Third Time the Charm?

The title in the Daily Journal of Commerce says it all “Milwaukie light rail gets back on track.

For the third time in nearly 10 years, the regional government Metro has revived its plans to build a light-rail line from Portland to Milwaukie.

And as part of the decision that no one will ever quite know when it was made, the center of gravity for the crossing continues to move south:

Included in the updated plan is a proposal that would link the new light-rail line with the Portland Streetcar and Portland Aerial Tram on the South Waterfront development. Such a plan would move the original alignment further south of the Marquam Bridge and closer to Oregon Health & Science University’s Center for Health & Healing.

“When this was first studied, South Waterfront didn’t exist,” said Olivia Clark, executive director of TriMet, the regional transportation authority. The proposed new alignment, she said, “is reflecting changing times in terms of what’s happening in development.”

Did Olivia get a promotion? Fred better watch out :-)

33 responses to “Third Time the Charm?”

  1. Reasons to Keep the Yellow Line on the Eastside

    The current plan to connect the future McLoughlin light rail line to downtown Portland via a new “Caruthers Bridge” should be reevaluated.

    Many regional commuters currently clogging north-south corridors (McLoughlin, MLK/Grand and I-5) would opt for a fast and reliable transit mode if one existed. Light rail must do a better job of attracting non-downtown trips if it is to have a significant impact on reducing freeway congestion.

    If large numbers of auto commuters are going to switch to transit, light rail will have to operate more like a metro system with faster trains and fewer stops.

    One way to provide this service is to connect the future McLoughlin line to the Interstate line through the inner eastside. If the McLoughlin line is diverted to downtown, north-south, east-south and east-north transit trips will continue to be too slow to lure many non-downtown bound commuters from their cars.

    Water Avenue is the logical corridor for this line because it is the most direct route between OMSI and the Rose Quarter and would require little land acquisition. Trains operated on an exclusive right of way, making stops only at stations under the Hawthorne, Morrison and Burnside bridgeheads, could travel between OMSI and the Rose Quarter in seven or eight minutes. Dual-level covered stations with elevators or escalators would provide easy transfers to and from buses and streetcars on the bridges. These stations could also provide access to new eastside developments such as the Burnside Bridgehead Project.

    The Yellow Line could connect with the 1,100 buses that cross these bridges every weekday, greatly enhancing transit access to the eastside. These buses, on eight different routes, currently carry one-quarter of TriMet’s bus riders.

    The Yellow Line in this corridor would not compete with an eastside streetcar circulator proposed to serve the Lloyd District, the MLK/Grand Corridor and OMSI. Conversely, it would compliment and feed that system.

    Transfers between north-south and east-west trains would not be a serious deterrent to downtown-bound commuters. Both lines, if connected with a high capacity station at the Rose Quarter, could accommodate more downtown commuters than the current system. This would eliminate the Yellow Line junction now causing operational delays at the Rose Quarter. These delays will become more frequent when another junction is added at the west end of the Steel Bridge to accommodate mall trains.

    The Interstate Line could extend south of the Rose Garden on an elevated track avoiding traffic, buses and pedestrians. It could cross the existing east-west tracks immediately west of the freeway. The station, with escalator access between train platforms, could be completely covered or developed in conjunction with a high-rise transit oriented project on the site.

    A covered station at the Hawthorne Bridge ramps would provide a direct connection with the 590 buses that cross this bridge every day. The proposed eastside streetcar, if routed from OMSI over the Hawthorne Bridge instead of a new bridge, could provide additional capacity for Yellow Line passengers traveling to or from downtown during peak hours.

    Given the serious traffic congestion in the McLoughlin Blvd/I-5 corridor, this faster Yellow Line alignment, along with an extension north to Hayden Island, is needed as soon as possible. This direct eastside north-south light rail route would be cheaper to build and operate and would attract more passengers than one that is detoured through downtown.

  2. I agree with Jim. It would serve the city much better to stay on the east side. Downtown already has enough service, between three MAX lines (stays three with the new Clackamas line while moving the yellow line east), almost all bus lines, and teh streetcar.

    But it is very inconvenient and sometimes near impossible to get from neighborhoods like Sellwood, Brooklyn, Ladds Addition, Moreland and Milwaukie to the Lloyd district or the Industrial areas of N. Portland by transit.

    It would be cheaper and make more sense to keep it on the east side.

    Also, in addition to connecting to the east/west trains at Rose Quarter, and to the many busses that cross the Hawthorne, there are also many bus lines (frequent service) that cross the Ross Island bridge that could be connected with as well. So without a single change to the east/west service, the yellow line on the east side could connect with busses and trains that cross three or four bridges easily, while keeping the N/S transit times down and providing a much needed east side link.

  3. I also agree with Jim Howell. Why hasn’t someone at Trimet hired this guy? Seriously, that is the most logical, thought out, obviously functional, and market relevant plan I’ve heard about the Milwaukee extension in a LONG LONG time.

    ? In all seriousness, why add ANOTHER billion dollar bridge and deluge to downtown when we could add to system capacity merely by extending service to the east side! :) It’s a much better win win then the win lose of more rail congestion downtown. I’m still not convinced one can even run more trains through downtown without causing all types of delays. The mall extension will be a good example.

    Besides that, all the technology people that have moved here, and now live in SE Portland but work in Washington county at Intel and such… they don’t ride MAX, but they would if it had REAL service through downtown instead of the prodding and morbidly slow service. It’s faster to sit in traffic on I5/26. Why would we make the yellow line continue through downtown when it is merely going to cause the same thing to occur between north PDX and Milwaukee?

    …but I digress, this is where a profit motive would come into play to do the right thing, and a counter profit motive is encouraging the wrong move (through downtown).


  4. Not sure residents of N. Portland would be thrilled to lose their direct MAX line to downtown. Also, what’s new is SoWa and OHSU, but keeping the Yellow on the eastside does not address this at all.
    Longer term, when the Eastbank freeway comes out and development gets going, a MAX line through the Central Eastside makes sense, but not now.
    Maybe Streetcar should have exclusive ROW on MLK and Grand.

  5. The Interstate Line could extend south of the Rose Garden on an elevated track avoiding traffic, buses and pedestrians. It could cross the existing east-west tracks immediately west of the freeway. The station, with escalator access between train platforms, could be completely covered or developed in conjunction with a high-rise transit oriented project on the site.


    Immediately west of I-5 is the Rose Garden. If we were to reroute MAX off of the current alignment (Interstate Avenue) to move it to fit in the narrow strip between the Rose Garden and I-5, then why the hell did we spend millions of dollars to tear up and rebuild Interstate Avenue to accomodate MAX?

    I’m not sure an overhead bridge would work well, because immediately south of the area the land slopes downward, so that trains to/from the south of the “new” Rose Garden “high capacity train station” would have a steep and long (and expensive) bridge to climb.

    Why not just put MAX on MLK/Grand? Same benefits – no land acquisition; there’s already four travel lanes plus two parking strips so plenty of space for MAX, and the bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad near OMSI has to be rebuilt anyways.

  6. We need a bridge from the Division area to Downtown – it sucks having to backtrack nearly a mile north or south to get over the river.

    That said, someone please tell me why we need TWO light rail lines parallel to each other to serve the exact same stops? Who’s brilliant idea is this?

    And where are the biotech towers in SOWA to justify it as a transportation destination? Last time I checked there were practically no jobs down there, and OHSU has yet to put together a campus plan. And their campus won’t even be in SOWA; it’s going to be located North of the Ross Island Bridge and South of the Marquam!

    I’d like to see someone try to build a bridge over the nature preserve Ross Island… I reallly would. Guaranteed Dead on Arrival in portland politics.

  7. Here is a link to a classic document on transit system design. I have yet to see a more cogent explanation of how a successful transit system consists of tiers of modes, and encourages transfers to attract greater ridership.

    The first MAX route was designed to be one component in such a system, but the Portland region seems to have lost any focus on good system design. The Federal and local funding mechanisms encourage this distorted thinking.

    Jim Howell’s suggestion should be evaluated in the context of a well-designed system, where it would be an efficient, cost-effective component.

  8. If a Milwaukie Max line is constructed, Jim is right on target – it should stay on the Eastside and not be detoured on the downtown transit mall. I also agree with Adron “why add ANOTHER billion dollar bridge”. Taxpayers do not need and should not have to pay for this Curuthers clanger TriMet may categorize Max as a regional system, but in fact it is really a to and from downtown system. Jim’s proposal is a first step to craft Max as a truly regional part of the TriMet system – one that doesn’t require going through downtown to travel across town. Jim’s proposal will also help relieve the current Max tracks choke point at the Steel Bridge, and is far more cost efficient than requiring a new billion dollar boondoggle bridge just to connect SoWhat. Furthermore, the SoWhat district should be standing on its own merits and not be requiring even more taxpayer subsidies.

    As for the Eastbank freeway; as part of the West Coast I-5 Corridor that extends from Canada to Mexico, this choke point also needs to be fixed by expanding the freeway to three full service lanes in each direction, not only to relieve the current congestion and help support the regional economy, but to handle all those additional triple trailer rigs that soon will be going to and from Swan Island. Maybe a toll gate should be set up at the foot of Going Street to help pave the way there.

  9. Please do not forget the option of extending the Portland Streetcar line into Milwaukie.

    Streetcars could be put back on the Hawthorne Bridge and run by OMSI and to Sellwood with very high ridership. Put the route on Milwaukie Avenue and you will acheive the most affordable way of getting rail transit into Clackamas County.

  10. i purchased a home on the yellow line. 20 minutes door to door is what it takes for my wife to make it to work downtown.

    we love it.

    BUT heck, i agree with Jim. if they time the transfers well.. (oh i dunno why i would hold out hope on this), an extra 5 minute delay would be a small price to pay for the extra connectivity.

    heck. connecting the interstate corridor, to the inner east side would be sweet. a nice quick max ride to the burnside area…

  11. Jim Howell’s ideas have some merits worth serious consideration.

    Perhaps a best-of-both worlds approach is in order — the mall is being built anyway — so existing Yellow Line trains can go downtown and onward to Milwaukie on a future Caruthers transit bridge (which can be built to carry local bus, BRT, streetcar, MAX, and emergency vehicles.)

    Meanwhile, a new eastside transit spine between Milwaukie and North Portland (with a color designation different than “Yellow”, I’ll call it “Orange” for discussion purposes) can provide more rapid service for trips not needing to go downtown.

    Such a system would make the most sense in the future if light rail is extended into Vancouver/Clark County. Both Yellow and Orange trains would depart Vancouver and utilize the existing Interstate tracks. Yellow Line trains would cross the bridge into downtown, run along the mall, then cross the new bridge back to the east side and continue to Milwaukie. Orange Line trains would run straight through to Milwaukie much more rapidly.

    Such a service, if implemented with convenient transfer points to east-west bus lines, would be a boon to transit users needing to travel from inner SE neighborhoods to points in North Portland.

    – Bob R.

  12. First of all, Why hasn’t someone at Trimet hired this guy?

    That would be because he has been through those doors and is now retired. (I believe he is why the Tigard TC was put next to the railroad tracks making it a great commuter rail station location)
    It really bugs me because if MAX was being put in a tunnel instead of on the mall, there would be no need to consider an eastside line. Yes, riders would have to cross the river twice, but because of the speed the extra time needed would be negligible. And while it would require a new river crossing, Milwaukie riders would get direct service to downtown.

    Overall, I’d worry that the required transfers to reach downtown wouldn’t work out. That being said, the 70 is only a ho-hum connector between Milwaukie/eastside/North buses

  13. What should really be reevaluated is how much we’re wasting on these stupid transit systems. These systems are so 1920’s! Why don’t they just eliminate Tri-Met altogether and subsidize those who truly cannot afford to pay their cab fares and contract with a private entity to transport people in wheelchairs to they can go from point A to point B without the hassle of transfers, and lousy bus, max and streetcar service. I am quite frankly disgusted with the pathetic lack of customer service and the service itself.

  14. Hey Greg, I totally disagree with you. How about if we settle our disagreement by voting for people to represent us in making transportation decisions? Oh yeah, democracy… Have you noticed that EVERY SINGLE politician in Portland is in favor of increasing transit access and availabity.

    Do you THINK that might be a reflection of the values of the populace? Um duh, look around you. The majority is getting what the majority wants, and I’m sorry if you feel left behind, but truly you have been left behind. The majority thinks you are wrong, and in a democracy the majority is right.

    And worse, you can’t address the benefits of the ideas presented here, instead resorting to whining.

  15. I don’t remember seeing any cost estimates that would place the cost of the Caruthers transit bridge at any higher than $100 to $150 million dollars. This is a far cry from the billion dollar figure being thrown around.

    I beleive that Jim Howell’s proposal does have a lot of merit, however, it fails to address the issue of increasing bridge capacity across the Willamette River into downtown. And I do beleive that this is a very legitimate issue for both transit riders and those that travel by car. Even if the bridge is built only for light rail, it will divert a large amount of transit traffic off of the Hawthorne and Ross Island Bridges. This will open up capacity for lots of other users.

    The real issue that will define the Milwaukie MAX line is whether or not it will bring transit oriented development to inner Southeast Portland. Having studied the planned station locations and their surrounding zoning designations, I’m not too optimistic.

    Although much of the land in the corridor is vastly underutilized, the land is zoned for industrial use and the City seems to be wary of giving any more industrial areas up for residential development. On the other hand, many of the property owners that I have spoken with would love to redevelop their properties into mixed-use communities, if only the city would let them.

  16. If we are putting the money into a Carruther (or some other river crossing), MAX should go underground between South Waterfront and Portland State, with an underground station at OHSU. Similar to the Washington Park station, but with eight high-speed elevators.

    If it comes up in “front” of OHSU at the fabled 9th Floor, riders could have direct access (through the lobby) to the skybridges to the VA hospital and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

    Sure, it could cost more than running it along Lincoln. But it also would provide direct transit service to the region’s largest employer, as well as medical students, patients of limited means, and disabled veterans requiring treatment.

    As for as the bridge itself, why not put two tolled automobile lanes on it? If the bridge connected Division to Naito Parkway, could the tolls generate enough revenue to pay for the bridge?

    Maybe Streetcar should have exclusive ROW on MLK and Grand.
    Personally, I’d rather see it jog over to Sixth Avenue (from a single-track two-way crossing on the Grand Avenue viaduct) and run two ways on Sixth.

  17. I also agree with Jim on the Central Eastside alignment idea.

    To comment to Mr. Allen’s post: From what I’ve gathered from TriMet TIP open houses, and other events, is the system seems to be designed to accommodate riders who will ride for no longer than 30 minutes and make zero transfers; there’s a feeling that if someone has to transfer or take longer than 30 minutes to reach a destination that they’ll instead use another mode of transportation.

    I’m sure most everyone is aware of a specific Willamette River bridge that is being currently reviewed that I happen to be on the Community Task Force for. So far, the light rail/MAX comment has come up only briefly – with the response that the bridge will include options for the Streetcar, but not MAX (weight and turning radius, IIRC). Although the process is past criteria rankings and defining that evaluation criteria, my personal opinion wouldn’t mind if there was a community interest that wanted to see what putting light rail on the bridge would do.

  18. As I have previously posted, rather than gumming up motor vehicle traffic on MLK and Grand thereby generating an environment created by more congestion, a better place for an Eastside Streetcar would be on low volume motor vehicle and more pedestrian oriented streets like 6th Avenue However, such an alignment option was never studied because streetcar backers, PDOT under Commissioner Adams and the hand selected citizen advisory committee had already developed a preconceived agenda to create a MLK-Grand streetcar couplet. The bigger problem is that citizen advisory committees of today have simply become window dressing to comply with citizen input and participation laws. Government entities like Portland and Metro go shopping for people that will for the most part rubber stamp whatever social engineering proposal the government suggests.

  19. Yeah, I am not going to use the systems and I am not going to pay for them via forced charity either.

  20. Sorry, where is the bridge actually going? I can’t find any documents that show the new location of the bridge or even the proposed location of the bridge other than the Caruthers alignment. Do such documents exist in a web-grabbable format?

    But please, by all means, continue your squabbling. Don’t mind me.

  21. I’m not aware of any web files showing the new proposed location for the Caruthers bridge at this time.

    What I have heard is that pretty much the whole area between the Ross Island and Marquam Bridges is still in play. I don’t think that there is a single location picked out since a bus and rail bridge has a much more complicated connectivity issue than just a rail only bridge.

    It appears that OMSI also wants the bridge built further south since they have some rather ambitious plans for expanding their campus.

  22. Bob R. said:

    “Perhaps a best-of-both worlds approach is in order — the mall is being built anyway — so existing Yellow Line trains can go downtown and onward to Milwaukie on a future Caruthers transit bridge (which can be built to carry local bus, BRT, streetcar, MAX, and emergency vehicles.)”

    >>>> But Bob, I have a gut feeling that this bridge will not get built in our lifetimes; it’s because of the money involved, which would pose a big obstacle. It looks like the Columbia River thing is more critical and has higher priority.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see a transit bridge built to SE to carry the #9, #17, and #19; I remember getting stuck in the bus when there was an accident on or near the Ross Island bridge.

  23. Nick –

    I don’t know about the likelihood (due to political will, funding priorities, regional transportation requirements, etc.) of the Caruthers crossing, but it is being studied, so for now it is useful to discuss the pros and cons of such a bridge.

    One reason I mentioned emergency vehicles and buses as well as light rail, is that we haven’t had a new downtown-area bridge in decades, and we know more now about the likelihood of a big quake in the area. Some bridges have been upgraded seismically, but not to new-construction standards. A Caruthers crossing (or any new downtown area crossing) could provide a vital link for emergency services, as well as rerouted transit. Such a project could receive types of funding not otherwise available to purely transit projects, in light of the emergency services capacity.

    – Bob R.

  24. Lance says, “The real issue that will define the Milwaukie MAX line is whether or not it will bring transit oriented development to inner Southeast Portland. Having studied the planned station locations and their surrounding zoning designations, I’m not too optimistic.”

    I think this is a good observation. The justification for making such large investments is that they incorporate a potential for development, specifically vacant land that can be infilled. This criteria simply doesn’t exist here–at least to a significant degree in the proposed Milwaukie MAX route. It travels about a mile and a half thru Westmoreland Park, Eastmoreland golf course and Crystal Springs PArk. Gonna develop those?

    It also travels in proximity to the Brooklyn yards. Gonna want to put your condos next to a noisy switching yard? Brooklyn neighbohood has a lot of content, single family homeowners, some of them in historic properties. Are they going to want to leave? Then this route crosses the Willamette, and probably at an angle making a rather long crossing. So where is the vacant land for infill? How much infill property is there going to be for the $550 million price tag?

    If the Westshore streetcar gets as far as the Sellwood Bridge, it would be relatively simple to connect Milwaukie to this—it’s only 2.7 miles. There could be a streetcar line on the eastside. also, connecting to the terminus of the Eastside line at OMSI, prehaps via Milwaukie Ave. In theory, it costs a lot less. And then there would be two routes–and multiple destinations– instead of only one.

    The spot for a new bridge? Holgate Bv. to SW Bancroft. If the SOWA is such an important growing area it should have its own crossing.

  25. …except for the freeway part.

    Anyways, I think it is a good idea to build transit in places where people actually live… not just where future development might happen. Have any of you ridden the blue line in hillsboro recently?

    There are literally hundreds of acres of farmland and forested areas around the stations… not really much out there besides Beaverton and Hillsboro, and three blocks of NW Portland have both more residents and business activity than the areas around the burb stations combined.

    I am very much in favor of connecting existing neighborhoods into the MAX system, provided it acts like a transit system. Some people like to do more than ride transit for the ‘aaah’ factor, you know. Like, we actually have to get to work.

  26. Why, oh why are we even considering not one but TWO light rail lines to Milwaukie – MAX, AND the Portland Streetcar?

    I hope that the inner Southeast neighborhoods (and the City of Milwaukie) are planning on forming a local improvement district to pay for this; because my gut feeling says TriMet is going to end up paying for it, and the price of my ticket is a bus whose ADA lift gets stuck in the mid-way position (which means I’m not going anywhere); because the bus should had been retired five years ago but TriMet blew its bus replacement budget on MAX projects that voters didn’t vote to fund.

  27. The real issue that will define the Milwaukie MAX line is whether or not it will bring transit oriented development to inner Southeast Portland. Having studied the planned station locations and their surrounding zoning designations, I’m not too optimistic.

    Although much of the land in the corridor is vastly underutilized, the land is zoned for industrial use

    I think it is important to remember that residential density is not the only issue. As I recall, the Central Eastside is a very dense employment center.

    There are actually a lot of development opportunities on the Milwaukie route. Its important to remember that development occurs around the station areas, not at along the whole route. So the parks and golf course are probably safe. I think the planned station areas will all provide opportunities for increasing density of employment, residential or commercial or some combination of the three.

  28. A balanced transit system design must be based on more than having development opportunities along every segment. One of the first post WW-II “light rail” lines in the US, the “Skokie Swift” was purely a point-to-point operation over a former interurban railway right-of-way, connecting a transit center in Skokie to the Chicago EL system. It was an immediate success. It has recently been upgraded to full rapid transit.

    Sometimes it really is about moving people, not creating development opportunities, although I would certainly not turn my nose up at the latter when they are available. I hope that those working to advance light rail to Milwaukie consider the broader picture.

  29. The eastside needs more efficient north-south transit, specifically some that doesn’t detour through downtown. So I’m all for that … but the yellow line from interstate to downtown is important too. I think you could have a new color for this north/south line, and run it in parallel with the existing yellow line.

    You could even have the yellow line go downtown and come back out to rejoin the SE portion, so that SE and NE both have a train (yellow line) to take folks downtown, but there’s also an express N/S (orange) line that doesn’t cross the river. I for one would use the heck out of that.

  30. There is no web page showing the new bridge alignment because it hasn’t been decided yet. Metro is gearing up to start the DEIS process very soon. At issue is the OHSU master planning process on the westside, freight tracks, the Portland Opera/OMSI issue, and how it will tie in with streetcar on the eastside. All they really know is that it will be somewhere between the Marquam and RI Bridges.

  31. Sometimes it really is about moving people, not creating development opportunities…
    IMO, with transit systems, this is how it should be – anyone else remember what everyone said about Rockwood when the original MAX opened? We all know what that area is now!

  32. anyone else remember what everyone said about Rockwood when the original MAX opened?

    Or Cascade Center? Or Orenco Village, where the “pedestrian friendly, transit oriented” development is a long walk from the MAX station? (The distance from the center of the MAX platform to the Starbucks is 1,620 feet, or a quarter of a mile.) In that time you walk past a park-and-ride parking lot and three city blocks of vacant land.

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