WL council presses TriMet for more service
Ask around and you'll find that bus service — or lack thereof — is a bit of a sore subject for West Linn residents.
There are only two TriMet bus lines that run through the city — Route 35 along Highway 43 into Portland and Route 154, which loops through the Willamette area. The utilities of those lines are limited, particularly when traveling within the city, and residents in hilltop neighborhoods like Savanna Oaks or Hidden Springs find the bus lines difficult to access.
TriMet Senior Planner Tom Mills heard all of that and more when he appeared at a West Linn City Council Work Session Monday, Dec. 18, to present an update on the local transit agency's latest work. TriMet is continuing to evaluate the rollout of its Southwest Service Enhancement Plan, which was released in late 2015 and proposes a series of changes to improve its service in the southwest corridor of the Portland metro area.
"It was an effort to really think about how the region is growing and how we as a region want to see the transit system grow," Mills said. "The area is growing rapidly and congestion is growing with that."
And there are several potential changes that center directly on West Linn.
"Starting with Bus Line 35, along Highway 43, this bus line we recommend be 'frequent service' — every 15 minutes or better, every day of the week," Mills said. "Typically that would be every 10 minutes or so during rush hour, and midday maybe every 15 minutes. ... That includes weekends, though service might start later (in the day)."
Currently, buses run along Highway 43 at intervals between 20 and 30 minutes.
Another TriMet proposal focused on the much discussed hilltop area in West Linn.
"We also recommended that a new bus line be created that runs up Salamo (Road) to Rosemont (Road) and Stafford (Road), then onto McVey (Avenue) into Lake Oswego," Mills said. "And it would also go through the Willamette town center. That's recommended as a rush hour bus on weekdays — it would be getting folks to the transit center for Line 35 and or other (lines)."
Mills noted that this particular line would be covering an area that is less densely populated than others in West Linn.
"One of the challenges with that line is, going along Rosemont and Stafford, those are pretty underdeveloped, so we would be capturing riders primarily on Salamo and at the (Willamette) town center," Mills said. "But lower development areas mean we wouldn't be stopping as much, so it would be faster transit."
Finally, pointing to a map that illustrates all of the potential changes, Mills noted the "yellow blob" that covered some segments of the southwest sector — including some areas of West Linn. This, he said, was where residents might one day be covered by a "Community/Jobs Connector Service."
"There are areas such as this that have not had a lot of development, but there is demand for some sort of transit connection," Mills said. "What we do is find federal or state funds that are designed for creating these service, and pass those through a third party — usually a nonprofit — to run the service."
This "Community Connector" service — which would likely use smaller shuttle vehicles — could run from Oregon City into West Linn and on to Tualatin, Mills said, though the exact routes would be flexible. He pointed to Forest Grove as a local city that uses the service; in its case, the shuttle rides are handled by the nonprofit agency Ride Connection.
"We think a connection should happen, but we don't want to tell you what the line should be," Mills said. "That should be worked out through a third party."
TriMet recently saw several new revenue streams open up, with a payroll and self-employment tax increase going into effect Jan. 1, 2017 and the Legislature passing a $5.3 billion transportation bill this summer that allocated additional funds to TriMet. However, Mills said there is no timeframe for when these proposed changes could be implemented and the plans are subject to change.
"We call it a vision because it can change," he said. "It's not locked in stone — this was all created before we increased the payroll tax and before (the transportation bill) passed."
The presentation was met with mixed reaction from the council.
"I have some concerns," City Council President Brenda Perry said. "I'm pleased to hear about the increased service, but there's this big blank area in West Linn on the hill where people can't access service. There are four councilors here currently who can't get to Line 35 without difficulty."
She added that she was concerned that a new Rosemont/Salamo line would be "setting itself up to fail" because of the lower population in the area.
"The hills are really serious," City Councilor Bob Martin added. "Even if you add the Rosemont line, you still won't reach most people on the hill."
City Councilor Rich Sakelik asked Mills what he thought the chances were that the Rosemont/Salamo line would be added eventually.
"I would put it on the low end," Mills said. "Between the three improvements, I would choose frequent service on Line 35 and the Community/Jobs Connector over the Salamo line."
Mayor Russ Axelrod agreed with other councilors that much of the city is "left pretty much dry" with regard to bus service, and the council urged Mills to make clear to his colleagues that West Linn is in need.
"When is it our turn to get a (new) service?" Perry said. "Because we have one-and-a-half buses right now, and that really is not appropriate."