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Southwest Corridor study decision looms

TriMet is suggesting a study of a first-of-its-kind transit line for the Southwest Corridor, a two-branch line that would end in both Tigard and Tualatin.

It's just one of the suggestions coming in as leaders get set to decide what warrants further study as part of the Southwest Corridor, a conceptual high-capacity transit line that would run from downtown Portland to Tigard and Tualatin.

A comment period on the proposed study is one chance for the public to offer feedback on what should be studied as part of the Southwest Corridor's draft environmental impact statement. That's an in-depth study of the transit line, to whittle down what would be the best option for a transit project. The comment period on the study ends Friday, but the elected officials who will choose what to advance in the study won't make a decision until June 9.

The study will examine what will happen if nothing is done — the so-called "no-build alternative." It'll also look at various possible routes, and study whether trains or buses would best serve the corridor.

The draft plan includes study of a tunnel under OHSU, Hillsdale, a variety of routes to Portland Community College's Sylvania Campus and the Tigard Triangle and a few routes running to Tualatin. It will study whether to build a tunnel under Hillsdale, or whether a surface-level bus route best serves that community. It suggested ending studies of a bored tunnel connecting OHSU and Hillsdale, and suggested planners stop looking at whether to run transit on Hall Boulevard in Tigard.

"We're looking to balance the further study of the most promising design options with the cost of studying more design options," said Malu Wilkinson, Metro's project manager for the Southwest Corridor study. "The more design options we have, the more expensive the study will be. So we try to balance that and take the great ones forward."

What goes into the environmental study will be determined June 9 by the Southwest Corridor Steering Committee.

"It's really important for people to weigh in — both if they like what the staff recommendation is, and if they don't," Wilkinson said. "The steering committee needs to know if they like it, that's helpful information."

A split line?

The steering committee consists primarily of elected officials from the cities in the Southwest Corridor study area. The steering committee's vote on what to study in the DEIS, then, is an early barometer of what those leaders think could be politically feasible to pursue down the road. After all, why send something to the DEIS for study if there's serious doubt that there might be political will to build it later?

"We want to be studying something that is reasonable, that's actually fundable, that our region could actually put in place on the ground," Wilkinson said. "We don’t want to waste public resources studying something that is unlikely for us to be within our reach."

TriMet's suggestion of a split-end transit line, which was mentioned by Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen at a meeting of the ID Southwest group Tuesday in Portland, would be a first for high capacity transit in the Portland region.

Essentially, buses or trains on the Southwest Corridor transit line would follow the same route from Portland to as far south as Beveland Road in Tigard. From there, some trains or buses would branch east to downtown Tigard; others would head south to Tualatin.

TriMet Project Manager Dave Unsworth said a transit line that goes from Tualatin to Tigard before continuing on to Portland would add at least 3 minutes, each way, to a transit commute. That's a half hour a week extra on transit — 25 hours over the course of the year for someone who rides transit daily.

Transit riders trying to get between Tigard and Tualatin could still use the WES Commuter Rail during its hours, or transfer between branches of the transit line at the point that they meet.

The split-branch line is just one of dozens of concepts that could be pushed into further study – decisions that the steering committee will have to make June 9.

"Everybody's going to bring some ideas back that will modify it (the environmental impact statement)," Unsworth said. "This could be one of those."

Nick Christensen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-813-7583. Follow Metro on Twitter @oregonmetro.