TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Neil McFarlane, TriMet general manager, sits with local dignitaries on TriMet bus line 97 before the bus' departure from the Tualatin WES station to Sherwood.When passengers step off the WES commuter train in Tualatin at 6:20 a.m. next Monday, for the first time, there will be a TriMet bus waiting for them.

Line 97, which will provide long-awaited service along Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road, begins regular service next week. TriMet held a “first ride” on the new bus line, in concert with Tualatin and Sherwood city officials, on Tuesday.

The line will run between the Tualatin WES station on Southwest Boones Ferry Road and Sherwood Plaza on Southwest Langer Drive, making 13 round trips per day. It will run only on weekdays and during peak commuting hours, although TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane predicted the service will expand.

“We'll grow both in service frequency as we build ridership, and we'll build new connections,” McFarlane said. “We expect this line ultimately to be connected not just to the WES station, but ultimately, to the Bridgeport Village, to the 72nd (Avenue) employment area in Tigard, and to downtown Tigard and the Tigard Transit Center.”

McFarlane called line 97 a “key piece of mobility” for the Southwest Corridor, a term that refers both to the communities stretching from Southwest Portland to Sherwood and to a major planning project to increase transit capacity in the region. If a MAX light rail line is built, as the regional government Metro envisions, it could eventually connect to the new bus line at Bridgeport Village, to downtown Tigard or both.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and City Manager Sherilyn Lombos hailed line 97 as a boon for commuters.

“We've sorely needed transit on Tualatin-Sherwood Road for decades — literally, decades,” Ogden said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden boards TriMet bus line 97 at the Tualatin WES station.

Tualatin-Sherwood Road is infamous for its congestion problems. The road narrows to one lane of travel in either direction through Tualatin and Sherwood's industrial areas, which collectively employ a workforce of more than 20,000 people, as Ogden noted.

No pullouts were constructed along Tualatin-Sherwood Road to accommodate the new bus line, but TriMet placed its stops strategically to minimize additional congestion due to vehicles being forced to wait for bus passengers to embark and disembark, Lombos said.

While Ogden praised the WES commuter rail, which has drawn the ire of some TriMet critics for its low ridership numbers and limited service, as “forward-thinking,” he noted that it has had its limitations.

“It has been, obviously, inadequate in that you can't get that last mile. And so obviously, you think, 'It doesn't do what I need it to do,'” he said. “Well, this will solve that problem … because we'll have that connection down to the industrial area. So I predict not only will we have the ridership for 97, we'll see the big increase for ridership on WES.”

Tom Pessemier, Sherwood's assistant city manager, called the new bus service “a great addition to Sherwood and to our future.”

Ride Connection currently operates a commuter shuttle service in Tualatin. Ogden said the new bus line will allow them to “redeploy” the shuttle to also serve bus stops, providing transportation between the TriMet line and individual workplaces in Tualatin's western industrial area.

A service schedule and route map for line 97 can be accessed online at TriMet's website.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A TriMet bus arrives at the Sherwood Plaza during the 'first ride' for line 97, which officially begins service next Monday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional photos from the "first ride" event.

By Ray Pitz
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