As the planning for the Milwaukie light rail line is refined, those responsible should consider other long range improvements that might be needed in the corridor so as not to require costly and disruptive changes to the line in the future, otherwise known as “Strategic Planning”.
From SE 3rd to SE 17th Avenues, the proposed line runs parallel to the Union Pacific Railroad, the only rail line that connects the Pacific Northwest with Southern California with freight and passenger service. It will never be abandoned but, in the future, will have to handle many more trains than it does today and will probably require additional tracks.
This rail line is a major blight on the adjacent neighborhoods. The grade crossings at SE 11th and12th Avenues are major bottlenecks that will only worsen as more trains are added. Back in the 1970s, when Powell Blvd was dropped into a dismally designed underpass in order to relieve traffic backups on Powell, the street connections between the Hosford-Abernethy and Brooklyn neighborhoods were severed and the needs and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists were largely ignored.
Some day these shortcomings should be corrected and foresight is needed to minimize the cost and impacts of these future remedies.
A solution to this problem is to drop the grade of the railroad though this corridor so all at-grade crossings would be eliminated. Powell Blvd would no longer have to be in a ditch and local streets would again connect
It takes about three-quarters of a mile to drop the rail line down the 30 feet needed to run under 11th, 12th and Powell and the same distance to return to the surface. (See attached map.)
It would be infeasible to construct this cut at the location of the existing tracks because rail service cannot be interrupted for any extended period of time. The cut could be built immediately south of the line and connected up at each end (SE Clay Street at the north and SE Holgate at the south), at which time the existing track could be removed.
This leads back to light rail. Since property will have to be purchased to construct light rail, it would be prudent for TriMet and the City of Portland to purchase and reserve a corridor between the UPRR and the light rail line to construct a rail cut to accommodate the needs of future freight and passenger service.