WHERE WILL THE NEW MAX LINE RUN?
Mapping the final route for the proposed MAX line in the Southwest Corridor has entered the final stage, with several major decisions yet to be made.
Although all decisions are theoretically on the table, project staff have recommended an Initial Proposed Route (IPR) from Portland to Tualatin through Tigard. The exact alignment at certain key points are among the most important pending decisions, however, say planners at Metro, the regional government responsible for transportation and transit planning.
"This isn't the final design stage by any means, but the decisions for the final route alignment," says Chris Ford, Metro's investment areas project manager. Other project staff supporting the IPR are personnel from TriMet, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland, Tigard, Tualatin, Washington County and Sherwood.
The most important upcoming choices include whether the line should leave Portland on Southwest Barbur Boulevard or Southwest Naito Parkway, whether it should cross I-5 east or west of Barbur at Southwest Capitol Highway, where it should cross both I-5 and Highway 217 to enter Tigard, and whether it should connect directly to the Tigard Transit Center or have a station north of it.
Such decisions will affect the total cost of the project, which Metro now estimates at $2.64 billion to $2.86 billion in 2024 dollars, the estimated midpoint of its construction. The previous estimate had been $1.8 billion in 2016 dollars. The increase in land values over the past two years also helped increase the new estimate, which also includes financing.
The public comment period on the project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) began last Friday and will continue until July 30. Work on the federally required DEIS began in the fall of 2016. The term "environmental" means not only the ecology along the route, but such human factors as housing and traffic. Two open houses are scheduled during the comment period, the first in Portland on June 26 and the second in Tigard July 12.
After the comment period closes, the Community Advisory Committee helping to guide the project will recommend a final proposed route on June 30. The Metro-appointed Southwest Corridor Steering Committee overseeing the project will then approve its final Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) on Aug. 13.
TriMet, the regional transit agency which will own and operate the MAX line, will begin detailed planning of the route after that. The Metro Council has promised to put a regional measure on the November 2020 ballot to help fund it. If enough state, regional and local financial commitments are made, the Federal Transit Administration will be asked to fund half of it in 2022, when construction could begin.
More than 700 properties eyed
The proposed Southwest Corridor MAX Line is arguably the most complex and potentially expensive transit line ever considered by Metro and TriMet. It would run for 12 miles through mostly already developed properties, a far cry from the first line between Portland and Gresham that capitalized on an existing railroad right of way for much of its length, or the newest line to Clackamas Town Center, which utilized a right of way that TriMet acquired during construction of the I-205 freeway. The IPR also includes 13 light rail stations, with up to seven park and rides offering as many as 4,200 parking spaces.
Because of that, more than 700 landowners in the Southwest Corridor have already been notified by mail that some or all of their properties might need to be purchased for the project. According to the DEIS, an estimated 80 to 100 residential units could be displaced and up to 100 to 120 businesses could also be forced to close, affecting up to 1,700 employees.
These numbers are undoubtedly high because they include all properties where alternative alignments are under consideration. The final numbers could be reduced even further if TriMet can minimize the impact on specific properties during the final design stage.
But the numbers will likely be much higher than the last MAX line project between Portland and Milwaukie. It required only 218 property purchases, displacing 18 residences and 63 businesses with 858 employees.
"This is a disclosure document," Metro communications staffer Eryn Kehe says of the DEIS. "Any property owner who has received a letter is encouraged to review and comment on it."
Project to encourage redevelopment
But there is no doubt the impact of the project — if it ultimately goes forward — will be substantial. Metro estimates that 43,000 people will ride the MAX line on an average weekday in 2035. If the line is built on Barbur, as the IPR recommends, the entire roadway will be rebuilt to maintain two traffic lanes in both directions while adding sidewalks and protected bike lanes on both sides of it.
In addition, development is expected to soar in the corridor, especially around the stations, driving up property values and prompting a related Equitable Development Strategy to preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing. Concerns over gentrification and displacement in the corridor helped persuade the Metro Council to refer its $652.8 million affordable housing bond to the November 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, a yet-to-be determined amount of the funds could be used to buy existing lower-priced apartments and affordable housing development sites in the corridor.
Planners also envision a number of related projects. They include a tunnel or bridge from the line to the Oregon Health & Science University campus on Marquam Hill and a shuttle bus connection to the Portland Community College Sylvania campus. It could also trigger a reworking of the connections at the west end of the Ross Island Bridge, something the Portland Bureau of Transportation has been studying.
Although only a draft, preparing the current version of the environmental impact statement produced a number of surprises. Among the biggest are the potential line alignments related to the Crossings Bridge on Barbur just south of the complex intersection with Southwest Capitol Highway, near the existing Barbur Transit Center. As it turns out, although the line must continue south, the existing bridge over I-5 is not strong enough to support it without new pilings, which would require the freeway under it to be rebuilt, tremendously increasing the cost and inconvenience of the project. Instead of that, planners have proposed building a new bridge over I-5 on the west side of the existing one, although a new bridge on the east side is also a possibility.
Likewise, planners considering running the line along Beveland Street in Tigard discovered that a number of businesses had built newer buildings along the stretch being studied. Because of that, they recommended running it along Elmhurst Street to avoid displacing them.
Learn more and comment
You can learn more about the Southwest Corridor Plan and comment on the Draft Environmental Impact State online and at two upcoming open houses as follows:
• June 26, 6-8:30 p.m., Markham Elementary School, 10531 S.W. Capitol Highway, Portland.
• July 12, 6-8:30 p.m., Tigard Public Library, 13500 S.W. Hall Blvd, Tigard.
A number of one-on-one discussions are also offered at various public buildings listed on the website.