Fritz concerns prompt council to delay hearings on new MAX line
Commissioner Amanda Fritz has raised concerns about portions of the recommended route of the Southwest Corridor MAX line through Portland, prompting the City Council to delay its scheduled hearing on it from last Wednesday to Nov. 1.
Project planners say such questions are part of the normal process. But the TriMet Board of Directors and the Washington Council Commission approved the recommended route without any delays.
The project is being overseen by Metro, the elected regional government. If approved and funded, it would run from downtown to Tualatin through Tigard. In Portland, the line would run from the southern end of Portland State University along Southwest Barbur Boulevard to Tigard.
Fritz tells the Portland Tribune she has three main areas of concern. They include the connection to the Oregon Health & Science University campus on Marquam Hill through Terwilliger Parkway, the route through the existing Barbur Transit Center and complex "Crossroads" intersection of Barbur and Southwest Capitol Highway over I-5, and the connection to Portland Community College's Sylvania campus at Southwest 53rd Avenue.
"Council has received many emails of concern on all three of these areas," Fritz says.
Before the hearing, city staff prepared a seven-page memo listing 14 specific issues that will need to be addressed after the route is approved and before construction begins. They range from reconfiguring the westside Ross Island Bridgehead to stormwater management along the entire route. TriMet will form a new steering committee next year to decide the remaining outstanding issues before construction begins.
As the hearing date approached, Fritz circulated proposed amendments to the list to the other council officers, prompting Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, to request the delay so they could be studied.
Fritz identifies problem areas
Among other things, Fritz is proposing that the council must approve the exact OHSU connection before the coming TriMet steering committee makes its decision. She does not believe one option, a tower and walkway, is viable, however.
"The tower and walkway to OHSU through Terwilliger Parkway would have too much impact to the parkway, and not be used due to the distance and terrain on the hill," she says.
Fritz also wants the council to approve how the line crosses I-5 at the Crossroads intersection before the coming TriMet steering committee makes its decision. She opposes the preferred alignment, which would cross west of the existing Barbur Transit Station.
"Crossing over to Taylors Ferry at the intersection with I-5 and Capitol Highway would impact Barbur World Foods, further break the intersection of Taylors Ferry and Capitol, which is already at F in peak periods, impact Woods Park, and ignore desired land-use patterns at the Crossroads. Land use should guide transportation choices, not the other way around," Fritz says.
And Fritz wants to eliminate a park-and-ride station recommended at the Southwest 53rd Avenue station, saying it should only be reached by walking and biking.
"Southwest 53rd is an ideal location for affordable housing. Using it for a park-and-ride used mostly by people living outside Portland would be a missed opportunity and put even more cars on Pacific Highway which is already congested," she says.
The recommended route was approved by the TriMet board and the Washington County commission in late September. But the Tigard City Council also postponed its hearing on the recommendation after it was released. No new hearing date has yet been set.
Big project, big questions
There is no doubt the proposed MAX line is a complicated project with many unanswered questions. This stage is being overseen by Metro, the elected regional government in charge of transportation planning in the greater Portland area.
Metro has appointed a steering committee representing government and stakeholders in the corridor that released their recommended route on Aug. 31. Once approved and funded, the project will be built by TriMet, the regional transit agency that will own and operate it.
Once finalized, the route officially will be known as the Locally Preferred Alternative. That decision will help determine the final cost of the project, which most recently was estimated at $2.64 billion to $2.86 billion in 2024 dollars, the estimated midpoint of its construction.
Project partners include ODOT, Metro, Washington County and the cities of Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. They are expected to contribute 50 percent of the project cost, with the federal government anticipated to provide the other half.
The exact amounts each partner will contribute has not yet been decided. Metro has promised to place a transportation funding measure on the November general election to help raise the regional match.
The overall goal of the project is to reduce traffic congestion and encourage planned redevelopment in the corridor, which already is home to more than 10 percent of the region's population, with more than 70,000 new residents and 65,000 new jobs expected to be added by 2035.
Research conducted by Metro has found that despite growing traffic congestion, property values have been rising rapidly in the corridor, threatening the naturally occurring affordable housing in it.
Among other signs of gentrification, smaller, older homes in many neighborhoods are being replaced with larger, more expensive ones. And older apartment buildings are being purchased, apparently so they can be remodeled and generate higher rents.
Mayor Ted Wheeler warned of an affordable housing crisis in the corridor last October. The council approved a SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy intended to help mitigate it on Oct. 4. It calls for spending $1.5 billion on affordable housing and rental services in the corridor over the next 10 years, although it does not say where all of the money will come from.
The council had been scheduled to consider the recommended MAX route the next week.
The six-page memo deals with other areas of concern about the proposed project. Some are environmental, such as potential damage to Terwilliger Parkway and Woods Park, which is near the Crossings intersection. Others concern how development at the 10 MAX stations along the route in Portland would affect nearby existing neighborhoods.
Most of the issues cannot be resolved at the Nov. 1 council hearing. They are expected to be addressed by project staff before construction begins.
Public engagement efforts already are underway to solicit comments on some of the issues identified in the memo. For example, a community meeting on the Crossroads intersection is set from 6-7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at the Multnomah Arts Center, Room 30, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway, Portland.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the project, go to: tinyurl.com/y96pw874.