Our First Transportation System

Tuesday’s Tribune had an interesting feature article on the Portland Harbor and the conflicting demands on it: working industrial land, port facilities, riverside trails, environmental cleanup and habitat restoration.

The Willamette River was Portland’s very first transportation system, and is still one of our most significant. Indeed, the confluence of Freeway, Rail and Marine transport is still one of our big economic advantages.

How do we balance all these conflicting aspirations for the river and river-front?

6 responses to “Our First Transportation System”

  1. That’s an interesting Trib story, but it focuses mostly on the industrial-cleanup and development issues. One aspiration not mentioned is the river contributing to the local transportation system.

    Currently, the Willamette is an obstacle, to be crossed by a set of aging bridges. I hate to ride a hobbyhorse on this blog, but the thread provides an opening, so here goes.

    I think an experiment (just an experiment at first!) is warranted in providing a no-frills small-ferry (aka water taxi) service connecting the Eastside to downtown and SoWa. These small boats would carry pedestrians and bikes, but no motorized vehicles.

    The westside locations have river access; certainly the area near the tour boat dock comes to mind. I’m not initimately familiar with the Eastside possibilities, but certainly OMSI and the area near the Opera offices seem to be close enough to the water to construct a small dock.

    Today’s O has a story on MAX being a victim of its success, with bicycles contending for limited space with other passengers. Would the availability of a quick, cheap river crossing take some of the pressure off MAX?

    As far as I can tell, it’s an open issue here in Portland; it would be interesting to explore further. A google search for “water taxi” provides useful links to such services in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, Vancouver (BC), and elsewhere. I wonder how much a minimal experiment would cost, just to test the demand.

  2. I support moving grain elevator operations to Hayden Island. The Port of Portland has had a proposal toward this end for years.

    All transport systems benefit; oceanic carriers, rail lines, barging, even the grain elevators modernize. Efficiencies in operation and energy savings are likely worth $100’s of millions.

    Removing the Rose Quarter grain elevator would initiate master-planned development there. I support building a tunnel below the old Thunderbird Hotel site for 2 rail tracks to eliminate the rail’s ‘S’ curve there and make the waterfront accessable and naturally landscaped. There is talk about a high-speed rail station underground there. I suggest keeping it minimal.

    Removing the Albina grain elevator would create new waterfront space for commercial/industrial. This grain elevator may need to be removed in order to build the tunnel.

  3. Water taxis are good for taking shortcuts across large water bodies that take a long time to circle by car. I can’t see a water taxi service making it in Portland. The distances involved are too short, and we have too many bridges that provide workable alternatives. New York, Bostone, Baltimore, Seattle, Big Vancouver all have bay or large harbors, or a really wide river with a shortage of bridges. They also have development right up to water’s edge in most cases.

    Maybe there would be demand for passenger ferries from Oregon City to downtown Portland. Otherwise, there are almost no trips you couldn’t make faster on a bus.

  4. Yeah, crossing the river for such a short distance wouldn’t really work that well for Portland. Myself living in the Puget Sound region and never personally been onboard the Elliott Bay Water Taxi but my girlfriend who does commute on it loves it because it goes from West Seattle to Downtown Seattle. It beats the bus by 25 minutes and car by at least 15 minutes.

    When we had that big I-5 construction project, the images I saw of the water taxi was crazy. The poor little boat was jammed something silly.

    So in the case of Portland, removing the grain elevator would be great but an underground high speed rail station.. not so much and I’m all for HSR but not that close within City Limits.

  5. A water taxi on the Columbia might make a lot more sense, at least in the short term: connect the Expo center MAX station to a few places on the Washington side of the river…

  6. A High-speed rail station has been proposed on the Rose Quarter site for years. UofO teams from a graduating architectural major develop and present formal proposals this summer. AORTA still calls for a station there.

    The tunnel is not very long – about 1000′. The rail now is right on the edge of the Willamette River, preventing access. Moving the rail line back 100′ into a tunnel is a good idea for many reasons including the possibility of a HSR station serving Amtrak’s Cascades Talgo trainsets.

    Undoubtedly, a small marina dock would be installed at the site, with or without an HSR station, but not if the grain elevator is left in place.

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