs (like TxRail) at 15 to 30min frequencies (all day unlike WES) between Forest Grove and Beaverton TC. When done right, which the proposed BRT will not be, BRT can be great, but it will never be as fast, efficient, or have the capacity of a train.
Also, we need to build a subway under downtown Portland for the Red and Blue lines. The Steel Bridge is why all MAX lines are each limited to 15min headways and running the trains on the street is mind numbingly slow. With the subway, we could run Red and Blue line trains with 6min headways, each. Which could mean trains every 3min per direction at Sunset TC
After looking through the designs for the SW Corridor project, I think it’s a decent project, who’s high price tag has a lot to do with the terrain it has to go through. Would it be number one on my list of big projects? No, that would be the subway. But the price won’t get any lower and, unlike the other proposed projects, it’s shovel ready and construction could start in 1 to 2 years.