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:
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.
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.