People are being heard on light rail plan
The slow crawl on Interstate 5 from Downtown Portland to Tigard was notable during the mid-afternoon one day last month. No accidents to be seen. Just dense traffic thick as smoke.
As a native of Portland, I have driven tens of thousands of miles along our local freeways and highways during the last 40 years. I wrote about emerging increased congestion as the managing editor for the Times Publications newspapers in east Washington County in the 1980s. I participated in traffic planning exercises when producing major events as executive director of the Portland Rose Festival Association in the 1990s. And now, I navigate heavy traffic driving to and from the five branches of The Portland Clinic.
I both anticipate and fret about the continued growth in our region as we welcome thousands of new arrivals to live in more apartments, work at fast-growing businesses and stress our overwhelmed transportation system.
As an employer of 600 people scattered throughout Portland, I support a quality mass transportation system, which includes a comprehensive light rail system. With the cost of housing skyrocketing and longer commutes taxing our life balance, The Portland Clinic promotes ways for our employees to get to work safely and our patients to get to their appointments on a timely basis. At The Portland Clinic, we subsidize bus passes by 50 percent for our employees, encourage biking and offer free cycle parking, and have located our five medical branches near bus, streetcar and MAX lines.
Planning for growth and maintenance of our transportation is multi-pronged and complex. There will be winners and losers as public officials attempt to execute workable solutions.
I gained an appreciation for this challenge over the last year when one of our medical branches in Tigard along I-5 between Highway 217 to Carmen Drive was threatened for demolition with the construction of the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX line from Downtown Portland to Bridgeport Village in Tualatin. Four of the six alternative routes through Tigard for the proposed light rail would have severely impacted more than a dozen established businesses in this stretch of east Washington County.
In The Portland Clinic's case, the loss of our building would have disrupted medical care for 7,000 patients — many of them seniors who live nearby in King City and Summerfield. The ripple effects would have impacted many medical providers in the region who partner with us.
Rather than sit idle, we joined with our neighboring businesses, including Atiyeh Bros. Carpets, Paul Schatz Furniture, Burgerville and others, to form a coalition to offer a common voice and to learn more about the decision making for local transportation planners.
The TriMet and Metro planners and local elected officials were respectful and understanding in listening to our concerns as part of a public input process. The initial route proposal for the alignments of the proposed 12.5-mile line has been issued, including the portion through Tigard. Our business coalition is pleased an alignment following the nearby railroad line has been recommended and our businesses will be spared. After learning all of the facts, we truly believe the railroad alignment is the most cost-effective, displaces fewer businesses and employees, provides for economic development with faster travel time while maintaining projected ridership for the project.
There is still a lot of review and decision making to go before the complete alignment is approved this year. Then, the federal government must agree to pay for half of the $2.8 billion project and local voters must approve to fund the balance. If all goes according to plan, the project could open in 2027.
While we did not seek this opportunity, our coalition members learned a lot about our regional transportation needs and how to effectively participate in the process. These are lessons that can be applied by all business and property stakeholders in the region.
Rather than wait, we need to be monitoring all major transportation planning and get plugged into discussions early to offer civil and pragmatic viewpoints. We need to be prepared to negotiate alternatives and accept compromises. We need to do our part to inform others and support projects and possible tax measures. Indeed, there is national debate over the value of light rail versus more bus lines or more freeway lanes. In my opinion, we need a good combination of all these forms of transportation to keep the region livable and viable for the future.
In the end, we must consider our responsibility like the generations before us who sacrificed and invested in our current transportation system to offer freeways, highways, bridges and the initial light rail system.
Read about the Southwest Light Corridor Rail MAX line at their website and get involved in helping the region remain as livable as possible. Offer your comments about the initial route proposal by Monday, July 30. We hope you support our coalition's position on the initial route proposal following the railroad line through Tigard.
Dick Clark is the CEO of The Portland Clinic.