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Portland's Transportation Commissioner is on board but Amanda Fritz wants Marquam Hill Connector idea dropped

PMG PHOTO: BILL GALLAGHER - The proposed MAX station at Barbur would be built at the base of the hill that climbs a third of a mile to Marquam Hill. It would be just south of Congregation Ahavath Achim's synagogue, which was built in 1966 and was once known as the Barbur Boulevard Beehive.
Support for a funicular railway to carry thousands of riders to and from Marquam Hill in Southwest Portland if a new MAX line is ever built got a boost as Portland's Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly indicated she'll back that kind of connector.

Her support for the funicular is important because she casts a vote on the Steering Committee that will decide among various connector options on Monday, June 10. Other members of the City Council advised her on their preferences during a two-hour, informational work session Tuesday.

Angel's Flight is the funicular railway in Los Angeles. It's also the title of a Michael Connelly crime novel.Basically, if it can secure funding and voter approval, a new light rail line travelling 12 miles between Portland State University and Bridgeport Village in Tualatin would need a special connection to Marquam Hill. It's estimated that by 2035, 5,000 light rail riders would make 10,000 daily trips to and from OHSU, Dornbecher Childrens Hospital, the Veterans Admonistration and the other medical institutions via some kind of connector.

Two options are getting serious consideration at this point. A bridge and elevator combination bigger than the current one at South Waterfront and a funicular railway. Estimated cost range for the first option is $15 to $25 million while the estimated cost range for the funicular is $35 to $45 million.

Eudaly said her problems with a bridge and elevator combination are that it would be "visually intrusive and destructive of (Terwilliger) park landscape," and would involve a long walk exposed to the elements.

"Those factors have informed my leaning toward an inclined elevator," she said. "I do prefer the term 'funicular' but I understand that technically it's not one. I'm trying to figure out a way this could still get on (the list of) the top ten weirdest, cool, inclined elevators in the country. But I haven't figured it out yet."

As the SW Connection reported in June, "The so-called Green Ribbon Committee, an advisory panel of experts, which will recommend a method for moving all those people, is now leaning toward building an inclined elevator, which is also known as a funicular railway. Two subway-like cars, would alternately climb on tracks from a base on Barbur Boulevard at Gibbs Street next to the synagogue. The cars would stop at Terwilliger Boulevard and Campus Drive at the bottom of the last stretch of the hill to the hospitals and clinics.

Or they would keep going, under or over Terwilliger Boulevard, to get people up that last hill. That part of the funicular plan is still under study."

Another member of the 8-member SW Corridor Project Steering Committee, Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, told the Southwest Community Connection that he prefers the bridge and elevator option.

"I think both in terms of functionality and cost that the elevator and bridge combination seems to make the most sense," he said.

The Steering Committee meets Monday, June 10 at Tigard City Hall. Asked if he was confident that a recommendation would be made for a Marquam Hill connector, he said, "Confident may be too strong a word. I'm hoping the Green Ribbon Committee will come to a consensus."

The Green Ribbon Committee was created to come up with a consensus recommendation on the best option for a connector. Originally considere3d besides the funicular railway and bridge and elevator were a second tram and a long, enclosed tunnel connecting to an elevator. That Committee meets Wednesday, June 4.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish expressed support for a funicular railway while cautioning that early cost estimates could be unreliable. "I have low confidence in rough estimates," said Wheeler.

Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty was non-committal and Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the only Council member who lives anywhere near the proposed light rail line, was blunt.

"I don't like any of these options. I'm disappointed. I would suggest that we cut the whole thing (Marquam Hill Connector) and have people take MAX all the way downtown and improve service on the 8 Line to Marquam Hill. In fact," she said, "an OHSU shuttle that would be open to all users is a much better option."

While the Portland City Council won't take another vote on a new light rail line through Southwest Portland, it will have to approve Portland's share of the funding for the project at some point.

The current estimate of what it will cost to build such a line - 12-miles long with 13 stations and possibly seven park-and-ride structures - is between $2.6 and $2.8 billion. But TriMet is working on a new cost estimate that should be available later this year. It's expected that a funding measure for the light rail and other local transportation projects will be sent to voters in November 2020. If that passes the Federal Transportation Administration will be asked for half the project cost. The soonest construction could begin is 2021 with service underway by 2027, if federal funding and local voter support align.

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