The Oregon Department of Transportation will assess the program in the next year to determine whether to expand it 

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - A South Metro Area Regional Transit driver takes local leaders on a ride along an I-5 shoulder between Wilsonville and Tualatin.

Leaders like Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald and City Council President Kristin Akervall were among the first to experience riding a South Metro Area Regional Transit bus on I-5 freeway shoulders.

This ride-along took place after a ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 26, at Wilsonville Transit Center dedicated to the new initiative. The initiative's purpose is to allow Wilsonville transit buses to occupy the freeway shoulder during congested times on its two-mile route to Tualatin Park and Ride transit center starting Nov. 1.

The initiative is a pilot program that will take place for a year. After the pilot, ODOT will consider whether to extend it for up to three years and may look at expanding it to other freeways and sections of I-5 in the future. C-TRAN, a Clark County, Washington transit program, is already offering bus-on-shoulder across a one-mile stretch including the Glenn Jackson Bridge.

"This event acknowledges the potential start of a really exciting new and innovative transit service that is designed to make commuting by bus more reliable during heavy rush hour traffic," Fitzgerald said.

The buses will be allowed to use the shoulder when traffic is traveling below 35 mph. The buses can't travel on the shoulder above that speed or 15 mph faster than other cars on the road.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Local leaders including Wilsonville Councilor Joanne Linville (front, left) and Council President Kristin Akervall (middle, left) as well as former Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp (middle, right) experience riding the I-5 shoulder on a SMART bus.

During the ride, ODOT staffer Kerrie Franey explained that the shoulder would primarily be necessary on the northbound route in the morning. He elaborated that the southbound route also gets congested from 2 p.m. all the way to 7 p.m. and the department anticipates that five minutes of travel time could be saved. Emergency and law enforcement vehicles, as well as pedestrians and bicycles, have priority over the transit buses for use of the shoulder.

"This project is a testament to how we can do something together and work together to modernize our system to give more access and opportunity," ODOT Director Kris Strickler said during a speech at the event.

ODOT Public Information Officer Don Hamilton said in an interview that the department was interested in pursuing this project in part because of the low cost of putting it together.

Implementation mostly consists of putting up signs, training drivers and issuing public notice, he said. This work was made easier because ODOT was already doing pavement and other maintenance on I-5. ODOT designated approximately $62,000 for this project.

"It was (a) relatively quick and low-cost way to address congestion and improve the mass transit trip," Hamilton said.

The program will be evaluated using congestion and travel time figures, as well as crash data and an assessment of infrastructure impacts, Hamilton said.

"Safety is going to be critical. We're going to find out how bus-on-shoulder will affect other uses of the shoulder," he said.

Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik and Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas both said in their speeches that they looked forward to when buses utilizing the shoulder would be offered along I-205 to Clackamas Town Center and Oregon City. However, Hamilton said ODOT has no specific plans for program expansion and that TriMet, which provides transit services to much of the region, will be kept abreast of the program but was not involved.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas, ODOT Director Kris Strickler, Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald and Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik cut a ribbon to kickstart the program.

Milwaukie City Council President Kathy Hyzy said in her speech that making transit more attractive and convenient is one way to fight climate change.

"We have a world that's changing, and we need to change with it," she said. "The way we make that change possible is to provide efficient, reliable, dependable, attractive options that aren't getting in your car from point A to point B. I feel this is such a wonderful example of the future we all need to be building."

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