Who Will Carry the Torch for a Willamette Shoreline Trail?

As the Willamette Shoreline Transit/Trail analysis proceeds to a Locally Preferred Alignment decision in September, it’s becoming evident that the trail component is going to be a challenge.

There simply is not enough width in the right of way in some spots (tunnel, trestle, etc.) to accommodate both rail and trail. The work-arounds to this are very expensive (initial estimate on the order of $60M).

While some might argue to use the right-of-way for a trail and punt on transit (e.g., just improve bus service on 43), that’s not likely to be the outcome for a few good reasons:

  • Portions of the right-of-way are not owned outright, they are easements that may lapse if rail service is not maintained.
  • The right-of-way is valuable, it’s potentially worth $50-75M as match for Federal funds for a transit project (there are no equivalent programs for trail projects).
  • Bus solutions in Highway 43 are going to get caught in congested traffic as the corridor sees growth in traffic over the coming decades (and the motivation for the transit project is in part the impossibility of widening the road).

So what happens to the trail? I certainly hope we don’t give up. The Daily Journal of Commerce reports on one Metro official suggesting Metro might ‘punt’.

I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. It seems pretty clear that the trail project will split from the transit project, if only because of Federal processes (the Federal Transit Administration does not fund trails). But I hope we keep the trail project alive in its own process. This is a key regional corridor, and the analysis so far suggest it will get lots of use. Since the trail will cross city and county boundaries it would seem like Metro is a likely sponsor. Let’s hope the Council doesn’t forget that as they bless the transit decision.

We’ll probably never build a $60M trail, but let’s keep the planning alive so we can keep looking for more cost-effective alternatives!

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