Washington County Commuter Rail Back on Track

US Senator Gordon Smith today met with Washington County officials announcing he has secured a commitment from US Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta to allow the Washington County Commuter Rail project to move forward. The event was held at TriMet’s Beaverton Transit Center, the first station along the 14.7-mile Washington County Commuter Rail project.

In February the project was recommended in the President’s budget, but has since been stalled due to an 11th hour rule change by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) adjusting their cost effectiveness calculation, bumping the project out of range to get a recommended rating and a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

Senator Smith led the Oregon Delegation in securing a legislative fix to the FTA’s new rules and allow the project to move into construction. He also worked with the delegation in getting language in the Transportation Reauthorization bill that just passed Congress that would also remove the FTA roadblock.

Additionally, Senator Smith has secured $15 million for the project in the Senate Appropriations bill, and will work with the rest of the delegation to ensure the $15 million remains in the final appropriations bill expected to pass Congress in October.

“Senator Smith’s leadership and commitment means that in this heavily-congested corridor we will soon have an alternative mode of transportation,” said TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen. “He led the Oregon delegation in making sure this project will serve the cities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville.”

Washington County Chair Tom Brian said that local officials “have been advocating for this project for nearly a decade because it will improve mobility and will help strengthen the economic vitality of the cities along the alignment.”

Other local dignitaries attended today’s event to thank Senator Smith for his efforts, including Metro President David Bragdon, Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake, Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, Tigard City Councilor Sydney Sherwood and Tualatin City Councilor Jay Harris.

The project is now in final design, with 75 percent of the work complete. The design work will now begin again and should be completed by the end of year. The project is expected to sign a Full Funding Grant Agreement in mid-2006 and begin construction shortly thereafter. The commuter rail project could open in fall 2008.


The 14.7-mile commuter rail line would use existing freight tracks to add transit service in the heavily traveled I-5 and Hwy 217 corridor. The line would connect with MAX light rail in Beaverton, then travel to Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville. Travel time between the five stations would take 37 minutes, with service every 30 minutes during rush hour.

39 responses to “Washington County Commuter Rail Back on Track”

  1. I’m really nervous about this. I’m not sure the Commuter rail will meet the numbers expected and those numbers are not high. The last thing public transit needs is a project that turns out to loose lots of money. Now if this line was turned into a MAX line at a later date then I can see it working out, but I just don’t see who would use it with limited number of trains running. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Since the Washington County Commuter Rail line will use existing freight tracks, it has to be a heavy rail vehicle that’s self-propelled, rather than MAX that gets it’s power from overhead wires.

  3. Mary –

    What problems are involved (other than overhead wiring) should long-term demand grow to the point where epansion to a MAX line is warranted?

    Would Tri-Met be able to acquire the ROW? (How many freight shipments currently use the line, and would the freight railroad be willing to sell the ROW?)

    How much of the line is double-tracked? That sort of thing.

    – Bob R.

  4. The entire South Metro area is underplanned for transportation as, meanwhile, population growth proceeds at a brisk pace. Without adequately addressing these issues now, transportation bottlenecks are inevitable. I think MAX has reached its limit of cost-effectiveness, and, unless costs can be dramatically reduced, such as by using existing railbeds, it should be shelved in favor of Streetcar. I don’t think we will ever get rid of the freight lines (and why would we want to?) so perhaps a new vehicle designed for standard guage tracks would be desirable.

    MAX, now, is representing an increasingly large federal subsidy and just look at how vacant the cars are so much of the time. A diverse network of streetcar lines would, for a lower cost, provide more routes, more frequent service, and less disruption to neighborhoods. The streetcar, also, has a maximun speed of 70 kph, but is governed to 40 for urban use. The MAX should only be used for the very busiest of routes.

    This Milwaukie MAX line is a very poorly conceived addition, and a multiple-route streetcar system would be more cost effective.

  5. There are several problems with light rail in the Washington county rail corridor, not the least being that it is still used as a freight corridor. The reason for using heavy rail vehicles is that it is required by federal regulations for safety reasons. Light rail would not stand up well in a collision with a heavy rail car, even at low speeds. There are probably other issues as well.

    It is possible to extend the commuter rail line in several ways. One is to Milwaukie using the rail line that goes through Lake Oswego and crosses the river to Milwaukie. Another is south to Salem. The third is out to McMinnville. All of these are existing freight lines, so it makes sense to stick with heavy rail in the corridor even in the long term.

    I think there are issues with frequency of service, but they did not appear insurmountable.

    As for the Milwaukie MAX line – I think the poorly conceived part of this was the I-205 segment. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it makes no sense to attract dense development adjacent to freeway interchanges. If you are going to provide high level of transit in that area, it ought to be on 82nd.

    But given that is going to happen, the Milwaukie line still makes sense. It serves several communities in southeast Portland and can extend down McLoughlin to Oregon City providing a much more direct connection to downtown Portland and the west side than the I-205 line will. And then there is the potential connection to commuter rail .

    Street cars are good development tools for dense neighborhoods, but their advantage over buses is not very great unless they are given their own right-of-way. And then their cost is not much less than light rail.

  6. What a travesty and waste of my tax dollar. Having been in the commuter transportation business for over 22 years. Having seen similar installations and proposals only turn into a larger tax burden on the taxpayer I think it is deplorable that our government officios think “this is what is best for me”. They will take the money and when it is gone impose yet another tax on me.
    Bottom line is we are so far from having the demographics for this, it is another government imposed tax boondoggle.
    To top this off I am a huge proponent of public transportation and have advocated since prior to 1972. Yet no one wants to educate the young about it’s value. Had we begun back in 1972 we would now be in the second generation of educating our young.
    C. Cox

  7. Doesn’t San Diego Trolley run light rail during the day, freight at night on some tracks? Would it be feasible to do that here? How much freight traffic is there right now? There’s no danger of collisions if light rail shuts down before freight operations start.

  8. San Diego does that, and the South New Jersey Light Rail does that too (day time light rail, night time freight). See also the Colorado Railcar (http://www.coloradorailcar.com/dmuhome.htm), a soilution that requires no change to freight traffic since the rail car is FRA compatible.

    The main problem with the Washington County corridor is the lack of destinations near the line. At least MAX has many destinations within walking distance, and the walks in Downtown Portland, Lloyd Center, and the neighborhoods are generally pleasant walks. Washington County is a normal highway oriented corridor with wide boulevards, sidewalks immediately adjacent to streets, and huge parking moats. Not a fun place to walk by any means.

    The Washington County rail is way too short to do any good. The usefulness of the project is cut down by the short length of the railway. Look at a similar suburb to suburb commuter rail, ACE Train in the San Jose area. That is a worthwhile project since you have people traveling 60 miles or more. It cuts down air pollution, and people don’t mind taking the shuttles at the end. (The shuttles are extremely well time and don’t leave before the train shows up, and often drops people off right at the door step instead of a few hundred yards away on the main street.) With a Washington County rail, you have to drive to the train station (or take transit to get there), transfer to a train, and then transfer to a bus to get to work. Even if the train averaged 40 mph (highly unlikely considering the number of stops), all that waiting and transferring would mean that it’s better off to drive, even at an average speed of 20 mph. The train would only save you a few minutes, and if you missed the train you’d be driving to work anyway since waiting for the next train would take longer than just driving. And you will still need a car at the home end because Westside transit is abysmal. Nobody is going to dump a car to make a three transfer trip. And the cold starts are not going to help air pollution any. At least with the ACE Train, the cold starts are in a completely different air basin so they don’t pollute once they get into the Bay Area proper.

    Better to build a carpool lane down the middle and save your money. Or pick longer corridors to work with where the time savings really makes sense.

  9. Good post Hank, This is what scares me. A layman can see this is not a well thought out project and yet the “experts” are pushing it. Who is going to ride this? What are the advantages? Where could they actually go to? I’m all for transit, but projects like this have the potential to do more harm then good for the perception of transit. We spend 77 million on something that doesn’t work people are going to take it out on projects they would be benificial.

  10. “The main problem with the Washington County corridor is the lack of destinations near the line.”

    Any transit in Washington County will suffer from the poor pedestrian environments created by typical suburban development. But the commuter rail line actually connects to areas with substantial demand and plans for improved pedestrian environments.

    Wilsonville has an excellent local transit system that will connect the commuter rail line to its employment centers. Tualatin and Tigard are both in what are projected to be town centers. While both communities have a long way to go – the commuter rail will help to spur the needed improvements. Downtown Beaverton provides direct connections to light rail in addition to serving the regional center. The Washington Square station connects to a major job center which has significant transportation challenges.

    “Even if the train averaged 40 mph (highly unlikely considering the number of stops), all that waiting and transferring would mean that it’s better off to drive, even at an average speed of 20 mph.”

    The feasilility study for commuter rail done by Washington County showed that the train will be faster than commuting by auto. For people interested in the details Tri-met now has a page on the project.


    There are plenty of reasons why some people can’t or won’t ever use transit. You plan transit for those that can and will if you provide the right kind of service. The commuter rail in Washington county is an extremely cost effective way of providing transportation capacity in a corridor that has few other options.

    However, it won’t magically transform the areas around it into pedestrian friendly communities. If the region is going to invest in transit then we need to make sure local communities invest in the pedestrian environment necessary to take the best advantage of it. This is true whether it is light rail or commuter rail or bus lines. And it is true in Portland as well as Washington County.

  11. In response to Ross Williams: The problems with Milwaukie MAX are:

    1.Much of the 5 mi./500+ million proposal does not lend itself to residential infill, as the East and West MAX did. This route goes through 1.5 miles of parkland and golf course land, .5 mi across the Willamette River and at least .5 mile of rail yard. The Milwaukie portion(.8 mi) will remain industrial/mixed use. So how much does that leave on the route that can be infilled into apartments and condos? Very little. The SE Portland segment is already built up, but there could be some redevelopment into condos.

    2. The MAX could succeed if it did actually go to Oregon City. But this won’t happen until 2015. What will the costs be then? And, if fed. dollars dry up how will local governments pay for it? Believe it or not, many federal taxpayers are getting fed up with paying for LRT that doesn’t return a profit.

    3. We don’t need another bridge that serves only “alt. transport” when car usage will also be on the increase. Better to have a Willamette R. crossing in Clackamas Co. such as at Lake Oswego and divert traffic from the Porland area and also save on vehicle miles. I am proposing that the Marquam bridge piers could be used for a streetcar bridge: it is perfectly aligned for such, with the Harrison connector aimed at it on the west side and OMSI at the eastern terminus.

    Stopping the freeways was paramount and LRT has worked for Gresham, Hillsboro, and PDX and could, possibly, work for Clark County. But there is a limit. A $500 million LRT all the way to Or. City and Clackamas TC, yes, maybe.

  12. Ron –

    The question is what areas are served by Max stops, not where there is track. The areas served have a lot of opportunities for residential development. But you also need to consider the destinations served. And at this point in light rails development those are taking on greater importance. Every new destination served expands the reach and value of the existing investment.

    In the case of the Milwaukie line the destinations served include the huge job center in the Central Eastside Industrial area, OMSI, the Brooklyn Yards area, the mixed use and industrial areas in Milwaukie and the Milwaukie Town Center.

    Fred Meyer has a huge amount of land adjacent to the light rail stop in Brooklyn that will be accessible by a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. And there is talk that light rail might spur the railroad to move its Brooklyn Yards operation elsewhere and redevelop that area. I suspect that is just talk, but perhaps not over a 40 or 50 year time frame.

    2) Public services don’t return profits and those who expect that they will vote against them. They are a distinct minority.

    The threat however is less from money drying up than the increasing popularity of light rail and transit. There may come a point where Portland’s track record of success doesn’t win it as many points in competition with other cities.

    As I point out above, the value of the existing investment increases every time we extend the rail network to reach more communities, more jobs and more services. Given the payback, extending that system to Oregon City may well be seen as within the local budget in 10 or 15 years.

    3) We need a bridge to put light rail across the river, its not a reason to build or not build light rail. Using the Marquam piers sounds like an idea worth exploring if it will reduce the cost.

    I don’t see how you add auto capacity to a new bridge given that the street networks on neither side of the river will really support more autos. Division doesn’t really have capacity on the east side and downtown Portland, PSU and the North Waterfront on the west side are all maxed out for auto traffic as well. Adding any more will make them economically less viable.

    I have no problem with the bridge for Max including autos, I just don’t see how it would be at all useful. It makes a lot more sense to reserve it as an exclusive right-of-way for transit, including buses, increasing the efficiency of that network.

    The debate on a river crossing further south will no doubt continue. But it is really separate from the question of light rail to Milwaukie. And again, the problem is what to do with the traffic on both sides of the river.

  13. Let’s remember that MAX is now carrying over 100K rides per day with plenty of capacity for growth. A great success that works well enough at low speeds in dense areas and at high speeds elsewhere.
    Unfortunately it is easier to put it along freeway ROWs where TOD opportunities are limited than down old arterials like Interstate.
    I always thought that extending the Red Line down Hall Blvd in the 217 corridor to a terminus at Kruse Woods would make a great project.
    That said, the commuter rail project has been sponsored and promoted by local electeds in Washington County who are close to their folks and know what could get local support.
    Let’s support it, look for ways to make it work, see that the access infrastructure is put in place, and hope for the best!

  14. My argument has been mainly for a streetcar network, unless it can be shown that new MAX lines have the same potential as earlier ones. The lower Marquam bridge is perfect to connect the existing streetcar with the terminus of the proposed Central Eastside car. The west line most likely will be approved to go south to LO. So what would be wrong with also extending the Eastside to Milwaukie and also having a Milwaukie to Westside link via the Sellwood Bridge? The Milwaukie residents will have connections to far more neighborhoods than you list via the LRT with far less transferring. Extensions to Clack. and to LO would be cheap. Is there some immutable law that says everyone goes to downtown Portland?

    More streetcars could be put on line during commuting hours. Lessen the frequency the rest of the day; thus eliminating the specter of huge LRT’s with no riders. The cost of streetcars is demonstrably less than LRT’s and without a dedicated railbed that many would consider a blight. The MAX has spawned a vocal and vested group of planners.

    I hope that there would be a new generation of LRT’s that are lighter and more energy efficient; innovations in composite and nano-technology should make this feasible. Perhaps the expense of the railbeds could then be reduced.

    Despite the assurances of the bureaucracy of planners suto traffic will not diminish in the Metro area. HWY 26 and the Banfield are just as congested as they have ever been because new people have moved in. The commuter rails will probably be just that; people will still use cars for shopping and going out. Therefore intelligent planning for autos will still be necessary. The entire South Metro area has many unresolved transit issues. The other areas I know little about.

  15. “The cost of streetcars is demonstrably less than LRT’s and without a dedicated railbed that many would consider a blight.”

    In Portland the difference between light rail and street car is usually defined by the dedicated railbed, although MAX shares its rail bed with autos going over the Steele Bridge.

    One key issue in the South Corridor to Milwaukie is the need to create new right-of-way to increase the capacity of the entire transportation network.
    Turning a lane on McCloughlin over to street cars would not achieve that purpose, nor would using a lane on 17th or Milwaukie. So I don’t see how streetcar has an advantage in that corridor. And without its own right-of-way it will be incredibly slow, as people have complained here in another thread.

    While additional auto capacity was considered, for a variety of reasons it was rejected. Again there is a fundamental problem with trying to add more autos to the Portland street network. The destinations themselves are congested. You aren’t really helping make downtown more economically viable by adding capacity that brings more auto traffic into downtown. You want more people, but not more cars.

    That is where transit shines.

  16. Ross:

    I think Ron was specifically talking about how the MAX trains need a railbed that can handle the heavier rail cars than the streetcar, which used that shallow-bed track layout that also saved a lot of money.

    Additionally, I think there is no doubt for requiring an expanded streetcar OR max network to have dedicated rights-of-way, whether like on Interstate or like in Beaverton.

    Actually, on another note, I’m curious as to what would happen to the MAX lines downtown if they ever put it underground in 20 – 40 years. Extra room for another streetcar or something?

  17. Justin –

    I have to admit, I don’t really know much about the construction requirements and costs for street car versus light rail verus heavy rail.

    As for downtown, I think the stations would have to be extended, but I think the current streetcars can operate on the MAX tracks so I would assume if we ever move to subway that’s what would happen.

  18. Ross,

    I don’t know if your career depends on your support of LRT or not. I would like people to know that even 35 years ago I was an activist for mass transit, volunteering for the Tom Walsh mayoral campaign against the 1990 Transportation Plan and aginst Robert Moses’ freeways.

    I do hope the Wash. Co rail project works out since it is good to see a connection other than to downtown Portland. It is also good to see the usage of an existing track. That very option is presenting itself in many other areas, too. It is unfortunate that many of these routes do not presently go through dense neighborhoods–but that would not prevent them from being developed into town centers–if people can cope with the intermittent freight noise. There are even a number of completely abandoned ROW’s- see Metros MTIP report.

    I think any Milwaukie rail-streetcar or LRT- will acquire a new right of way; but remember there is a lot of land in that path that is locked up into parkland. I estimate about 1.5 miles.

    I didn’t say anything about “adding more autos to the Portland street network.” I was referring to the outlying commumities. More people=more autos. I said that even if they commute by other means they will still use autos at other times. That’s particularly true in the ‘burbs. We have a critical need for a Willamette R. crossing at L.O. but this will always be swept under the rug. Now, I didn’t say a new highway. Simply a two lane bridge connecting existing streets and thoroughfares. That would save several miles per trip each way from West side Clackamas and Washington Cos. to Eastside Clackamas Co. Now they must detour up to Sellwood Bridge or down to Oregon City. Are they going to take commuter rail or bus from Mt. Scott to Tigard or Wash. Square? Tualatin to Kaiser Permanente? Clackamas TC to Lewis and Clark, etc? This is what I meant by all South Metro planning being inadequate at this stage.

    Cost comparison of Streetcar to MAX? Steetcar runs 20-25 million per mile. Apparently MAX is approaching 80-100 million. The reason I am intensely interested in Streetcar for MIlwaukie connections is that a line going North from Milwaukie TC could split, at Tacoma St. with a spur going only 1.5 miles westward and connecting to the West Shore. Only 1 mile of this would be excavated into Tacoma St. The rest will be built into the new deck of the Sellwood Bridge during construction-therefore, more cost savings. Furthremore, Streetcar would be the only sensible connection from Milwaukie to LO. And perhaps,also eastward on the tracks now going to Clackamas TC. The remaining link then is Tacoma to OMSI which is only three miles. Then riders could go to Lloyd Dist. or cross the Marquam to So. Waterfront. By intelligent scheduling we would see full cars rather than the 3/4 empty ones of MAX. We could link many, many more communities at far less cost than the MAX.

  19. Ray, part of the reason Streetcar is only $25M/mile is that we don’t have to acquire ROW. If you assume dedicated ROW, you’re going to drive that up pretty quickly.

  20. Question for Ron and Chris –

    Is there any technical barrier as to why we couldn’t have BOTH the streetcar and MAX sharing portions of a corridor?

    If, as Ron proposes, he would like to see streetcars cross the Sellwood bridge onto Tacoma street and then continue to Milwaukie TC, could the streetcar vehicles operate on the MAX tracks at the same line voltages, same signaling and communications/dispatch systems?

    (It seems that at least some of this is possible, as there are track switches downtown that can route streetcars on and off of the MAX tracks).

    I am skeptical of using streetcars rather than MAX for the South Corridor. MAX vehicles (even single-car vehicles) carry more passengers than streetcars, and bus lines in that corridor (such as the 33) show high ridership that would naturally translate into high rail ridership.

    Once you factor all the extra streetcar vehicles that would have to be purchased to meet ridership and frequency requirements, plus factor in the cost of extra operator-hours per passenger mile, streetcar wouldn’t be all that cheaper than MAX, IMHO.

    But the idea of streetcars from sellwood sharing an alignment to get to Milwaukie is intriguing.

    (An aside… when they build the new prototype streetcar vehicle in Clackamas with this federal grant, will they be working on making the inverters quieter? The current electrical equipment on the streetcar is quite noisy, and at least for me, the squeal of the inverters has a “fingernails on a blackboard” quality to it…)

    – Bob R.

  21. “Is there any technical barrier as to why we couldn’t have BOTH the streetcar and MAX sharing portions of a corridor?”

    Yes at least if you want both to stop. The platforms for streetcar are closer to the tracks. So if you put a streetcar platform in the MAX cars can’t get past it. There are also safety issues – as there are with heavy rail and MAX. So you could run street cars on the MAX track so long as they didn’t have to stop.

  22. “Yes at least if you want both to stop. The platforms for streetcar are closer to the tracks. So if you put a streetcar platform in the MAX cars can’t get past it.”

    Thanks, Ross, I didn’t think about the (now, obvious) differences in vehicle widths and platform gaps.

    Would it be possible to retrofit gap fillers onto Skoda style streetcars, similar to what the current Breda cars use in San Francisco?

    (Look closely when the doors open on a SF Muni car… small “gap filler” pops out to reduce the gap between the doorway and the platform.)

    Granted, the Breda/SF cars are all high floor designs, and the Skoda trams are low floor.

    – Bob R.

  23. “Simply a two lane bridge connecting existing streets and thoroughfares.”

    I worked for Citizens for Sensible Transportation the successor to STOP, the group that successfully fought the Western Bypass in Washington county. We also had a “Go Rail!” Project that promoted light rail, street car and commuter rail.

    The thing that finally killed the bypass was that in order for it to be used at all you had to invest in a street grid for people to get to it. I think you have that same problem with the Milwaukie to Lake Oswego bridge. There simply isn’t a network of arterials that can get people on and off the bridge and to the places they want to go without clogging up the entire area around the bridge heads.

  24. “Would it be possible to retrofit gap fillers onto Skoda style streetcars, similar to what the current Breda cars use in San Francisco?”

    I remember asking a similar question and don’t remember the answer. It might make more sense to retrofit the platforms rather than the cars, but in either case I am not sure what all the issues are. You still have the safety questions.

  25. There is a network of arterials in Oak Grove and also in Lake Oswego. In Oak Grove there are: Oak Grove Bv (where I would site the bridge); Courtney Rd: Fair Oaks Ave; River Rd: Laurie Ave: McLOughlin Bv. On the west side I would connect to Foothillls Dr. which then goes to: Hwy 43, north and south; SW Terwiliger extension; McVey Ave: A Ave to Country Club and Iron Mountain Bv. In other words on the East side there is a grid of throuroughfares and you have both McLoughlin Bv And River Rd. collecting a number of highways from the east. On the West side you have more or less a hub, with highways feeeding into a mile long stretch of Hwy 43 in downtown LO. It has been suggested that a tunnel–from Foothills Dr. to the west. intersection of A Ave would keep through traffic out of the LO business district.

    In Sellwood we are getting incensed at the bulk of our Bridge traffic being Clack. Co. commuters and we are going to stop any move to increase the traffic capacity of Tacoma St. We almost unanimously agree that Clack. Co. needs to do something to bear its share of Will. R. crossing traffic. I don’t believe Metro’s assertion that local jobs will handle the projected increases in population. Since when do people work near where they live these days? I am proposing a toll booth on the Sellwood Bridge.

    Has anybody seen the Willamette Week article about Dunthorpe’s opposition to a LO streetcar? Surprise, surprise. But here creativity could work out a compromise. How about frequent service at rush hours and very intermittent service–every 2-3 hours at other times? Something will have to be done about the Highway 43 traffic. I wonder how many of those Dunthorpe residents have owned property in LO or West linn?

  26. “In Sellwood we are getting incensed at the bulk of our Bridge traffic being Clack. Co. commuters ”

    I doubt that would change as a result of a new bridge further south.

    I agree the Sellwood Bridge should be kept at two lanes. I think that is what Bechtel has proposed and it might make sense for those of use who agree to get behind their proposal.

    I am normally sceptical of the private road proposals, but once federal dollars get into the picture, Clackamas County is going to insist on a four lane bridge. That will turn Tacoma into another Powell Boulevard. I think that is where Multnomah County is going in any case. And I don’t think you can count on them being very agressive in protecting the interests of Sellwood residents.

    On the other hand, Bechtel just wants to build the bridge. Delivering a two lane bridge with neighborhood support is more likely to happen than coming out of a six year DEIS process with something that works for them. So a partnership between the neighborhood and Bechtel could provide a new bridge without Clackamas County being able exert as much influence.

  27. “Oak Grove Bv (where I would site the bridge)”

    Oak Grove Bv is hardly an “Arterial”… it also has a very steep drop-off… you would have to site the bridge at River Road, and would face opposition from many homeowners in the River Forest area who like their neighborhood to be nice and quiet.

    The Oak Grove area gets extremely politically active over little matters such as Water and Sewer districts (there were more signs out there for that issue than for Bush v. Kerry)… it would be a massive fight to site a bridge there, and the bridge would be of little or no benefits to the locals.

    I doubt you can find one person in Lake Oswego who works in Oak Grove, and a small minority of Oak Grove residents might work in West Linn or Lake Oswego. Most area residents would view the bridge as a benefit to everyone _but_ them.

    Of course, the sleepy main street of Oak Grove might wake up from the added commuter traffic, provided any ever stopped.

    And what about that nasty double-90-degree jog in the road between 99E and River Road? If this was to become a bridge access arterial, you’d have to straighten that, wiping out a few additional homes, a church, and a medical clinic.

    Nothing is impossible of course, but you’d have to convince a lot of very skeptical people that this would be absolutely necessary and beneficial.

    Has anybody seen the Willamette Week article about Dunthorpe’s opposition to a LO streetcar? Surprise, surprise.

    Indeed. Here I take an opposite view about these NIMBYs (literal NIMBYs in this case, too!). By what right does someone buy property adjacent to a rail line and expect that serious rail traffic will never, ever return to those rails?

    Would these same people purchase property next to a major freeway that was empty due to economic reasons and then get angry someday when traffic counts returned to historic levels?

    – Bob R.

  28. To all: “Where there is a will, there is a way”

    “All things considered”

    In response to Bob R.: As far as technical diffculties pertaining to boarding platforms it is already assumed that Streetcars will employ some turnouts. This could be a solution for a Sellwood Streetcar in the Milwaukie corridor on LRT tracks. Thus the stops could be different than the MAX stops. Another idea perhaps a platform that raises only for the streetcar, but I know the more complex a system the more malfunctions.

    Is the streetcar competitive in overall cost/benefit analysis? If streetcars are produced here= Oregon jobs. Less capacity=more frequent schedules (which riders always like). More frequent schedules=more jobs. More streetcars=more jobs. The historic GOMACO cars are already US made and would fit in with the character of the Sellwood district. The gist of what I am saying is that Milwaukie residents (and other points, later) should have the option of going up either the East side or the West side of the Will. River.

    Oak Grove Bridge. For countless ages bridges have served all kinds of thoroughfares, straight ones and bent ones. None of the questions you raise re: Oak Grove would preclude the technical feasibility of merely adding two lanes from the terminus of Oak Gr. Bv. to Foothills Dr. and thus saving drivers billions of miles every year. Businesses in LO would get new customers. LO residents could quickly get to GI Joes and Fred’s as well as a few hundred other businesses.

    To Chris: How much ROW would have to be acquired on the Milwaukie route? I suppose UP has a very high value on their ROW since they could conceivably need to add more track-unless they are now legally restricted to what they have. Is that why the 515 mill. figure on Milwakie MAX came out? Let us bear in mind that that is a 2002 figure; what if this project doesn’t go ahead for several years? And also what is bothering me is the cost to extend it to OC. If we had that long of a line (to OC) for $515 mill. it wouldn’t be so bad. Even with the 3/4 empty cars at night.

    To Ross: SMILE meetings have been focusing in on the Sellwood Bridge issue and Mult. Co. Comm. Rojo de Steffey, visiting on July 6, promised to abide by our proposal to remain two lanes on the bridge. Bechtel rep. was also there and got exceedingly grilled about Bechtel’s motive in tenedering the offer to Mult. Co. Using renovation of other bridges for comparison the $90 M figure should be half or less( Ross Island, much bigger, was $35 M). The questionable parts are the W. and E. approaches which came from an Old Burnside bridge and are only concrete and, of course, the deck and sidewalks. The main truss span is steel, was designed by Gustav Lindenthal and was fabricated in 1925, so it should not pose a problem, IF we remain at two lanes. Therefore, there should be a major savings over the projected $90 M., with streetcar tracks, to boot.

  29. I’ve heard on the other end at the county that Commissioner Rojo de Steffey is “keeping an open mind” on the bridge and she just has one vote in any case. If the County uses federal dollars the choices may be 4 lanes or no lanes rather than 4 or 2. I think they are going to end up replacing, not renovating, the bridge.

  30. I truly hope they can renovate the old bridge and bring in two streercar tracks to meet up with the extension from the SoWa area. Maybe Lake Oswego will reject the line and Sellwood or McLoughlin can be the terminus. Is the city interested in slowing down the traffic on Tacoma Street? What is the speed limit now (30 MPH)?

    At the same time, the workers going from Clackamas County to Washington County need to be diverted to the new (;-)) I5/US26 Tunnels under the Willamette River or something South of Waverley is in the cards in the distance future (+25 years).


  31. Ray,

    I have become convinced that we need someone to do for federally sponsored public works what Clinton did for public welfare and Bill Sizemore did for soaring property taxes: cut out the fat and force the entities (government or private contractors) to accomplish their tasks within reasonable limits. I daresay that every decade will have its new fiscal challenges–finding a way to economically solve transit priorities could be one for this decade. I don’t agree with Cascade Policy Institute’s ultimate conclusions–because transit is only one piece of the urban development puzzle–but we CAN learn from such critics.

    I was an opponent of rampant freeway construction as far back as 1970. Now it is incumbent to analyze the proposed alternative for the cheapest means of: Cascadian rapid transit; unchoked freeways; reducing VMT; facilitating walking and bicycling; and developing cost-effective mass transit locally. Had I not been absent from the Portland area (1998-2002) perhaps I would have participated in Metro’s envisioning process, but, I wasn’t aware of it.

    Re: the Sellwood Bridge. Much has been made of the fact that it is: old; rated at 2 out of 100; and recycled from the Burnside Bridge. These are all half truths and I believe the Sellwood bridge can be rebuilt for far less than the 90 million proposed by Bechtel. Both St. Johns and R.I. bridge are much bigger and came in at about 35 m.
    The bridge was built of new steel in 1925, not unlike other Portland bridges. The OLD parts are the approaches and they will have to be rebuilt, plus a new deck and big sidewalks and perhaps a bikeway suspended on the side,too. Since the deck will be rebuilt we can, in the process, incorporate rails (cheaper than doing it later). The W. interchange will be more complicated, assuming LO steetcar goes ahead (over Dunthorpe objections). I propose a station at W. end so riders could go both north and south. In fact from proposed Milwaukie MAX route to LO Streetcar route is about 1.4 miles, so obviously, not too much cost there and twice the service.

    “Maybe LO will reject the line and Sellwood or McLoughlin can be the terminus”

    Quite. If Streetcar would work for LO–with commuter rail to points SW–then why would it not have, likewise, enough capacity for Milwaukie? AND there could be two options from Milwaukie: One on the West bank; One on the East bank. And if LO streetcar goes in, a third option of going there via either Sellwood bridge or the old rail bridge in LO. (Portland Streetcar costs are about thirty percent of MAX. Not enough capacity? Just add extra cars/more frequent service during rush hour. PSC can go forty mph.)

    I know there are at least two inevitable trends in this region: 1.Population growth in Damscus/Sunnyside/No. Clackamas Co. 2. Job growth in No. Macadam. And the reverse holds true. The result: Incredible traffic on the Sellwood Bridge. This why a two line system from Milwaukie is imperative. And ultimately some other connections. (Possibly: Johnson Ck. Bv., Powell Bv., McLoughlin to OC, existing rail line to Clackamas TC) But, since not everyone wants to go to Downtown Portland, I would say a frequent streetcar would suffice since the 5 mi. Milwaukie proposal is too short for a reg. MAX. The Interstate MAX is still not heavily used.

    “the workers going from Clackamas Co, to Washington Co. need to be diverted…(to) something south of Waverly.”

    Exactly. We frequently disuss this at SMILE (Sellwood Moreland Improvement League) meetings because the bulk of our bridge traffic is already Clackamas County commuters. METRO did a 1999 study and dropped the ball, concluding that there was no possibility of another Will. R. crossing. There, in fact, is. And it is the shortest. And it has the easiest connections to other highways. And it could be done with a scenic, two lane bridge. And it would also allow customers into Central Lake Oswego and give Lake Oswego easy access to businesses on McLoughlin Bv. And it would require no new highway and virtually zero widening. And it would save at least a few hundred VMT per year and resulting pollution. I have suggested a simple two lane bridge connecting Oak Grove Bv. (now terminating in a boat ramp) to Foothills Dr. in LO. That’s all. The feeder routes are already there and I don’t think it would become a speedway. Just as long as drivers knew there was one other option in this 14 mi. stretch of river. To placate LO a short tunnel could proceed under the bluff and pop out at the W. end of A Ave. thus taking Iron Mountain/Country Club/Boones Ferry/Kruse Way/Kerr Rd/Capitol Hwy. traffic under downtown LO. The whole distance is only 1 mi. Other connections: to Hwy 43 N and S, to McVey and to Terwiliger would probably have to be on the surface, but they would be confined to the existing stretch of Hwy 43 (about .9 mi.). Just look at a map.

    I believe the vast majority of Eastside and Westside residents would like this, but wealthy residents along the River would go into hysteria. Therfore, I would look to a higher authority-ODOT or feds- to push this through. But this is the kind of plan–simple, but so very effective–that I think we need to mitigate the transportation disasters we are headed for.

    On the north end of Portland, crossing to Vancouver- could not the present RR bridge be amplified, or have an adjoining bridge to carry some auto traffic–taking pressure off the I5 so we don’t have to spend enormous sums to replace it? If somehow we could get from Vancouver to Hwy 30, commuters to central Portland would have two routes. Yesterday I looked at that situation from a high vantage point. I think it could be done–but the other route would be via the RR through N. Portland.

    Bridges made of steel don’t wear out–so why tear them down? Why remove the I5 or the Marquam which is already doing its job? Sorry some folks don’t like it. And all that steel and concrete could help support a rail track. If UP moves out of Central Eastside, there is another problem that can be crossed off the list. I think, then, we could live with Amtrak, weaving thru Central Portland. Hell, maybe they could add some stops? Then they could go fast back across the Columbia to Seattle and canada.

    That is why I liked Howell’s piece in the Tribune. I think we all should meet up soon–I’ve never met either one of you. I think that for 1-2 billion we could get more than what you are proposing for several billion. Call me “Bill Clinton” for the 21st C.

  32. I support Commuter Rail train expands to westbound to Downtown Portland directs to Union Stations – travels from U.S. 26 to I-405 turns left to north I-405 then turn right direct to Union Station. Use Southside of U.S. 26 for Communter Rail route.

    Secondly, I support Commuter Rail Network in Portland & Vancouver area.

  33. I want a commute rail serves from Beaverton TC to Seaside, OR, Next Phrase 1: serves from Portland to SE Portland & from South: includes stop at SE Center allows TRI MET employees go to work at TRIMET office from their homes or go to downtown for their jobs, or everywhere included 7 days services. Next Phrase 2: Portland to Gateway TC to Troutdale; should serve North Portland/Vancouver to east Vancouver via SR114 to Washoquash (spelling), Phrase 3; next Phrase 4 lists on commuter train routes. Let post on webpage. Thanks.

  34. Hi Everyone,

    I am a Chicagoan who is moving to Oregon. I will be staying on Oregon City with friends, but looking for work in Portaland. Is there any type of commuter rail service, or public bus service, that can take me back and forth at a reasonable price?

    Any info. would be appreciated. poweress74@hotmail.com

  35. Kat, I’m afraid your options from Oregon City are limited to Bus and Bus. Go to trimet.org and check out the #33 and #99 (Express) from the Oregon City transit center.

  36. Technically you can ride Amtrak from Oregon City to Portland, but it’s not a realistic option.

  37. The columbia River route to Astoria actually went on over Young’s Bay to Seaside, but was abandoned, lack of ridership… revival possible??

  38. Passenger service (other than the short-lived Lewis & Clark Trains) ended in the 1950s and was replaced by bus service.

    A large reason for passenger train service to Astoria was the Great Northern Pacific Steamship Line (owned by the SP&S railroad, and named for its two parent roads, the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads.) The GNPSS ran from Astoria to San Francisco, in competition with Southern Pacific’s trains. During WWI, the ships were commandeered by the federal government and the steamship service never returned.

    The purpose of train service from Astoria south was military trains to Fort Stevens, and occassional freight service. I don’t believe any passenger trains ran south; if they did they were locals. Ultimately traffic south of Astoria was low – it was the massive cost of maintaining the trestle over Youngs Bay that caused the track to be abandoned (believe this was in the ’70s).

    There simply is no need for regular passenger service on this route; Astoria is not that large of a traffic generator (population is 10-15,000); and the track is in fair to poor condition; I believe there are actually several washouts that were never repaired from last year (due to no rail traffic).

    If anything, Portland-Salem commuter rail service should be a #1 priority. The existing Portland-Eugene service is simply anemic at best, and the equipment can be better utilized to Seattle. However a well operated commuter service would help reduce traffic, congestion and pollution along the northern I-5 corridor and offer realistic transit options, that simply don’t exist today but is badly needed.

  39. While it’s not the first time on your site, I can’t let the following pass without comment:

    what…Bill Sizemore did for soaring property taxes: cut out the fat

    THAT is a criminal lie. What Bill Sizemore did was destroy any semblance of reality to our property tax system, and give the biggest tax breaks to the richest property owners…

    This is one reason why Zidell pays a few thousand dollars in property taxes for the dozens of acres of prime waterfront property they own in SoWa…that people here are falling over themselves figuring out how to “serve”.

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