Southwest Corridor project starting up, wins $2 million FTA grant

The next rapid transit corridor to be extensively studied in the Portland Metro area, what many in the media (including us) have been calling the “Barbur Boulevard” corridor, has a new (and more generic) name (The Southwest Corridor) and a $2 million grant from the FTA.

The next rapid transit corridor to be extensively studied in the Portland Metro area, what many in the media (including us) have been calling the “Barbur Boulevard” corridor, has a new (and more generic) name: The Southwest Corridor.

And it has a new page at Metro’s website.

And–it now has $2 million in the bank, or on the way, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration to study the corridor, defined roughly as the travel sheds of Barbur Boulevard/OR99W and I-5. The study areas include the cities of Portland, Tigard, King City, Tualatin, and Sherwood.

At this point, Metro insists that no decisions regarding mode or routing have been made–although many critics would scoff at this claim, believing that “the decision” has been made to build light rail, and that discussion of other alternatives will be for show. (I’d suspect that LRT enjoys a strong advantage, given the 50+ miles of existing track and the potential length of the corridor; but that other options have not been ruled out). Whether service to Tualatin is part of the corridor definition is unclear–the City of Tualatin is involved, but that may be simply because 99W passes through Tualatin’s northwest corner just across the river from King City. (The city of Durham is NOT included; which makes me suspect that downtown Tualatin is not within the project scope). And another unanswered question is how much of the defined corridor will actually get served–Gladstone and Oregon City were part of the South Corridor project (which spawned the Green Line and MLR) but rapid transit service to these two cities remains a long-term goal.

Still, a project isn’t really a project until it gets a name. And the first milestone on the next rapid transit corridor in the Portland metro area has hereby been passed. :)


26 responses to “Southwest Corridor project starting up, wins $2 million FTA grant”

  1. How many spokes do we build before thinking of a connecting loop or beltway style line? I agree that we aren’t ready yet, but after LO, MLR, and this project and the Powell line, will it be the next step?

  2. Metro’s High-Capacity Transit Plan has some elements of radial transit corridors defined, though most of that is pretty sketchy. WES, and the I-205 service (Green and Red), if extended, could be radial in nature; and one other corridor often discussed is a Clackamas-to-Washington Square corridor running through Milwaukie and Lake Oswego. But a specific loop? That doesn’t appear to be on the planning horizon.

  3. I just love the way they keep building and funding studies when they can’t even operate what they have.

    It’s so typical government it makes me laugh.

  4. I suppose in theory you could do a loop line of the Green and Orange lines via SE Railroad Ave or Milwaukie Expressway/Hwy 224. Could also do SE Lake Rd into either 224 or Harmony Rd directly into Clackamas Town Center.

    Its only about 3.7 to 5.5 miles to cover and could use the existing UP ROW for lowest cost or 224…Lake Rd would be the most expensive.

  5. I’ve got high hopes for this one — probably unrealistically so. We’re now in the middle of a string of what are, in terms of transportation need, a series of relatively low-priority high cost-to-benefit projects. This is one which potentially really can make a major difference.

    Metro’s project analyses and EIS’s tend to look at peak hour performance to justify transportation need. The trick is to come up with something that is convenient and fast enough to replace SOV’s throughout the day. There is already enough non-peak congestion on 99W in Tigard and points south to justify a well-designed HCT project on its own ROW. It won’t necessarily be cheap.

  6. Generally the corridor is described in internal discussions as a mile-wide swath centering on 99-W. However, I have also heard it described as that *and* as a simila corridor along I-5 south to Wilsonville. As you mentioned, a planning area does not make a line, however.

    Tigard TC has been often mentioned as an absolute must, and anyline would likely at the least end there. There’s a desire to serve Barbur TC as well, and PCC Sylvania. Other ideas have included branches or spurs, and there’s still debate among the various stakeholders as to where the best actual alignment would be. Result: broader, more all-encompassing definition that leaves the question unanswered for the present.

    Also, sidenote, there’s been a lot of banter about how it doesn’t matter where the line is, only where the stations are. This is another symptom of the move of MAX away from LRT roots to a more Metro-like design philosophy. If it comes to pass it will annoy the heck out of all the new urbanism types, as the Greem Line did.

    As for mode choice, both views are correct. The decision has not been made. It won’t be made until sometime closer to the xreation of a DEIS, and that’s many years from now. What I don’t think is understood, howver, is there is never ever ever a point at which one person or group makes a decision on what to pursuit. This process is collaborative and pollitical. It grows organically. That favors MAX because MAX is what most of the stakeholders are familiar with. Heck, one non-TriMet stakeholder told me in no uncertain terms that they would view BRT as a cop-out and as us getting second-rate service while the rest of the region got MAX, so it was MAX or nothing.

    In short, mode choice is a cultural decision made within the political and technical communities collectively. It’s decided one mind and heart at a time over years. By the time its codified into a DEIS or some kind of resolution to get an official blessing by an authority like a TriMet board or some such, indeed the decision has already been made. So in that sense, critics are correct. It should also be a learning point for advocates of other modes: start pushing for what you want early, get your campaign in front of as many stakeholders as possible, and make it persuausive and positive.

    Last thing, it is my understanding SWC would be completed before Powell.

  7. The recent right-turn death at Lombard notwithstanding, the re-construction of old 99W in north Portland, i.e N. Interstate Ave., with light rail, bike lanes, better pedestrian facilities and fewer traffic lanes has been a great success for all modes. Need to do the same with that other leg of old 99W in Southwest.
    re BRT, you have to have exclusive right of way no matter the the vehicle type to offer real high capacity transit; operating costs are higher for BRT than LRT.
    I expect to see a tunnel option that serves OHSU and possible HIllsdale then emerges somewhere out past the Fred Meyer store. It should turn south at Tigard and continue to Kruse Woods office park.

  8. A tunnel seems pretty expensive. Barbur is already graded for a rail line. If there’s room on Barbur for a pair of dedicated transit lanes, why bother tunneling?

    If it’s just a matter of serving OHSU, I think Tri-Met should look into a fully-automated funicular connecting a Barbur station at Gibbs to OHSU, running right underneath the aerial tram. Probably a lot cheaper than a tunnel.

  9. I know I’m repeating myself, but Douglas’s comment reminds me of the wisdom of Jim Howell’s proposal as an alternative to the current Aerial Tram: A level tunnel (with people-mover of some kind) from the South Waterfront to an elevator under OHSU. The tunnel could be connected with future elevators to a transit line (of any mode) on Barbur or any alignment (above grade or below) between South Waterfront and OHSU.

    A good example of this is Denver airport which connects multiple separate terminal buildings over a long distance with an automated underground people mover, multiple stations, and elevators/escalators. (Not to be confused with the perpetually-troubled Denver baggage system.)

    Now, I happen to personally be in the camp that thinks a transit tunnel (resembling a light underground metro) is wiser for the very long term as Portland continues to grow, but I’m also in the camp that thinks we should be designing our stations to accommodate 3 or 4-car trains when the need arises (sooner than you think), and nobody listens to me anyway. :-) But the beautiful thing about the South Waterfront-to-OHSU tunnel idea was that it could connect to just about anything in the future without much fuss.

  10. Are we spending too much on transit improvements to far-flung suburbs? Then again, the Blue Line is very successful, so I am conflicted on this question I am positing.

    Having lived in “these” areas and worked in the city, solid express buses are essential.

    The latest cuts “drove” me from riding a bus to driving a car.

    I can’t help but think what a dump 99W is along in Tigard. Light rail ain’t going to bring so called sustainable TOD’s to this auto-dependent hell hole. Maybe that is why I am against this project. I also think Tri-Met f’d this entire section up — It should have put LR to Washington Square / Multnomah Village and up to OHSU (credit to Eric H. for bringing that up a while ago).

    But instead we went the route of WES and now 99W/Barbur for LR.

    We need to stop wasting money on allowing people to commute further faster and look to densifying Portland’s downtown core and increasing its job density. The city of Portland is not a very dense place. Downtown needs more residential units. More residential units + high job density + effective downtown transit = success.

    Our metro area’s journey-to-work statistics are not very convincing that being equitable with light rail development everywhere is working.

    Once again, the blue line proves this wrong, but I think that’s a solid example of hitting larger population centers (nodes like DT Beaverton, DT Hillsboro, etc.).

    This project really fails to do that, unless one thinks that Tigard’s difficult to access downtown (by car, foot, and transit) is a good example of the above.

    This is like building a very expensive yellow line, except the yellow line is at least planned to connect to Vancouver in the near future, which should make it a successful investment if that occurs.

    I’m ranting again, sorry..Who’s with me on this?

  11. We need to stop wasting money on allowing people to commute further faster and look to densifying Portland’s downtown core and increasing its job density. The city of Portland is not a very dense place. Downtown needs more residential units. More residential units + high job density + effective downtown transit = success.

    But the 2040 plan also calls for denser regional centers (so you can live in/commute to your nearest regional center rather than to downtown). If LRT stations are not the tool to do this (and Hillsboro and Gresham would likely tell you they help), then what is the tool to achieve this?

  12. Chris:

    How are these regional centers working out? This is not a snarky comment, but I need some data before I can comment. I don’t see much of a regional center going on in Gresham, or anything else substantial for that matter. I do see a logical place to have a light rail stop — but nothing that would describe it as a regional center housing lots of people with a high job concentration, or any sort of statistical aberration that would separate it from a sector of, say Beaverton off of 217.

    I just have to scratch my head as to why we put so much energy and money into fringe city urban planning experiments that have not panned out so well.

    We need to get back to doing what’s easy first. It’s easier to grow at the center and work our way outwards.

  13. I would say that the regional centers were a mixed bag, and that our region’s ability to invest in them has been spotty.

    But as a matter of practical politics, investments have to be made across the region. The suburban jurisdictions would not sign on to an invest-at-the-center-only strategy. So the question remains, what kind of investments should we be making in the burbs in LRT lines are not the answer?

  14. The answer in many parts of the burbs should be express bus systems, or God forbid, a bus that has better headways than 30 minutes.

    I’m not saying invest in Portland only, but we don’t need more metro-wide planning on how we can make King City the next “regional center”. Sometimes things happen organically.

    I would have liked to have seen a mostly grade separated LR line from Downtown, underground through OHSU, to Multnomah Village, Washington Square, 217 Progress and then to downtown Tigard. From there it could go to Tualatin and Wilsonville in the future — which would capture a lot of I5 trips.

    Given that this didn’t happen and we instead went with WES; I am against this current version of Barbur 99W for financial and logistical reasons. Opportunity wasted.

    I am skeptical of surface street LR along 99w through to Tigard as this appears to be, given its extreme auto dependency along this path. The businesses along there are going to fight tooth and nail on this, not to mention it’s going to probably take a lane of traffic and left turns away in a not so friendly transit area. This project seems more headaches than anything.

    Light rail down the center of 99W to King City? That’s where people move to before they die. Don’t get me started with Sherwood.

    This is not exactly a LR/suburban issue but an issue with bad planning (go figure), poor route taken for this area, and lack of funds available.

    Mostly grade separated transit to major suburban cities I am okay with. But slow, surface street options we should avoid if it’s LR. Buses can do that type of transportation with a lot less capital investment.

  15. First, the transit investment needs to provide a real significant immediate advantage to a large portion of the targeted travel market. Trips using the transit mode should be faster than by private vehicle on a door-to-door basis outside of peak hours. That’s an awfully high standard in most circumstances, but there are specific cases where it is approached, if not reached. A Milwaukie-Lake Oswego Caruthers-type bridge, the aerial tram (yes, really), and Erik’s tunnel concept all potentially meet this standard.

    Second, we need to plan for a world that will change in ways that we aren’t foreseeing. The keys are flexibility and short term payback. Green didn’t meet its projections but is still a success relative to all but Blue in cost per boarding ride. Yellow is at the bottom of the colored lines (The mall shuttle has a much higher C/BR.) and is waiting for a new CRC to have any chance at competitive C/BR rates.

    WES is so far outside of its time that it is very difficult to see it as anything but a debacle. It has a real problem in that there is no there there at either end of most trips. So the time savings are lost in getting to WES and from it to where you really want to go.

    So – no specific one-size solution, but a mix with a lot more emphasis on express buses and BRT with LRT conversion potential than what we’re seeing now.

  16. transit beating car during off peak hours? that is an incredibly high standard.

    i grew up in new jersey. at 2am my home was 25 minutes door to door to most destinations in manhattan. 2 hours via transit.

    and yet, transit made sense most of the time…

  17. A lot about this project depends on how receptive the involved communities are to a greater amount of transit-focused infrastructure. If Tigard residents really don’t want a light rail line causing massive rearrangements on Barbur, then perhaps the corridor ends in Tigard, or duplicates WES service down to Tualatin. But these questions have not been asked in any serious fashion (newspaper polls are not a “serious fashion”); we’re at the beginning of the planning process. I have my assumptions as to what might work well and what might not, but TriMet hires professionals to research and answer these questions. (I realize that some people don’t trust them to reach the right answer, and in some cases suspect that TriMet’s planning staff attempt to justify decisions already made, rather than determine the best course of action; but I’m not ready to make that sort of accusation here).

    Metro’s HCT plan identified Portland/Tigard/Sherwood as a high-priority corridor; so that is a good place to start the necessary studies.

  18. EngineerScotty:

    You’re right, we cannot stymie the planning process through negativity, but there is this perception from outsiders who view Metro’s or Tri Met’s planning process as suspect at best.

    We know what we’re going to get, and that’s more thank likely LR. That might be the best solution for this area, but you’d be naive to think that Tri-Met is going to recommend anything other than LR at all costs. If this does not happen, I will readily admit I was wrong about this.

    Why waste 2 million dollars to study something we know the outcome of? Vote on it and start the light rail plans already, at least that’ll be 2 million dollars less spent.

    Here’s a quip of the study:

    “The study will determine what mode of transit – light rail, commuter rail, rapid streetcar or bus rapid transit – would best meet the area’s future travel needs. The corridor, identified as a near-term priority under Metro’s Regional High Capacity Transit System Plan, shows the greatest ridership potential in the region.”

  19. Works for me that the regional centers (aka edge cities) havent worked, never quite understood the strong push for them. I prefer it to be concentrated downtown and it appears so does the market. Portland really doesnt even have edge cities like just about every other metro in the US. Edge city development just drains the city center so why try to force gateway and the malls to turn into them. (Town Centers- now thats a different story IMO)

    I can’t help but think what a dump 99W is along in Tigard. Light rail ain’t going to bring so called sustainable TOD’s to this auto-dependent hell hole.

    I am skeptical of surface street LR along 99w through to Tigard as this appears to be, given its extreme auto dependency along this path. The businesses along there are going to fight tooth and nail on this, not to mention it’s going to probably take a lane of traffic and left turns away in a not so friendly transit area. This project seems more headaches than anything.


    I really think they got to seriously look at this tunnel option (as seen in the HCT map) in this corridor which would be a lot like the Robertson Tunnel. I know there has been some mention of a tunnel option hitting OHSU and Hillsdale but I’d suggest pushing it a little further and have underground stations at OHSU, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village and emerge from the tunnel at/around Barbur TC… all established town centers/20 min neighborhoods or major employment centers. A bored non-subway non-downtown tunnel is probably not as expensive as one might think (Robertson Tunnel was relatively inexpensive).

    I do strongly feel Barbur is not the place for HCT, unless you want rapid transit to serve a forest and/or collection of Burger Kings. TOD redevelopment would be much better in existing already concentrated and walkable 20 minute neighborhoods than a state highway lined with auto-centric businesses for 8+ miles. Sure they can both change to a TOD form but the bored tunnel (more in the Cap Hwy corridor) hits these town centers and already has the compact walkable town center DNA in place while Barbur requires a complete radical transformation.

    If LRT emerged from a tunnel in the vicinity of Barbur TC, I suppose it could branch with one leg to Tigard TC via Barbur and another up Capitol Hill to PCC, although maybe there is a way to route a single line (enroute to Tigard) that hits PCC Sylvania.

  20. Early planning won’t necessarily determine the mode choice–quite a few project I can think of have had different modes included in the DEIS, and the final selection of LPA only made afterwards. In other cases, the mode becomes apparent early on. (In some cases, consideration of alternate modes, such as a bus option, may be required by the Feds; this seems to be the case for the Lake Oswego project).

    Early planning is, and should be, more focused on nailing down the corridor–what will be directly served by the line, what will not. And that’s what ought to come first if you ask me–it’s a question of “what”, whereas the choice of vehicle is more a question of “how”.

    Regarding “edge cities” vs “concentrated downtowns”; the latter are bad for transport as they produce huge unidirectional peak flows every morning and afternoon which are hard and expensive to accommodate (whether via transit or roads). And not all trips are to and from work–“edge cities” work fine (from a transport perspective) without large industrial employers.

    One of the big difficulties in developing “edge cities” and “town centers” in existing fabric will be the topic of my next mainpage post. :)

  21. The concentrated downtown with high peak flows doesn’t occur until cities hit the megaopolis status. Portland is not Manhattan by any stretch of the imagination. We have so much more room to grow.

    Your model also assumes typical metro areas. While ours is indeed sprawly, we have an urban growth boundary limiting the amount of growth on the furthest fringes.

    Now let’s compare that to NYC or Chicago metro areas. Not to mention the decentralized nature of Atlanta and its high peak flow rush hours…

  22. True, our rush hour is better than quite a few places (and the UGB is a big part of that–it makes mean compute distances far shorter than other cities of comparable size). And traffic flows the other way–particularly to Washington County in the morning; less so in the reverse direction to other suburbs. But we still have a dominant peak heading inbound in the morning, outbound in the other direction.

    Also, there’s a big difference between serving suburbia that already exists, and building new infrastructure to accommodate new suburbs sprouting up on the edge of town–a phenomenon which generally doesn’t happen in Portland, thanks to the UGB.

    That said, lots of people are moving into Sherwood (or were before the housing crash), and Sherwood is not a major employment center, so many of these folks are commuting elsewhere. The developed lands in question are within the UGB. How best to accomodate this–new roads, new transit, or do nothing? I prefer transit to expanding 99W and/or I-5. Some urbanists think “nothing” is a good option, and that people who choose to live in the suburbs (a choice often driven by financial necessity, as Portland real estate is often more expensive) ought to suffer a long commute as a result–but as Chris indicates, transit in the metro area is regionally planned and funded, thus a Portland-only approach is a political nonstarter.

  23. Two Metro studies are worth a look at this point.
    One was the South Corridor study that started after the defeat of South/North in ’98. It began with all HCT options, except light rail…as it had just been voted down. Due to pressure from SE Portland neighborhoods and eventually Milwaukie, light rail was returned to the mix and came out on top. I expect the SW Corridor study to review the same options, except water. Note that WES was really the brain child of WA county electeds who saw it as a cheaper rail option than LRT and as an suburb to suburb service. Be careful what you ask for!
    The other study which I mentioned in the urban/suburban conversation is the UrbanTrans analysis of Origin & Destination for 16 employment areas using 2000 census data. The clustering that this shows is eye catching to say the least, with most residential dots clustered around the selected employment area. So the “regional centers” idea might be working better than we think. I hope someone does the same analysis on the 2010 data.

  24. Let’s see…$2 million would buy two Van Hool TD 925 double decker buses, w/81 seats. Or three of the Dennis Enviro 400’s, similar capacity. I suppose if they didn’t attract enough passengers to forestall construction of the 1,5 billion LRT line, they could be switched over to the Milwaukie MAX route—-and actually extended all the way to Oregon City.

  25. The financial bottleneck for bus service isn’t rolling stock (although some of the rolling stock being used is less than desirable–TriMet has plenty of older-but-still-functional busses in the garage); it’s drivers to drive them.

    $2 million would pay the fully burdened cost (including things like benefits and funding pensions–a novel idea, I know) of about a dozen or so bus drivers or train operators. For a year.

    That said, this particular roll of bills comes with the stipulation that it’s to be used for planning, not for operations.

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