SW Corridor Purpose and Need

Scotty recently had a great discussion about the importance of the Purpose and Need statement for a project.

Last week, the steering committee for the SW Corridor Plan met to discuss the draft Purpose and Need statement for the project. Here’s the agenda packet (PDF 4M) for that meeting. It contains both the draft Purpose and Need (beginning on p. 10) and a “Statement of Problems, Constraints, and Opportunities” document (p. 15).

Here’s the draft purpose:

The purpose of the SW Corridor Transit Alternatives Analysis is to identify a safe and reliable high capacity transit project that will support the land use planning strategies being developed by the cities of Portland, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood and serve the existing and projected travel markets in the corridor while connecting regional centers, town centers, local activity centers and the central city. The identified project will advance applicable federal, state, regional, local and the SW Corridor communities’ land use, transportation, economic development, environmental and health plans and policies.

The identified project will promote the continued success and creation of healthy and more vibrant communities in the SW Corridor in a financially responsive and environmentally sensitive manner.

This is followed by two pages of “needs”, which I’ll let you all read yourselves.

I like that it leads with supporting land use strategies and puts mobility after that. If I were going to change anything, I’d probably work to include active transportation in the purpose. It’s mentioned about halfway through the needs, but my vision of the corridor is one in which people can walk, bike, take transit and drive safely through the entire length of the corridor. I’d love if that could be articulated right up front!

One slightly startling line from the constraints document:

“OR-99W serves as an important relief valve for I-5, with signals designed to absorb I-5 traffic when incidents or construction occur.”

I wonder if that comes as a surprise to the signals engineers in Portland? It seems like we could probably do better for daily users of Barbur if we didn’t operate it in a fashion optimized for a handful of days each year.

So what’s your take on the draft? What are we missing that could come back to haunt us in five to ten years?

33 responses to “SW Corridor Purpose and Need”

  1. I see, Barbur and its adjacent neighborhoods have to be sacrificed as a dangerous unpleasant pedestrian-unfriendly high speed traffic-sewer so that long distance SOV motorists have a fast alternate route when I-5 is too clogged with SOVs.

    So is story of every urban state highway in America and US traffic engineering for the last 100 years… destroying close-in urban neighborhoods with wide high speed high volume thouroughfares in order to allow exurban living/long distance commutes to be viable. The only way you can live on the outskirts 30 miles from a destination is if it doesnt take long to get where you are going, so as a result roads are built for high speed traffic.

    Its about time urban residents reclaimed the roads passing through their neighborhoods to make their roads suit their needs. Stop letting long distance commuters racing through impose their needs. If one is going to live so far away, they can live with the consequences but dont pave over my neighborhood to justify your inefficient lifestyle choice.

  2. 99W from Tigard to King City is a perfect case study on the ills of car-oriented sprawl. It is a parking lot during commuting hours and on the weekends, and residents essentially have no other option. I would only support an expensive light rail line along this corridor if it is tied to some serious density increases along the line. We don’t want another MAX Green line at 4x the cost.

  3. A few thoughts:

    * The draft P&N doesn’t appear to over-constrain the solution; there’s nothing in there that says “we have to build light rail” or any other specific mode. If anything, the stated need to connect numerous distributed nodes (not lying in a linear corridor) suggests that bus improvements will be a big part of the solution, even if the spine happens to be rail.

    * Even though Sherwood is a key part of the planning of the project, many of the cited nodes are well-outside the 99W corridor. It appears that the spine of the project may be Portland-Tigard-Bridgeport/Durham-Tualatin-Sherwood, not Portland-Tigard-King City-Sherwood.

    * Good to see the “transfer problem” acknowledged; the bus system in the area still tends to use the circulators-connecting-transit-centers model, not anything resembling a grid or an orb. Other than the 76 and the 78, SW is unfortunately devoid of true crosstown routes.

  4. I’m not too surprised that 99W gets priority over side streets. Just watch the signal behavior and ramp layouts farther north, and you’ll notice even on the unsigned segment of 99W (Interstate Avenue, Naito Parkway, Steel Bridge) this remains true.

  5. The other inbound freeways do fine without “relief valves”.

    I-5 to the north and I-84 both lie in effective grids, so there’s plenty of side streets for traffic to use should an incident affect the mainline. Sandy is kind of the default “relief valve” for I-84, and MLK serves the role for I-5; but neither street is optimized for use as a highway; they more resemble urban boulevards than expressways.

    US26 has no effective alternate route, really. Cornell/Barnes/Burnside gets used in a pinch, but nobody even tries to pretend any of these is a highway. 26 east of 217 has many of the same geographic constraints as I-5 south to Tualatin.

    North of PCC-Sylvania, Barbur ought to be a local street, not a highway. A key risk to the SW corridor would be ODOT’s insistence on maintaining Barbur as a high-volume thoroughfare

  6. The language maybe be “planner polite,” but the meaning is clear…”do not expect to take a lane off Barbur as was done on Interstate.”
    But jon is right…we destroyed so much of Portland when we put the freeways thru to serve long trips; neighborhoods lost or gutted, people displaced, access to the River compromised. Sad.

  7. If taking lanes from Barbur or I-5 is off the table (which is a given), and widening either one is cost prohibitive and highly disruptive (which they also want to avoid), that leaves only one way to get through SW Portland. A tunnel.

    What goes in the tunnel is technically still open for debate (it could be BRT), but I think Tigard and SW Portland won’t settle for anything less than light rail.

    It also sounds like they’re hinting that they want to veer south to Kruse Way, Bridgeport/Lower Boones and Tualatin rather than straight out 99W to King City and Sherwood.

  8. If you are tunneling, you might as well throw in tracks and overhead wires, and you will be going under OHSU, so you might as well tie in with the max line at PSU. The upfront capital costs are going to be high with any tunnel option, so the long-term lower operating costs of LRT will make it a better option.

  9. I agree that a tunnel is the only logical solution to linking the population centers and developable land along this corridor.

    Of course, a tunnel will cost more money, but losing a lane along Barbur would be the death knell for this project.

    Barbur is not a good alignment for this project. The hill is steep, and nobody lives there now nor will they live there anytime soon. There simply isn’t any room to build between Barbur and the freeway.

    And let’s not forget that anti-transit groups know how to organize and put together ludicrous ballots a la Clackamas County. Losing a lane would galvanize the SOV crowd.

    PSU, OHSU, Hillsdale, Multnomah– these spots make too much sense not to link directly together. A tunnel is the only solution and an elegant one.

    Where the “mode neutral” line daylights in Tigard and where it goes from there will be a separate battle, but it makes no sense to make a tunnel for any other mode but rail.

  10. I think Multnomah will want to be left out. A Streetcar on Capitol Hwy would better fit their style. A tunnel could daylight just beyond Fred Meyer where my guess is Barbur could accommodate rail for some distance, maybe to West Portland.
    Then there is PCC.

  11. I still think the best alignment serves OHSU, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, Barbur Blvd TC and PCC-Sylvania with a combination tunnel and elevated line operating in exclusive, grade-separated ROW. From there, serve Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard before joining an electrified WES line on the OER tracks south to Bridgeport Village and Tualatin.

    Limit the stops to major destinations and keep transit travel time competitive with ever-worsening gridlock on OR99W and I-5.

  12. Underground stations are ridiculously expensive. Unless there’s the potential for significant trip generation, I don’t see them getting built. OHSU and PCC are major trip generators, and Hillsdale MIGHT be if enough buses provide transfers to MAX. I don’t see how Multnomah Village provides very much ridership at all. Barbur TC might work if the station is above-ground and or perhaps if structured parking is added to handle more riders.

  13. It seems like they could tunnel, hit OHSU, Hillsdale, then daylight somewhere near 19th and Barbur. From that point, Barbur actually has a lot of space, due to large building setbacks, all the way to Barbur TC. They could tunnel again to hit PCC, which would limit the total underground stations to 3.

    I like Reza’s idea to use the OEW line after Tigard into Tualatin. If this were to happen, I wonder how much it would cost to electrify the line between Tigard and Beaverton TC, to run the MAX red line on a time-separated FRA exemption from Beaverton to Tualatin. WES could then be truncated at Tualatin, or operated on a Woodburn or Salem to Tualatin route. Timed transfers with the new red line extension would only add a few minute to the Wilsonville-Beaverton trip, and downtown commuters would have a faster connection to downtown with a transfer in Tualatin to the new SW corridor line.

  14. I’ve been arguing for a tunnel for a year or more. I’m not claiming that I was the first, but I’m sure glad to see it getting momentum.

    Make sure you mention the VA when you talk about serving OHSU. That should help get some support.

  15. Count me in the same boat too regarding tunnel support. I think it came largely from that Metro HCT report showing the tunnel option in the SW corridor for OHSU and Hillsdale that many of us latched onto. You start seeing the main destinations and places most conducive to transit in SW lined up in a row roughly in the Capitol Highway corridor while Barbur leaves much to be transformed for walkability, transit and urbanism and misses many points. Plus looking at the costs of the Robertson Tunnel which compared to recent surface LRT routes is very reasonable.

    Multnomah may not warrant a station and the added expense of a slightly longer tunnel but it has the elements of a successful TOD: existing walkable dense main street environment. Unfortunately too few stations in the Portland metro are located in these ideal environments for TOD. The most successful TOD builds off quality existing urban bones that are fully realized with the addition of a new major transit line.

  16. And Multnomah would have a quick connection to the Hillsdale station via the 44 bus. Not sure if it would be worth it for people to transfer there if they are going downtown, although I’m sure many of them would be going to OHSU/VA.

  17. One advantage to a MAX line into SW would be the removal of multiple bus lines from Barbur (I suggest 1, 38, 44, 45, and 55) and most of the lines that serve OHSU (61, 64, 65, 66, 68), freeing the buses and operator time to provide much greater bus coverage across SW.

    I envision a “multiple hub & spoke” system of sorts, with the “spokes” radiating across SW from hubs at Washington Square, Tigard, PCC and Hillsdale. It probably could be designed to have multiple lines cross at Multnomah Village, at least one of which should be a frequent service line.

    If there were a MAX tunnel with stations at Hillsdale and PCC and frequent service (six minute peak headways), it would allow a lot of bus riders to transfer at those stations for reliable, FAST service to OHSU and downtown.

  18. OHSU has express bus service from several neighborhoods around the Portland/Beaverton area. I don’t think the riders coming from some of those lines will be happy about losing their quick rides. Perhaps some of those trips can be removed, but I doubt all will go down without a fight. Backbone will be required

  19. Tunnel stops at OHSU/VA and Hillsdale would be well worth the investment, but I agree the potential for density just isn’t there to warrant a Multnomah Village stop.

    The SW Metro area presents its own set of unique challenges, which is why Douglas K‘s “multiple hub-and-spoke” concept is one of the better ideas I’ve heard so far. For example, even if Multnomah Village doesn’t end up on the main corridor, I can still envision it being served by a frequent-service bus line connecting Burlingame and Washington Square via Multnomah Blvd. and Oleson Rd.

  20. “OHSU has express bus service from several neighborhoods around the Portland/Beaverton area. I don’t think the riders coming from some of those lines will be happy about losing their quick rides. Perhaps some of those trips can be removed, but I doubt all will go down without a fight. Backbone will be required.”

    >>>> WOW! Backbone will be required to shaft existing transit users? Am I glad no tunnel is ever going to be built in SW.

  21. Some of the existing express lines to OHSU would become redundant with a new MAX line under Marquam Hill, particularly if the SW Corridor MAX were to be be an extension of the existing Green Line.

    Others might require a transfer–I can’t see the Beaverton-to-OHSU line continuing, for instance. But if the service hours could be moved over to the 54 to make it frequent service all the way from Beaverton, I’m not sure this would necessarily be a bad thing.

    In general, having a large number of dedicated express lines serving a specific destination is a bad thing. OHSU is a special case with the large ratio of workers-to-parking-spaces, and the difficult topography, but in the long run I’d rather spend the service hours on strengthening the overall network.

  22. I would imagine that more OHSU/VA workers would benefit from faster, more frequent, light rail access to the hill than those that would not. Face it, bus access to the hill blows. My wife used take the Hollywood -> Pill Hill express bus a lot. It was fine in the morning, but was anything but express in the afternoon as it fought traffic down the hill and across the Ross Island bridge. A tunnel would allow access to the complex at the same speed all hours of the day. I’ll take that.

  23. There is no real defense for the OHSU express bus lines. As Jarrett Walker has pointed out many times, they are expensive services that only benefit a tiny minority of OHSU/VA workers. Anyone who doesn’t work 9-5 can’t use them, visitors can’t really use them, and they only run to very specific places, whereas the people who work there live all over the place. It is expensive service to run and and only benefits a narrow interest group that unfortunately has enough influence to keep it running.

    Both the 8 and the Aerial Tram are different. They run all day, they are pretty frequent, and they are connected to the overall transit network. Pretty much anyone can access Marquam Hill using one of those two services, and for most people it should only require one transfer. Given these options, the express buses should not exist.

    Clearly it would be a huge benefit to have a MAX tunnel under Marquam Hill, especially for people in the SW who don’t have very good options otherwise. But is it worth the enormous cost? I don’t think we should automatically support a tunnel until someone does a real, defensible cost-benefit analysis on this. We can’t criticize the high cost of the CRC but then uncritically support another light rail tunnel.

    That said, I would love to see it happen and wish the TriMet district would accept a higher level of taxation to be able to more easily tackle ambitious projects like this. We can’t depend on federal largess anymore, and we need to avoid more of this “borrowing against future operating revenue” nonsense. Right now, Portland seems to lack the density, the jobs, and the money to build more MAX lines. If we want to expand rail, we need to be willing to build more density, attract more jobs, and tax ourselves more. If we are not willing to do that, we really should stick with BRT and other bus service improvements.

    Regardless of how the SW Corridor study shakes out, I love the suggestions for a multiple hub-and-spoke model! The SW needs more crosstown service and needs to eliminate a number of poorly-performing circulators. Every regional and town center should be a node in a network. I would love to work up a map based on these ideas. Feel free to email me at zef.wagner@gmail.com if you have specific ideas on route reorganization.

  24. Unless you are willing to take a lane off Barbur, BRT will cost as much as LRT to build and have higher operating cost, as was the case in the SE corridor. The cost is ROW.
    Time to go to the voters for a property tax measure to fund rail transit lines with something for everyone…SW LRT, Yellow extension to Hayden Island (assuming CRC dies), Red Line to Tanasborn, Streetcar to Hollywood and more buses. All for a cool $1/2 Billion with the rest from state and federal.

  25. But is it worth the enormous cost? I don’t think we should automatically support a tunnel until someone does a real, defensible cost-benefit analysis on this.

    We can do some reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimates based on the historic cost of the Robertson Tunnel and the Washington Park station. Tunnel twice as long (2x cost), two Washington Park-style stations (PCC and Hillsdale, assume similar costs — add one more if you want to serve Multnomah Village), one really expensive station (OHSU; serves much higher traffic, so requires more elevators and a larger platform, plus really difficult terrain at the surface). Then calculate inflation and you’ll have a good ball-park figure.

    I’m too lazy to look up the post where I ran the numbers, but last time I did this I came up with a figure in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

    Given what the Milwaukie line costs, there’s a good chance that a tunnel will not be significantly more expensive than a surface line through southwest. It might even be cheaper. Furthermore, the terrain means the only plausible surface MAX route through SW is Barbur, and Barbur serves almost nothing that actually warrants MAX-level service.

  26. I bet they could serve both OHSU and the VA with one platform. Have an elevator at one end, and an obscenely long escalator at the other, covering the horizontal distance as it rises. The Wheaton station on the Washington Metro is 230ft long, covering 115ft vertically. Not sure if that would be enough to get to OHSU or the VA. The tunnel entrance at Duniway Park would be at roughly 200ft, and the hospitals are at 400ft at least.

  27. It might also be possible to build a really long station. The skybridge is 660 feet long, so elevators to OHSU and VA would need to be about 600 to 700 feet apart. Potentially, they could be in towers outside the buildings.

    So build a wide station with 200 foot platforms at the south end, an additional 200 foot platform at the north end (to serve an OHSU-Union Station circulator during off=peak hours) and 100-150 foot tunnels at each end leading to the elevator banks to OHSU and the VA. Design it to be easily convertible to 400 foot platforms if there is ever a system-wide expansion to allow four-car trains.

    Actually, 400 foot platform expansion is something that SHOULD be engineered into all MAX stations wherever possible as a matter of course.

  28. It would be great to have longer trains running systemwide, but some existing stations are gonna be a bear to retrofit (downtown or Sunset TC, anyone?)

  29. Allowing 4-car trains downtown would be a mess. No way around that. Sunset TC could have its platform extended east without too much effort. Likely for less than it would cost to extend the platform at the zoo station.

    What are the plans for operations once the Milwaukie line opens? Will the trains be shuttling from Ruby every morning? I’ve noticed that the blue line east of Gateway is very congested with trains heading in to the yellow and red lines, in addition to the blue line trains. Is there capacity to add the trains for the new line?

  30. You won’t be able to run longer trains until they tunnel the downtown stations. But I agree, all new stations should be designed to be easily expanded in the future. Demand is only going to increase as the population grows and limiting train lengths to two cars is going to constrain the overall capacity of the system.

  31. You won’t be able to run longer trains until they tunnel the downtown stations.

    All too true. Recently I did map out a concept of what a downtown MAX subway might look like (too bad you can’t post graphics on this site, but in a nutshell, all lines would follow the same ROW roughly parallel to the transit mall).

  32. I also don’t think there will be a plausible case for a subway until we need to expand MAX to four-car trains. There are other benefits in terms of speed and reliability, but none of them would justify the expense of a subway through downtown. Doubling the capacity of the entire system, though … that would probably make it workable.

  33. Actually, it would MORE than double the capacity. Train length is part of the equation, but fewer stations combined with no auto/bike/pedestrian conflicts makes shorter headways, increased speed and greater reliability possible.

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