Wilsonville transit provider hopes to expand services inside and outside community

Due to a state bill designed to catalyze transportation projects, SMART, Wilsonville's transit provider, is adding to its extensive list of plans.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - SMART is contemplating a bevy of projects after state funding bill passed in 2017.

House Bill 2017 is a $5.3 billion transportation package passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2017 that is funded via the public transportation payroll tax, a gas tax, a bicycle tax and other levies.

Wilsonville receives $1.1 million annually in extra transportation funding from the bill and can compete for grants to receive additional funding. In turn, SMART is advocating that the City amend the city's transportation plan passed last year to include additional projects, including providing a fair-free system and an express route to Portland.

"It's really about 'How many people have we've helped and how many more people we could help with a plan,;" SMART Transit Director Dwight Brashear said. "That's how I measure success."

Wilsonville passed its transportation master plan last year to include services such as a mid-day ride to Canby, an expansion of weekend services and a service to Woodburn Transit Center, among other projects.

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said House Bill 2017 will allow the City of Wilsonville to fund transportation projects without slashing funding in other areas.

"I think we have been responsible in our funding in past years and recent state legislation will give us an opportunity to bolster and improve transit services and doing that without cutting services to other areas in our community," Knapp said.

Brashear has ideas for that extra money.

For one, he's most passionate about setting up a fare-free system. Now, SMART riders can ride the bus anywhere in Wilsonville for free but have to pay a fee to ride anywhere outside of Wilsonville.

Though he estimates SMART raises a couple hundred thousand dollars from the bus fairs annually, Brashear would like to provide the service for free regardless of location.

"A lot of times you don't see the immediate benefits with your tax dollars," Brashear said. "And so our team came together and I said, 'If people were paying into the payroll tax, why not give them the immediate benefit? They've paid for the service, in my opinion. Why don't we offer it to everyone at no cost? The entire team lit up and said 'Absolutely' because there is nothing more fair than free."

Knapp has not yet decid-

ed whether he supports the idea.

"Out of town trips are significantly more expensive to provide and determining appropriate balance is something to look at," Knapp said. "I don't necessarily think no fare no matter where you're going is automatically the right choice. I have not seen the data or discussion that would indicate

we are ready to make that choice."

SMART is also considering adding an express route to downtown Portland from Monday through Friday. Brashear said House Bill 2017 has incentivised transit providers to work together more and his ultimate goal would be for riders to be able to travel from Medford to Portland, hopping from one transit provider to the next, without paying an exorbitant cost.

"We wanted to go all the way in to Portland. TriMet may push back on that because that's their boundaries," Brashear said. "Now with HB-2017 they're less likely to do that because the funding says 'You will work together.' It's almost like there are no boundaries."

SMART also recently conducted a survey of Charbonneau residents to gauge their SMART use. Most of them said they did not use SMART but many said they would like more routes during non-commuter times and trips to shopping areas. And Brashear hopes to start a "shopper shuttle" — similar to the current Villebois shuttle — in Charbonneau in June.

"It winds through Villebois and picks people up and takes them to shopping, banking. We're hoping to mirror that service (in Charbonneau)," Brashear said.

SMART is also planning a round trip mid-day service from Wilsonville to Canby and would like to add an express service to Hillsboro.

"We did some research and a good percentage of people who live in Hillsboro work in Wilsonville and vice versa. And right now there's no connection. We're looking at it," Brashear said.

Another idea that has "floated to the top" of the priority list according to Brashear is to provide more trips on Saturdays and to add Sunday services.

"Sunday service would probably mirror Saturday service; though there will probably be a few less trips on Sunday as there are less folks (out and about)," Brashear said.

Brashear is also passionate about a potential project that would add a three-story mixed-use facility featuring affordable housing, retail and other amenities on transit center property. However, the construction of the building is estimated to cost up to $6 million. Metro's affordable housing bond measure slated for 2020 would need to be passed for this idea to have a chance to receive funding, according to Brashear.

"If the bond measure passes, they're going to be looking for partners. I want to position Wilsonville and SMART as one of those partners," Breshears said. "Do the stars have to align? Absolutely. But I'm a big believer that if we put the effort in and do the right planning and get the right folks behind us, and I know the mayor and council are so supportive of transit. I think if they see that we put the effort in and dotted our i's and cross our t's, I think it could become a reality."

Knapp believes assessing seemingly unrealistic projects can be useful for long-term planning purposes.

"It's difficult to see from 2018 where those dollars would come from and yet we know from past history over the course of the next several decade hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on transportation accommodations," he said.

Brashear says SMART is planning to reach out to the public soon to identify which ideas are a priority for Wilsonville. The council will likely discuss alteration to the transportation master plan after the public process is finished.

"It's going to be a really inclusive project and I think the public will have its say and ultimately the list we put together will reflect their input," Breshears said.

Overall, Brashear says SMART's service capacity far exceeds the 300,000 trips per year it currently attracts. But through expanded services and advertising such as a commercial that will air this year, he hopes to bridge the gap.

"We just need to do a better job," Brashear said. "We realize that we weren't doing a good job telling our story, getting the word out."

Knapp appreciates SMART and believes transportation can be a key to unlock economic opportunities and a flourishing city.

"I think the current service provided by SMART is extraordinary for the town the size of Wilsonville and limited assets we have," Knapp said.

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