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Media tour reveals radical changes being planned between Portland and Tualatin for new light rail project

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The existing TriMet Park and Ride lot at Southwest Barbur Boulevard and Capitol Highway would be trasformed into the center of a thriving urban neighborhood if the Southwest Corridor MAX project goes forward.

The character of the Southwest Corridor will be radically changed by the 12-mile MAX line being planned between Portland and Tualatin.

Among other things, the project will include bridges to carry the light rail trains over local streets and Highway 217 in Tigard. Similar structures will go over I-5 and both under and over Southwest Barbur Boulevard in Portland. And the final five miles of the major thoroughfare to downtown will be greatly widened to allow the line to run down the center of it, while maintaining two traffic lanes in each direction and adding protected bike lanes adjacent to continuous sidewalks

According to TriMet project manager Leah Robbins, "It's not just a light rail project but an infrastructure project that will transform the face of the Southwest Corridor."

Robbins spoke during a media tour of the proposed route last Thursday organized by several of the governments planning the project, including TriMet, Metro, and the cities of Portland and Tigard. Reporters and TV crews traveled the route on a TriMet bus, stopping at several locations to better understand how much work will be involved in the project, which is scheduled to start in 2022 if funding can be secured.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard Community Engagement Coordinator Lauren Scott prepares to speak to the media at one of the proposed new MAX stops during a tour of the Southwest Corridor route.

According to TriMet, the corridor is one of the fastest growing in Oregon, and is expected to increase by over 75,000 residents by 2035. Estimates predict a 17 percent increase in congestion on I-5 between Portland and Tigard by 2035. The new light rail line is intended to create a reliable 30-minute transit connection through the corridor. It could include as many as 13 new stations and up to 3,500 parking spaces at several Park & Ride lots.

The full scope of the project became apparent as the tour proceeded. It began at the TriMet Park & Ride lot at Bridgeport Village, which would be the southern end of the line. The current proposal calls for replacing the 390-space surface lot with a multi-story parking garage with up to 950 spaces, plus room for bike parking and ride-sharing vehicle connections.

"There's demand for that much parking and more," said Robbins, citing studies undertaken for the project.

From there the line would parallel an existing Union Pacific rail line into Tigard, crossing Southwest Bonita Road over a new bridge to Southwest Hall Boulevard, where a new maintenance yard would be built. It would then cross over Highway 217 on another new bridge to the large but underdeveloped Tigard Triangle area, where it would land at a station at Elmhurst before launching onto another bridge over uneven terrain to a station with a Park & Ride lot at 68th Avenue, near Highway 99 West, which becomes Barbur in Portland.

"There are more than 500 acres in the Tigard Triangle, but it is largely undeveloped. Tigard has plans to develop it with more than 120 projects, including four- to six-story residential buildings," said Tigard Community Engagement Coordinator Lauren Scott.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The existing Union Paciic rail line in Tigard that the MAX line is proposed to run next to.

From there the line would head to a station at Barbur and 53rd Avenue, where a new road would be built a short distance uphill to Portland Community College's Sylvania Campus by the Portland Bureau of Transportation for shuttle service to the school.

"Fifty-third would be changed from a zero to a hero. It's only one-third of a mile to PCC, but it doesn't currently go through. We would build a complete street. A lot of trips would be generated," said PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera.

After that, the line would continue to downtown Portland, crossing both under and over Barbur on new bridges before reaching the existing Park & Ride lot at Southwest Capitol Highway, which would be completely transformed into the West Portland Town Center. Planning is already well underway to reconfigure the complex intersection, known as the Crossroads, into a thriving, walkable and bikeable neighborhood.

"We want to foster inclusive economic growth. It can be a vibrant place," said Joan Frederickson with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

From there to downtown, the line would run down the center of Barbur, which would be widened to maintain four lanes of traffic and add continuous sidewalks and protected bike lanes. Two aging bridges — the Vermont and Newbury Street viaducts — would be replaced as part of the project. The line will connect to the existing one through the downtown Transit Mall at Portland State University.

Many properties along the entire route would be impacted by the property, although the exact number and locations will not be known until Metro completes the Final Environmental Impact Statement in 2020. It could require the demolition and relocation of hundres of homes and businesses. TriMet is already in discussion with many property owners about potential purchases.

Yet to be decided are the connection from Southwest Gibbs Street to the Oregon Health & Sciences University campus on Marquam Hill and the realignment of the on- and off-ramps at west end of the Ross Island Bridge, where three new publicly-owned city blocks could be created for affordable housing and other developments. Dylan says PBOT also want to transform the currently winding streets around Barbur's entrance into downtown into more of a grid system.

The cost for all this work is not cheap. The proposed MAX line alone is estimated at $2.7 billion. Although the federal government is expected to pay half, that still leaves $1.35 billion to be raised locally. Metro is currently considering a regional transportation funding measure for the November 2020 general election ballot that TriMet hopes will include $850 million for the project. The State of Oregon has committed $150 million. Metro has contributed $60 million, which is being used for planning. TriMet, Portland and Washington County are talking about kicking $75 million each into the project.

The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is orgainzing two walking tours of the West Portland Town Center area to help plan it on Saturday, June. 15. The first starts at 1:30 p.m. and the second at 2:30 pm. Both leave from and return to in front Markham School, 10531 S.W. Capitol Highway in Portland.

You can learn more about the project here.

As part of the project, TriMet is conducting an online survey about the need and location of park and ride lots. You can take it here.

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