Fritz unhappy with options for Marquam Connector to OHSU
TriMet can tell you where a new light rail line in Southwest Portland is supposed to go, how long it could be, where stops and park-and-rides are to be located, and how much it might cost.
What TriMet cannot tell you is how light rail passengers headed to and from one of eleven medical institutions on Marquam Hill will get there from the proposed stop on Southwest Barbur Boulevard at Southwest Gibbs Street near the Under Armour offices. The transit agency calls this "a paramount component of the project," but a decision is eight months overdue.
The members of the steering committee for the $2.8 billion transit project were supposed to decide in June of 2019 whether funicular train cars or an elevator and bridge would be the means of getting an estimated 10,000 people a day up and down the short steep hill through the Terwilliger Wildlands.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz has made it clear she doesn't like either alternative. In an email to the SW Community Connection, she wrote, "I oppose the Marquam Hill connector. Either the funicular or the bridge/elevator will severely impact Terwilliger Parkway, and will only take passengers to the foot of Campus Drive with still a long trek up to the hospitals."
Fritz raised the same concerns in October of 2018. She told the Portland Tribune then that before the SW Corridor Steering Committee approves an option for a Marquam Connector, the City Council must weigh in. At that time, she specifically condemned the elevator/bridge option, which would build a 120-foot tower on Barbur Boulevard, where there is currently a synagogue.
Fritz, who lives in the West Portland Park neighborhood, is retiring after her term on the City Council ends this year. She still dislikes that idea and the funicular. "I believe the Marquam Hill connector in either configuration is an unnecessary expense with significant environmental and scenic impacts. Plus, the landing site on Barbur would be a perfect place for affordable housing," she wrote.
There's some question about whether the City Council will hear from TriMet on the Marquam Connector question at its April 1 or May 5 meeting. According to a "Memorandum of Understanding" passed by Council in November 2018, "Prior to Steering Committee decision on a Marquam Hill connection, there will be a City Council work session." Such a session has yet to take place.
TriMet remains committed to a Marquam Hill connection, which would cost anywhere from $20 million to $38 million depending on the option chosen.
"The Marquam Hill Connector will not be eliminated to reduce overall project costs — it's an essential element of the project," spokesperson Roberta Altstadt wrote in an email. "The connector is expected to serve about 10,000 trips per day, with most of those connecting to and from a light rail station and the shared transit way ("express") bus station at Gibbs and Barbur Boulevard."
Altstadt says the decision has been delayed so long due to ongoing discussions with Portland Parks and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over Terwilliger Parkway, and the State Historic Preservation Office because the Parkway is considered an "historic resource."
TriMet is still trying to find more than $90 million in savings on the projected cost of the entire SW Corridor project, which is currently estimated at $2.8 billion.
"We are hopeful that can include an update (on the Marquam Connector) at the Portland City Council work session on April 1 and the April (13) Steering Committee meeting. We do not have a precise deadline for the decision, but it will need to be settled in the next few months," Altstadt wrote.
The decision will have to be included in the final plan for the light rail project — called the Final Environmental Impact Statement — which was initially scheduled to be released in "early 2020" but has now been promised by "mid-summer 2020."
The SW Corridor project would construct TriMet's sixth light rail line, which would run 11 miles between Portland State University and the Bridgeport Village mall near Tualatin. The cost would be shared by local taxpayers and the Federal Transit Administration. Voters will probably get a chance to vote on the project in November 2020 when a Metro transportation project funding measure appears on the ballot. It was originally forecast by TriMet that the line would carry 43,000 passengers daily. But that estimate has been reduced to 38,000 passengers daily. Not building the Marquam Connector would lower that ridership estimate significantly. The Federal Transit Administration often bases funding decisions on those ridership estimates. The FTA would cover about half of the cost of building the light rail line.
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