Just 19 years ago, the Portland region opened its first MAX light rail line. The first 15-mile segment opened in 1986 between downtown Portland and Gresham. There was excitement in the community as we opened one of the first modern light rail lines in the country. Of course, there were a few derisive comments before it opened, including a suggestion that we should leave the keys inside and just walk away from it.
But all these years later, MAX has carried 199 million trips, and has helped spur more than $3 billion in transit-oriented development along the entire alignment.
Eastside MAX opened with an average of 19,500 weekday trips, which has now grown to an average of 41,100 daily trips. During the planning for the line, the city of Gresham didn’t want the MAX line in their front yard. But has since spent years and millions of dollars turning the city toward the MAX line.
A decade later, the 18-mile Westside MAX line opened, with half of the riders in the corridor new to transit. The success of the line could be seen since opening day – standing-room only trains during rush hour. First year boardings averaged 22,800 and has since climbed to an average of 32,700 weekday trips.
1st train to plane on West Coast
When the 5.5-mile Airport MAX Red Line opened Sept. 10, 2001, less than 24 hours before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings, it was the first train-to-plane connection on the West Coast. In these four years, 3.3 million people have ridden to or from Portland International Airport. The former bus line that served PDX averaged about 900 people getting on or off on weekdays. MAX has nearly tripled transit trips with an average of 2,600 weekday trips.
TriMet’s overall MAX system now covers 44 miles with 65 light rail stations. Last year MAX carried 32 million rides, up from 27.5 million the year before. And Saturday ridership is 80% of weekday ridership, showing that ridership isn’t focused solely on commute trips. On similar systems, one out of four riders are choice riders, but MAX is carrying three out of four riders as a matter of choice – leaving many cars in their driveways.
Next month, the 8.3-mile I-205/Portland Mall Light Rail Project will enter the Final Design phase. The community is invited to provide comments on issues including station design, and how MAX can help enliven the Mall for retail, pedestrians and transit riders. The project will extend MAX from Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Town Center, and between Union Station and Portland State University between 5th and 6th avenues. Construction is expected to begin in fall 2006 and open in September 2009. Get project updates by signing up at trimet.org/portlandmall.
The South Corridor Project Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement published in December 2002 that included the 2nd extension into Clackamas County – from Portland State University to SE Portland and Milwaukie – will have to be amended beginning early next year led by Metro. That work will focus on the connection across the Willamette River to Portland State University, and on the transit center and alignment in Milwaukie that was considered by a citizen committee last year and formally approved by the Milwaukie City Council. That South Corridor Phase 2 project could open in 2014.
In the meantime, a new phase of a bi-state study is considering a joint highway and transit project in the I-5 Corridor, crossing Portland’s other river to Vancouver. That study was led by the two state DOTs. A governor’s task force prepared recommendations in June 2005 that calls for a multi-modal approach to addressing the significant bi-state transportation needs. A light rail extension north from the Expo Center is being considered in that study, alongside bus options. Information on that effort is available at www.i-5partnership.com.
MAX has become a signature of our region and a tool for providing mobility while building and preserving neighborhoods. The success of MAX has made the Portland region a national model we can be proud.