Light rail to Forest Grove? Oregon lawmaker says 'Why not?'
For more than 15 years now, state Sen. Chuck Riley has been pushing for an extension of the Metro area's regional light rail system beyond Hillsboro to Cornelius and Forest Grove.
When asked that same question during a conversation with the District 15 Democratic representative this past Monday, Feb. 8, the veteran legislator responded rather simply: "Why not?"
Riley introduced Senate Bill 308, which directs TriMet to study the feasibility of extending the light rail system westward to Forest Grove, on Jan. 11.
It was in 2005 that the senator first broached the possibility when he was in the House and was asked to support a similar bill for what became the MAX Green Line to the Clackamas Town Center.
"I told them I'd happily support such, but when do you plan to finish the Hillsboro line?" Riley recalled.
He said he's been bugging them ever since. But while he's been waylaid at times by "higher priorities," developments in recent years have again inspired the lawmaker to push for a westward expansion.
"Walmart has really increased the traffic on that stretch of (Tualatin Valley) Highway," Riley said. "And the other thing that happened is Pacific University building a campus in Hillsboro, so they now have campuses on both ends of that stretch where there's no light rail.
"I couldn't pass a bill that says 'build it," so I'm trying to pass a bill that tells us why you're not going to build it."
Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax too has been a long-time fan of a westward expansion, even traveling to Washington D.C. in the early 2000s to campaign for such alongside
former U.S. Rep. David Wu and later his successor,
Rep. Suzanned Bonamici. The mayor cited easier commutes both two and from Forest Grove as one of the primary benefits of a MAX expansion, along with growing business opportunities, but he pointed to required development along the rail line as a potential challenge for the city.
Riley's bill seeks an evaluation of the following:
• Potential routes for additional rail and potential locations of additional stations.
• Anticipated impacts on traffic.
• Estimated initial and operational costs.
• Potential funding options.
• Estimated ridership.
• Estimated project timelines.
TriMet has been directed to report its findings no later than November 2022.
Riley said there is a presumptive route for a westward expansion, north of Highway 8 and ending at the east end of the Pacific University campus, with various stops along the way. But costs and timelines will depend on the findings of the TriMet report.
The 2006 proposition was estimated at $200 million, but Riley suspects it would look more like $300 million in today's dollars.
The initial westward expansion that saw lines move from Portland to areas of Beaverton and Hillsboro took close to seven years to complete, but involved complexities — such as a tunnel — not expected in a move to Forest Grove. As a result, Riley said he expected any such expansion to take somewhere between 24 and 32 months to complete.
Truax, although a fan of MAX and a potential westward expansion, said he's learned a number of things during his two decades in politics, three of which being: you don't always get what you want; priorities change over the years; and sometimes you get what you need, only it looks different.
"GroveLink was probably a better deal for the City," Truax said. "With it, we managed to cover the 'first mile-last mile' transportation for people to get to the TriMet line 57 to travel outside the city."
He added that the 57 line has seen improvements in recent years, including reducing fares for the economically disadvantaged.
In his limited talks with Westside constituents, Riley said, he's come across both opponents and proponents of the project. Proponents want to ease the commute from Forest Grove and Cornelius to Hillsboro and Beaverton, while opponents often cite concerns over the ease of access to town.
"They're nervous about the people it might bring to town," Riley said. "But buses already provide similar accessibility, and I think it's important to look beyond that to the pluses it would provide.
"A lot of people would like to quit driving their car."
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