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Hillsdale neighbors consider transit possibilities, construction impacts



CONNECTION PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Hillsdale resident Carolyn Gassaway examines a map of Southwest Corridor tunnel options during a community forum in May at Wilson High School.A light rail tunnel that could run from Marquam Hill to Hillsdale is still just a twinkle in the eye of Metro planners and transportation enthusiasts — and Chris Braidwood-Reid is one of several community members who hope it stays that way.

Braidwood-Reid, the daughter of Wardin Properties owner Ardys Braidwood, grew up helping her family manage the properties where dozens of small businesses are now located in Hillsdale’s town center. She now helps her mom manage the business.

She says the tunnel project, which would require two to three years of disruptive construction in the neighborhood, would devastate those businesses and the community.

“Hillsdale’s family to me,” she said. “I get kind of emotional, because it’s not just a business; it’s a huge part of my life.”

The Marquam Hill-Hillsdale tunnel was one of several tunnel options on the table at a May 12 community forum at Wilson High School. Project decision-makers and Metro staff handed out information about the project, displayed maps and educated visitors about the construction process for a potential tunnel and listened to concerns and feedback in small-group breakout sessions.

Through the Southwest Corridor Plan, planners hope to improve transportation between downtown Portland and Tualatin by improving and increasing pedestrian, bike, roadway and public transportation options. The route could be a combination of surface and underground options, and planners haven’t decided yet whether surface options would implement light rail or a bus rapid transit route.

Community feedback gathered through an online survey and public forums such as the Wilson High School meeting will help the plan’s steering committee decide on July 13 whether to continue studying the Marquam Hill-Hillsdale tunnel, a Hillsdale Loop cut-and-cover tunnel and a cut-and-cover tunnel near PCC Sylvania.

To be eligible for federal transit funding, planners had to consider every feasible alternative for high-capacity transit and document why certain options have been ruled out, such as high-capacity transit on Oregon Highway 99 West south of Portland and high-capacity transit to Sherwood.

The committee’s July decision could help narrow the tunnel options so that Metro planners can have a clearer idea of which routes the Southwest Corridor Plan could take.

David Aulwes, a senior transit corridor designer for TriMet, says the options are all in the “high-level concept” stage, and are waiting to be moved forward by the Southwest Corridor Plan’s steering committee.

“This isn’t a decision, it’s just an idea,” he said of the tunnels. And while it’s a controversial idea for some in the neighborhood, Aulwes says some other Hillsdale transit advocates have been promoting the idea of a tunnel for years.

“Frankly, it would be super convenient to just jump on the light rail here and go downtown, or to a Blazers game, or to an appointment at OHSU,” he said. “I think we have a lot of great options on the table.”

Tunnel options

Planners currently have two different price estimates for a Barbur Boulevard alignment that would run from Portland to Tualatin. A bus rapid transit alignment could cost $680 million to $1.2 billion. The range reflects options for cut-and-cover tunneling and infrastructure improvements for dedicated bus lanes.

A light rail alignment, on the other hand, could cost $1.9 billion to $2.4 billion, planners estimate. This range accounts for surface and shallow cut-and-cover tunnel options in Hillsdale and at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus, but excludes the deep-bored Marquam Hill-Hillsdale tunnel option.

The Marquam Hill-Hillsdale tunnel could reduce the traffic of the estimated 20,000 people who visit Marquam Hill each day for work, school and medical procedures. The light rail travel would be faster than surface options, and would likely attract more riders.

The roughly 2.4-mile tunnel, which would remain basically level at between 150-300 feet underground — and up to 590 feet underground in one area — would add $750 million-$950 million to the project cost compared to the Barbur surface option. It would also disrupt the community for two to three years during construction and, unlike a surface option, it wouldn’t offer any improvements for bicyclists or pedestrians.

Though planners haven’t decided on a potential station site in Hillsdale, the area would require two to three acres of staging and construction space, likely leading construction crews to clear an area and rebuild after the station is complete. The station itself would be underground, with elevator access at the surface.

The significantly shallower Hillsdale Loop cut-and-cover tunnel would be a smaller project, connecting Southwest Capitol Highway near Southwest Sunset Boulevard to Southwest Bertha Boulevard.

This tunnel would be roughly 35 feet deep and about a 0.3 miles long. The construction would still impact Hillsdale businesses and school zones, but it would likely get less use than the Barbur surface alternative because travel time would be slightly longer.

The cut-and-cover option would increase the project cost by $230 million over the Barbur surface option. It would also include improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on Southwest Capitol Highway to increase access to a transit station.

Similarly, a half-mile, 70-foot-deep cut-and-cover tunnel that could provide direct access to Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus would cost $250 million more than the Barbur surface option, with a similar travel time as the surface option.

The tunnel would draw more ridership than the Barbur option, could create opportunities for redevelopment on the campus and would also include improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on Southwest Barbur Boulevard east of Southwest 53rd Avenue.

As with the other tunnel options, the construction period would disrupt the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

Aulwes says that in July, the committee could choose to continue studying some, all or none of the tunnel options.

Looking ahead

In June, Metro staff will compile feedback from community meetings and the online survey to create a recommendation report for the committee. Metro’s Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Noelle Dobson, says the report should be available online by June 10 at swcorridorplan.org.

On June 17, Metro staff will hold another community forum from 6-8 p.m. at the Tigard Public Works auditorium, 8777 S.W. Burnham St. This will allow the community a chance to voice feedback on the recommendation report, which can also be done online.

After the committee’s July decision, planners will move the discussion toward Tigard and Tualatin. The committee will make another decision in December regarding alignment possibilities in those areas, and could decide whether to move forward with either the light rail or the bus rapid transit option. The committee may also consider how to fund and implement other roadway, bicycle and pedestrian projects as part of the plan.

If the committee decides to continue studying the tunnels, the public will eventually be able to give more feedback on the subject before final decisions are made about the project, Dobson says.

Construction on Southwest Corridor alignments could start around 10-20 years from now, Dobson says.

While some community members are dreading the possibility of development and disruption, others like Collins View resident Jim Diamond look forward to big changes.

“By 2030, it may be prohibitively expensive to burn carbon — so what then?” he asked. “I’m very interested in what will make Portland and the surrounding communities sustainable and livable for the next 50 years.”

Diamond, who attended Hillsdale’s community forum on the tunnel options, questioned how feasible — and practical — it might be to expand current surface options, and said he favored a light rail tunnel instead. At the same time, he said he feels for the business community and anyone else who could be disrupted by years of construction.

“This is such a big issue,” he said. “We’re building for the rest of the 21st century.”

Contact Kelsey O'Halloran at 503-636-1281 x101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..