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Activists want to motivate the area now to influence the three-year process
by: Shasta Kearns Moore, Transportation advocate Marianne Fitzgerald stands at the West Portland Crossroads, which she and others are trying to revitalize in anticipation for Barbur Boulevard being named Metro's next top priority for high-capacity transit, which could well mean light rail.

SOUTHWEST PORTLAND - Light rail just may be in Barbur Boulevard's future.

Metro councilors are expected to approve a recommendation to make the Barbur Boulevard and Oregon State Highway 99 corridor the next regional priority for high-capacity transit. The topic is tentatively scheduled for a Metro council meeting in early February.

High-capacity transit has meant light rail for most of the previously identified corridors, but it could also mean a rapid bus line or other mode of getting lots of people to and from downtown Portland quickly.

The line could go all the way to Sherwood, though one of the first things a $2.5 million to $4 million mobility study the council is also expected to approve will determine if that is feasible, said Metro spokeswoman Karen Withrow.

Barbur was the only corridor identified in the 1982 regional high-capacity transit (HCT) plan, which led to the modern MAX system, that did not receive significant attention.

'So that makes it a logical thing,' Withrow said. But she and others say that another major factor in Barbur's supremacy over Powell Boulevard - the other candidate for HCT - is the potential for new public transit passengers.

Metro analysts predict that daily ridership along Barbur would be up to 38,000 in 2035 with an HCT line, representing a nearly 50 percent increase. Ridership along Powell is expected to only increase by about a 1,000 daily riders, up to 28,000.

'We would be serving a new area that has not had HCT before,' Withrow said. 'There's great potential for new riders.'

West Portland Crossroads

The biggest reason that Barbur was passed up during the first round of HCT lines was the fact that the thoroughfare is a mash-up of several regional jurisdictions. As a state highway, it is technically the Oregon Department of Transportation's responsibility to maintain and upgrade, but the agency's backlog of highway maintenance has repeatedly thrown Barbur to the bottom of the list.

With this HCT recommendation, Metro has pledged to take the lead on organizing the area's governments into cooperating on the project.

But a group of local citizens isn't waiting. Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Transportation Committee chairwoman Marianne Fitzgerald is spearheading a group of several area neighborhood associations in an attempt to get citizen's voices in the process from the very beginning.

'The bottom line is change is coming and what are we going to do about it?' Fitzgerald said.

The group is organizing a West Portland Crossroads Community Forum on March 15 at which they hope to get citizens and their elected officials together to talk about their vision for the area. Mayor Sam Adams, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Metro Councilor Robert Liberty are among the confirmed attendees.

Fitzgerald said the group aims to focus on the intersection of Capitol Highway, Barbur Boulevard and Interstate-5, known on paper as the West Portland Town Center. The town center designation has so far done little to fix the transportation spaghetti in that area, but West Portland Crossroads Advisory Group members are hopeful HCT will bring a reinfusion of interest, and cash.

The group has been distributing surveys to business owners along the route to help them determine what their needs and expectations are.

'Now that light rail may be coming … we know that now is the time to start talking about: 'What do we want for our community?'' Fitzgerald said.

Construction slated for mid-to-late 2010s

Once Metro approves the recommendation from its Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) - which is mostly composed of elected officials from around the region - the ball will begin rolling on a three-year process of study, analysis, recommendations, public meetings, revisions and more before a final plan is created for what Barbur Boulevard High Capacity Transit will mean.

After 2013, a construction timeline should be more clear, but officials expect at this point that construction could begin as early as 2014. More likely, however, is a start date later in the decade.

Fitzgerald and her group hope that they can get the community energized enough now to get money and attention directed to the priorities of the people who live and work there. But she acknowledges that, no matter what, some people will still come into the process at the end, angry that their concerns haven't been addressed.

'That'll happen, guaranteed, but not for lack of trying,' Fitzgerald said.

Get Involved:

The West Portland Crossroads Community Forum is March 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Hwy.

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