New info on the Southwest Corridor options

Lately, the Powell/Division project has been getting much of the press, with significant public outreach in advance of next week’s Steering Committee meeting.  But the Southwest Corridor project–a project that is on a far longer timetable–has been making some advances as well.   This past week, three new documents were published by the project team:

While there are many details to be worked out, one of the key sets of decisions to be made–and this may not be made for a while, as the DEIS process may include multiple options for analysis–are the mode (BRT or light rail) and the various tunneling options.

More after the jump.

The options

If light rail is chosen as the alignment, then use of tunnels to serve destinations that are more difficult to reach by surface transit becomes possible. Running combustion-powered buses in tunnels with stations is more problematic due to ventilation issues–if BRT is chosen, all but one of the tunnel options are off the table.

Between Portland and Hillsdale, there are three possible LRT routes:

  • Surface LRT along Barbur. (Downtown, the route might use Barbur or Naito Parkway to approach downtown, but we’ll ignore that).
  • A deep-bore tunnel from downtown to SW Bertha Boulevard, south of Hillsdale and west of Burlingame. Thus tunnel would have two stations–one at Hillsdale and one at Marquam Hill/OHSU, and an exit portal station at 13th and Barbur (near the Burlingame Fred Meyer).
  • Surface LRT along Barbur to Capital Highway, then a shorter “cut-and-cover” tunnel serving Hillsdale, with one underground station at Sunset and Capital, and also an exit portal in the vicinity of SW Bertha and a station at 13th and Barbur.

The options that run along Barbur rather than drilling a deep-bore tunnel all include a “pedestrian/bike connector” to the Marquam Hill campus:  Various different options were mentioned (elevator, surface escalator, as well as ramps/stairs) in the report.

An earlier proposal for a “short” tunnel under OHSU is no longer on the table.

In the vicinity of PCC-Sylvania, two LRT options are available:

  • Surface LRT along Barbur, with no direct connection to the PCC campus.
  • A cut-and-cover tunnel heading south along 53rd, under the campus, then emerging west of PCC near Lesser Road.

If BRT is chosen, then there are two choices of interest to this article:

  • A surface alignment along Barbur, bypassing Hillsdale.
  • A cut-and-cover tunnel serving Hillsdale, on the same (or similar) alignment as the LRT option.

There are also BRT options to directly serve PCC-Sylvania, but for BRT these are surface routes rather than tunnels.

The Numbers

The interesting part of the recent set of documents is early cost, time, and ridership projections for each of the different options. As the project is still in early planning stages, these numbers should probably be viewed as optimistic and taken with a grain of salt (they also exclude things like finance charges, costs that are included into the quoted final price tags of capital projects such as PMLR), but they are interesting to see; note that data for all of the different options is not available.

Mode/Alignment New Trips Line Ridership Travel Time Por-Tualatin Cost (est)
BRT, surface $750M-$1.2B
BRT, Hillsdale tunnel
LRT, surface 22600 36900 30
LRT, Hillsdale tunnel 21700 35500 33
LRT, deep-bore tunnel 23300 45500 27
LRT, PCC tunnel 23500 38400 31
LRT, Hillsdale + PCC tunnels 22600 3700 34 $1.9B-$2.4B
LRT, deep bore + PCC tunnels 24200 47000 28 $2.8B-$3.2B

It would be interesting to know, of course, what the estimate is for a surface LRT route is, and to see cost estimates for the various tunnel options broken out separately.

A few things stand out:

  • The Hillsdale-only tunnels seem to have a negative impact on both ridership and travel time, due to the surface routes.  The slower trip is explained by an additional station at Hillsdale, and likely by some of the tight turns involved in the tunnel alignment (in order to stay under public rights of way), but the slightly lower ridership numbers are a bit interesting, given that Hillsdale is a transit-friendly neighborhood.   The only thing that comes to mind is that the slower overall trip time will cause fewer riders further out to use the line.   (A BRT option might have an advantage if a Hillsdale-only tunnel is used; as buses can corner far better than trains).
  • Not shown in the above table, but early forecasts of line capacity are peak frequencies of 8 trains per hour for LRT (7.5 minute headways), and 20 buses per hour (3 minute headways) for BRT.  It is noted that at that frequency, traffic impacts might prevent BRT from enjoying full signal priority at crossings.
  • If the deep-bore tunnel is not done–and this is my opinion at this point–it appears that the Naito alignment has a lot more to recommend it than the Barbur alignment, as it affords the ability to work on the reconstruction of South Portland and removal of the expressway remnant that is Naito between Lincoln and Barbur.  The main difficulty is that Gibbs and Naito is 500′ further away from OHSU than Gibbs and Barbur.  But if planners can get creative with a connector option–say a tunnel and elevator, or a surface escalator–this could work.
  • If the deep bore tunnel option is used, TriMet expects that local bus trips to OHSU would drop to less than a quarter of what they are now, while total transit trips to/from OHSU would rise nearly 25%–in this scenario, many local bus trips to the campus would be eliminated, and riders on these lines (or on parallel lines in the case of the many express routes which would no longer make sense) would instead transfer to LRT.  In the case of a Barbur alignment, local bus trips up Pill Hill would drop by about half, with LRT/BRT and/or local bus to the pedestrian connector making up the difference; overall trips would rise by about 12% or so.  (In both cases, it is anticipated that use of the Portland AerialTram would decrease–with some trips replaced by walking once it becomes possible, and some Streetcar-Tram trips being replaced with LRT or BRT).
  • The PCC tunnel does add quite a bit more positive transit value.  The alignment of such a thing appears to be less tricky, thus travel time is not impacted as greatly.

74 responses to “New info on the Southwest Corridor options”

  1. “Linking LRT and bicycling improvements is a great way to draw people on bikes to interact with tracks and crash”, said the spider to the fly. Better to put LRT in a tunnel AND do infrastructure improvement for people cycling, separately.

    • My impression is that even if a surface LRT alignment is chosen, that bikes won’t be getting anywhere near the tracks except at crossings. This won’t be a Streetcar line, with rails embedded in pavement in the same lanes that bicycles are intended to use.

  2. Anything short of a tunnel under OHSU and connecting to PCC would shortchange transit riders. Built it to where people need to go. A elevator/tunnel combo up the hill from Naito would be a mess. It would be expensive and no one knows how that would work out. Look at the tram, apparently it’s already at capacity. Let’s not be short sided and built it right from the start. Same thing with PCC. Tunnels can be expensive but the topography of SW Portland is an issue in two ways. One, there is no straight, flat line to follow anywhere. Second, one you look at the engineering needed to support a surface MAX line, that costs start looking close. It will take a lot of money to shore up Barbur to support LRT. It’s just not reflected in costs above.

    It should also connect to Washington Sq but I realize that’s not on the table right now, a HUGE mistake.

    • I seriously hope that given the numbers being thrown around elsewhere on this project, that a decent way of getting up the hill can be provided. For it to be useful in the transit context, given the distance and elevation, “decent” needs to mean an elevator at minimum.

      Escalators generally work better at connecting transit stations with the surrounding community (in particular, subway stops with the surface), with elevators generally being limited to transporting the disabled. Plus, given the horizontal distance involved, escalators also make sense.

      • Funicular railway. Similar to Angels Flight in LA, but with larger, wheelchair-accessible vehicles. And better built.

  3. Lol… no kidding. I noticed that little tidbit too.

    That would have to be the longest ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp EVER.

  4. I can’t help thinking arguing about tunnels is a mute point. This is Portland, not Seattle. We have neither the clout, the population, the density, the political will, or the money to fund a tunnel, even if it is a damn good idea. I really can’t imagine what sort of connection to OHSU they are imagining in a form of pedestrian connections. If they think any kind of stairway will be successful, I think you’ll find a lot of people with bulging eyes saying, “Fuck this!” The ariel tram is in place because it’s the best option for connection the place with its facilities on the South Waterfront. The fact that there is also a growing neighborhood there is icing on the cake. Besides, a Naito option is close to the South Waterfront, which already has a MAX station months from being opened. They don’t need another one. OHSU and the Veterans Hospital, on to the other hand, are major destinations that deserve to be tied directly into the regional rail network.

    This line will be complex, but then they sometimes are. Solutions can’t always be cheap and simple. Sometimes the best options are the complex and expensive ones. At a price tab approaching three billion, though, maybe it would better if they did this puppy in two phases. Perhaps phase would could go as far as Tigard Transit Center and the second phase to Tualatin or wherever the hell it is to end up. Somehow, I think that idea would be easier to get off the ground. It would still be useful to a hell of a lot of people and be very fast while serving so many very needful destinations. Maybe even in the future new routes can be spliced from it as it exists the tunnel in SW Portland, maybe going alone the Beaverton-Hillsdale and TV highways or Scholl’s Ferry Rd. That tunnel under Hillsdale and OHSU would create a portland for the whole SW region to get a fast ride into Portland when and if future MAX lines are built out that way. I think, politically, framing the need for the tunnel that way could help things out. More people could see the potential for what such an expensive undertaking could do for them, even if in the long term.

    Also, if we want to run buses in a deep tunnel, why not just use electric buses like they do in Seattle? Problem solved. It’s not rocket science, and that could allow future BRT on the above mentioned corridor to still make use of a marvelous tunnel, so it doesn’t even have to be exclusively for distantly possible MAX extensions. Come on, if we can do open-heart surgery, I’m sure we can find a way to make buses and trains that come frequently share a tunnel. After all, they do it in Seattle. :P

    On the other hand, it’s never a bad question to ask: Why does 3 billion only get us this dinky line in Portland, OR while that amount would build actual subway lines (as in more than one at a time) in most other parts of the developed world? We should really find a way to fix that problem, and maybe we should do it before actually building any more MAX lines.

    • Actually, the tunnel buses in Seattle are no longer ETB’s. The pantographs on the LRT’s would short out a two-wire ETB circuit.

      The current “tunnel buses” are diesel-electric hybrids with somewhat bigger battery packs than strictly necessary for efficient dual-mode operation. So they run in the tunnel in “hush mode” wherein the diesel is turned off and the battery pack alone is used.

      It’s rather like the battery packs some of the newer ETB designs carry, allowing them to run for short distances “off-wire”. Examples would be running through a stretch of overhead that has been de-energized because nearby construction cranes might short it out, detouring around a street closed by an accident or temporary construction closure or even doing a “terminal loop” in a sensitive neighborhood that objects to the overhead. In Seattle the battery packs are large enough to carry the buses uphill through the 1.2 mile long DSTT in the northbound direction, with a little to spare.

      It would be a stretch to accomplish the same thing in a three mile tunnel at higher speeds. They’re pretty heavy.

      So far as your question about construction costs, many people have exactly the same concern. It’s partly that few companies have competence at rail construction here in the US, but that is changing for the better as more cities opt for rail lines.

  5. I find the tunnel numbers baffling. According to Wikipedia, the Robertson tunnel (3 miles long) was built for $184 million in 1996. This tunnel will under the same hills, just a couple of miles to the south. Why not just build this tunnel the same way as the last one? With inflation, a three mile long tunnel should cost about $300 million or so.

    Anyone know why this tunnel is so much more expensive than the one Tri-Met already built?

    • “go under”

      Whatever happened to the “review and edit” feature that let you see your post before finalizing it?

    • The costs for the LRT surface options are not listed, so we don’t really know how much “more” the tunnel costs than the significant engineering that will be required on the hill above the newly widened freeway.

      So far as the idea of a pedestrian-oriented connection, a covered escalator might not be terrible from a station at Gibbs and the Barbur if it went up the north side of Gibbs from the Frontage Road. Gibbs and Naito would be out of the question, though, because it would require people to walk on the sidewalks of an otherwise in-use street. No moving sidewalks or escalators need apply.

      If done though it would demand a “pedestrian priority” light in the southbound lane. That is, when someone hit the beg-button the light cycle would begin the yellow cycle immediately (unless, perhaps, a cycle had completed less than 30 or 45 seconds ago). One would not want a passenger wanting to catch a train entering the station to dart across the street without signal protection.

      On the other side of the street there would also have to be a signal for folks from the neighborhood to access the station, but it would be less time-critical because there would be many fewer such riders than those coming down on the escalator.

      Escalators are slow though.

    • Now that I’ve looked at the revised proposal in detail, a few comments.
      * Some of the earlier suggestions (on the post from last fall) seem to have made it into the revised plan, in some form or another: The 67 is now being routed through the Conestoga neighborhood of Beaverton, giving that neighborhood all-day bus service (currently it is served by the peak-only 92). And an all-day Lake Oswego-Murrayhill bus now exists (the 37), rather than extending the 38.
      * Given that the 93, 94, and future 124th line should provide good service (and connections) along 99W, how about joining the 67 and the 36–the 67, instead of turning north on 99W at Gaarde, instead goes south to King City and then east on Durham to Bridgeport? Extend the 36 instead to Tualatin, (I’m assuming the 36 would still be a low-frequency, 5-day bus).
      * Extend the 36 or 37 north from LO to the Sellwood Bridge, to connect to something on the east side.
      * With the 78 now providing full-time service on SW Allen between Lombard and Schlolls Ferry (though I would prefer routing the 45 on Allen and the 78 on Denney, and having it head north on Lombard rather than Hall), much of the 53 is redundant. Combine it with the 51, and have it run from Beaverton TC, through Griffith Park, east on 5th, south on Western, southwest on Arctic–then EAST on Allen, northeast on Scholls Ferry, north on Laurelwood, and the running the route of the 55 from thereon.

      Finally, it would be interesting to see some thoughts on what service would look like if and when the SWC opens. Most of all, I’d like to see not quite as many buses converging on Tigard TC.

      • One other thought–perhaps I shouldn’t obsess over the peak-only buses serving OHSU (many of which will vanish if and when the SWC comes):

        But rather than having the remnant of the 51 provide peak-hour service to Council Crest (presently the 51 splits), how about this?

        * Kill this remnant of the 51, the other half of the 51 and 39 are combined as in TriMet’s proposal.
        * Modify prior comment about combining 55 and 53. Instead, have combined route run as follows: BTC->Griffith Park->5th->Western->Arctic->Allen->92nd->Garden Home->Vermont->Shattuck->Patton->Vista->downtown.
        * New route of the 61: BTC->Canyon->110th->Beaverton Hillsdale (including detours on Apple and Laurelwood->Scholls Ferry -> Hamilton (current route of 51) -> Dosch -> Talbot ->Council Crest -> McDonnell -> Fairmont -> Marquam Hill -> OHSU. Can a bus safely get from Council Crest to Pill Hill, or are the streets too narrow/steep/curvy for TriMet?
        * And just because I like grids… a new north/south line starting in West Slope->Canyon Place -> 78th -> BHH -> Oleson -> 80th -> Spruce -> 78th, and then connecting with some other appropriate bus in Tigard.
        * If the 78 is going to be routed on Hall rather than Greenburg between Tigard TC and Washington Square, then might as well have the 43 continue west on Locust to Greenburg rather than turning north on Hall.

    • If even half of those proposed route/frequency changes come to fruition, that would be awesome. The routing of the 92 on Multnomah Blvd and the extension of the 44 to Tualatin via Lake Grove and Bridgeport are similar to suggestions I made to Metro when it requested public feedback to an earlier draft of the corridor plan.

  6. Has building a 2nd tram – one from roughly PSU to OHSU been considered? This could connect the south end of downtown to OHSU and the new transit line could then avoid the tunnel costs. It strikes me as quite a bit cheaper than tunnelling.

    • Tram’s don’t have any ability to absorb peaks. They have exactly two cars of a determined size. If more folks show up at the station between cars than can fit in the next car, those at the end of the line have to wait a half cycle for the other car to arrive. I guess if you built honkin’ huge supports that could accommodate gigantic cars it might work.

  7. So if I read this correctly, a tunnel would add more than a Billion dollars in cost but only reduce travel time between PSU and Tualatin by SIX minutes?

    No thank you.

    • Don’t buy the billion dollar price difference. The Robertson tunnel was built for much less. And the cost estimates for Barbur or Naito will run far above what they are saying. Properly built, it won’t be much more.

      • Yeah, the cost numbers seem totally fishy.

        Also, what this doesn’t say is how much money will be saved by not running various bus routes. The tunnel route seems to replace more bus routes, if I’m not mistaken.

    • Actually, the tunnel does much more than reduce travel time. It puts Marquam Hill on the transit spine. That’s worth a billion dollars in the long term.

  8. If we ever have a winter storm emergency and buses can’t get up Marquam Hill, we’ll be really glad that there is a tunnel. In those conditions, an escalator will be comical and the tram is severely insufficient.

    Idea! Run the train along Barbur and use a trebuchet to get people up the hill!

    • A covered escalator should be fine–the main drawback of an escalator is that they only are useful for transporting people, not freight, whereas elevators can be used to transport things like wheelchairs and stretchers. (An escalator might still require a backup elevator for ADA compliance, but only one rather than a whole bank of them).

      If we use a trebuchet to go up, a zipline can be used to go down.

      • An escalator from Barbur to OHSU? Where in the world have they done something like that? Let’s built something lasting and realistic.

        • Hong Kong:

          The HK escalator covers about twice the horizontal distance as OHSU-Naito, and a similar elevation gain. The main drawback of escalators is speed–the faster ones move about 2′ per second, which works out to less than 1.5m/hr. (Many users of the HK escalator actually take the stairs, particularly down). Covering 1500 horizontal feet at that speed would take about 12-13 minutes.

          An elevator to a tunnel under Pill Hill, followed by a horizontal walk of similar distance, would probably take a similar amount of time–generally, able-bodied people can easily walk faster than escalators run, but elevators often involve waiting.

      • Ever been to the VA? Wheelchairs and electric mobility devices are everywhere. OHSU has a similar situation. Unless an escalator can accommodate those things, it’ll be a bad choice.

        I almost posted “Zipline coming soon” signs at the top tram station on April Fool’s Day last year. :)

  9. “39-Lewis & Clark: Extend Line the Line 39 route up Terwiliger to Capitol, Sunset, Dosch and merge with the existing Line 51-Vista. Add midday, evening, and weekend trips.”

    >>>> That’s been an idea of mine for a long time.

    • If they could find some way to connect it to Lake Oswego, even better. Trouble is, there’s no way down Palatine Hill that a bus can likely use other than backtracking to the north, and then going down Terwilliger. (Maybe Military Road to Breyman Road might be passable, and serve Riverdale School–but would their be support or opposition to TriMet passing through by the neighborhood in question?)

  10. “We want your input to help us complete vision for the Southwest Service Enhancement Plan. We’re accepting feedback through April 10, with the Final Vision due Spring 2015.”

    >>>> And starting to implement some of this in Sept. 2015?

  11. A few thoughts about the current SWC proposal.

    – I’m really split right now, between a high quality MAX tunnel and some type of “Open BRT”. On the one hand, the MAX tunnel would provide the best connection between Downtown, OHSU, and Hillsdale. The trouble is the cost and construction time needed for such a project. An Open BRT system, where all the lines that currently run on Barbur using dedicated bus lanes could decrease the total transit time, and increase the reliability by being able to by-pass the traffic. The downside is that it would cost a lot to operate, and wouldn’t provide a better connection to OHSU (the largest employer in the city).

    -Looking at both the current bus service and the latest SEP service proposal, its clear that there are a LOT of bus lines going through this corridor. I went ahead and looked at the bus schedules (yes I have some free time) to figure out the total number of bus trips between downtown and at least Capital Hwy, as well as service to OHSU.

    * Between Downtown and Capital Hwy there are 11 routes and 546 total bus trips. (Excluding the 96 on I-5 that would add 52 trips)

    * OHSU has 228 bus trips. (this is excluding C-TRAN and the 66 line as it provides service to the eastside with those the total is 252)

    Obviously all these routes won’t be removed or truncated, but I would like to see how much all these lines cost to operate vs. the various proposals. If the long tunnel is selected, it could replace most of the current bus service (possibly use one of the new “community circulators” to travel between buildings).

    It seems clear that there is a lot of demand on this corridor, and it needs better service. Now we just have to figure out how!

    • Scotty’s remark about net three minute headways ensuring that BRT on Barbur would not get full signal priority is worth remembering in all this. Where do buses get ANY signal priority in the Portland Metro area other than (sort of) on the Transit Mall?

      The autoistas would object, object, object to being “delayed” so frequently, especially around the Capitol Highway and Terwilleger/Bertha freeway interchanges.

      Now, if a busway went elevated over those points it might work; the other streets accessing Barbur between Capitol Highway (the south crossing leading to PCC) and downtown are pretty minor. But each one would add a few tens of millions of dollars to the BRT costs. In fact, the one at Bertha/Terwilleger would add quite a few tens of millions because it would be a third to a half mile long.

  12. Scotty,

    You are right, the Naito alignment is definitely superior to one following Barbur on in for any number of engineering reasons. Finding a way through the maze of crossing (and almost always seriously backed-up) intersections just south of I-405 is going to be “challenging”, not to mention the elevation difference between the reversing loop north of the freeway and street level to the south.

    And of course, Naito allows access for Southwest riders to the new station on Lincoln and gives transfers from Milwaukee Light Rail riders to and from the Southwest Corridor Line (BRT or LRT surface) to do so as close to “cross-platform” as side platforms allow. Otherwise such transfer riders have to walk the block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

    But, as mentioned above, a pedestrian-oriented access from Naito to the top of Marquam Hill is a non-starter. The two-and-a-half blocks between Naito and Barbur along Gibbs, plus the full crossing of what would then be a much busier Barbur, will necessitate too much walking for a “trunk” line “interface” to such a major employment center.

    • It’s about 500′ from Naito to Barbur along Gibbs–the elevation change is slight, but not terrible. As you note, there is an existing street there.

      I’m assuming that if any “pedestrian connector” is built, it will include a grade-separated crossing of Barbur.

      At any rate, if a non-tunnel route is chosen, the form of the “pedestrian connector” would matter a great deal. A funicular railway would be expensive, but reasonably fast–probably similar in, price, speed (trip time and waiting time both) and throughput/capacity to the Aerial Tram.

      Of course, one other issue–even though the Tram has been a success since it opened–its cost overruns (and malfeasance by OHSU) has long been a sore spot for some. Were any significant people-mover to be constructed under the Tram’s current alignment, expect a whole lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects.

      • The tram was overbudget because of incompetence on the side of the city who established the budget. They pulled figures from what it would cost to build a tram at a ski resort, rather than looking at the unique challenges involved such as building a freestanding tower at the top (instead of anchoring into bedrock), etc…

        If a surface route is selected…I still think a tunnel is far superior. I think they should just have it run on the Orange line until it intersects with the Tillicum Crossing then build a series of ramps up over I-5 to Barbur. This allows you to reuse a lot of the existing infrastructure. Then I would expand the tram for additional capacity. I’m sure engineers could figure out a way to use larger tram cars. Peak to Peak in Whistler was built by the same company and uses far larger cabs. It would make a lot more sense then building some goofy hillside escalator.

      • Scotty,

        If the 500′ between Naito and Barbur were the whole enchilada, no problemo. But for someone going from the train to the top of the hill, getting across Barbur, even on a grade separation (thank you for agreeing on the nasty crossing), barely gets one started up the hill.

        I really don’t know how much a funicular would cost but given the paucity of them globally, it’s unlikely to be cheap.

        • Why not just start the escalator at Gibbs and 1st? It would run elevated over Barbur as it heads up the hill.

          I love the tunnel idea, but the cost just seems so great, and Naito is begging for a total rebuild as a proper city street. The ROW is huge; plenty of space for dedicated transit. And you could rebuild the Ross Island interchange, perhaps with a traffic circle.

          • Funiculars have to run at essentially a narrow grade range. Since the seats and space inside is set at an incline, they cannot go for instance from a flat topography to a sloped one. Additionally, they are hauled up using a cable, much like a gondola, so there is no way that they can cross a street.

            Secondly, the west hills are basically a big pile of gravel left over from the glaciers and Missoula floods. Ergo, they are a landslide waiting to happen. Building a funicular ‘up the hill’ would require taking out a lot of trees and having to build a concrete guideway up the slope, with massive geotechnical engineering to prevent landslides. At least a tunnel and elevator from an underground station would avoid that sort of engineering and the risk of landslides.

            Lastly, people would probably fight against having a giant 30′ wide concrete guideway running up a quarter mile of hillside in west portland.

            • In a case like this, I’m going to defer to those in the know. However if it were my decision, I rather put a MAX line in a tunnel despite the costs & have a set of inclinators that travel to the OHSU campus. If it is nessessary to phase the project for cost control, then that’s what I would do.

              I’m not completely sold on the BRT idea since in nearly every north American application some how the project gets watered down & is far less effective than advertised.

  13. I think it is a mistake to assume that all underlying basalt in west hills is “bedrock.” There have been many instances in the Northwest or in the Portland area where slides occured and some of them represented pretty deep down slippage. In drilling the Westside MAX tunnels they encountered underground water, and with stone like Basalt which is naturally fractured vertically, adding water could also lead to other sources of erosion. Just down the street from me is a a small apartment complex perched on top of a basalt cliff, which has noticeably crumbled back a little further in the time I have seen it.

    If it was just houses located above prospective tunnels, I would not see a lot of concern. But in the case of Marquam Hill there are a lot of big, expensive buildings over that ‘bedrock.’

    • Are you a civil engineer? Let’s not make assumptions about buildings falling down or cracking due to the tunnel that are not based on some facts. No buildings were damaged over the Robertson tunnel and I’m 99.99% certain the same would be true for an OHSU tunnel.

      • That’s not something determined by a civil engineer. What we’re talking about is the necessary risk a municipality has to undertake to address a need.

        • Your making statements that you’re not qualified to make. That’s no different than spreading gossip. Got some knowledge to spread that would back up your statement about the risk of buildings crumbling above a tunnel?

        • a) Geotechnical Engineer would be the primary consultant for something like this.

          b) you think they’ll go willy-nilly drilling here and there without a buttload of supporting research documenting the lack of risk to ANY buildings in the vicinity? think OHSU won’t conduct some level of their own due diligence? if a tunnel is chosen to go through the area it will not affect the stability of the existing structures.

          c) “Dave” needs to drink less coffee or something.

          • I do drink too much coffee. :)

            I was just irritated that someone without any knowledge is suggesting that buildings will crack from tunnel construction. We’ve built tunnels all over the work and all over Portland without any issues of buildings cracking. That’s what we have trained engineers for.

            My bias is clear. The tunnel is the best way to go. It serves the largest employer in Portland that unfortunately is located in a hard-to-reach location. The tunnel solves the access problem. I think a surface line on Barbur will have its own challenges and building an escalator on the side of the hill will be the goofiest thing in Portland since making a rug the grand marshall of the parade.

            • I’ve worked on all kinds of big projects and consulted with geotechnical engineers regarding my own concerns. Schlicker engineering is one of the go to geotech firms for residential engineering, and I imagine they do commercial projects, too.

              It’s kind of inconsistent for Portland politicos to keep whining that we need to invest hundreds of millions as protection against seismic events—such as the $300 million Sellwood upgrade or proposed $1.3 billion in CIP–and at the same time say there would be no risk on Marquam Hill. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but at the same time Tri Met and METRO don’t own those properties. The State of Oregon and the VA do.

              And FYI the Alaska Way viaduct project has already resulted in some building damage. I’ve also worked on seismic upgrades–calculated by engineers–that proved to be decidedly insufficient in real world circumstances.

              If you want to make an intelligent contribution tell us how to get the costs of light rail systems back to a reasonable level. My assessment of the way projects have been evaluated via METRO processes is that they have very little knowledge of construction methods and where costs can be controlled. When contractors make the determination they actually DO come up with cost effective measures—-which is why they now like to build highrises with standardized components. Governments don’t seem to think that way—apparently–therefore other comments you would see that I have made suggestions from a practical standpoint of how some projects could be done more cost effectively.

              I also post comments on breaking transportation technology and energy efficiency.

  14. I honestly think that the bottom line is the three minute headways necessary to accommodate the expected ridership. Remember, if one has three minute headways in one direction, one either has to have three minute headways in the other or stack up buses waiting to make the run at the start of the peak direction.

    Now if the three-minute headways buses could always “meet” at signaled intersections and there were no signaled intersections between the ones at which the “meets” occurred, then the resultant “headway” for signal interruption would be three minutes.

    But obviously that Valhalla of perfectly timed transit operating on a street with perfectly spaced traffic signals is not going to happen. And that means that the effective headway considered for traffic signal interruption is much less than three minutes. It’s isn’t one-and-a-half — that would be the situation if buses never met at signals. But it would be somewhere in between and probably on the lower end.

    This is the main reason why BRT systems which share arterials are almost never given significant signal priority; it turns the BRT arterial into “the un-crossable stream!”

    So, Southwest Corridor service is destined to look much like it does today (local buses with express overlay at peak hours) with a further overlay of BRT along Barbur which carries only a fraction of the ridership in the corridor. It simply cannot attract significant new ridership given the physical limitations of the trafficway.

  15. If OHSU wants a tunnel, then they should pay for it. The city already built them a tram. In my opinion, it’s not worth an extra billion dollars just so people can commute easier to OHSU.

    • The tram was jointly funded by OHSU, the City of Portland, and by South Waterfront property owners, with the bulk of the funding coming from OHSU–

      But regardless, one of the main reasons for transit’s existence is to serve employment nodes. It’s important to remember this:

      OHSU has for several years been Portland’s largest employer, with a significant economic impact in the region.

      Obviously, not all 14,000 jobs are up on the hill; that’s the reason for the South Waterfront expansion. But even subtracting those at the bottom of the hill, when the workers at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital are added back, the total is over 10,000 positions.

      That’s a lot of jobs.

  16. There are several comments I like so far:

    1. This is a long-term investment. Whatever is built here is likely going to be there for decades. While expensive, the tunnel under Marquam Hill provides the fastest and highest capacity of service and will pay dividends for many years to come.

    2. If there is cost-savings to be made, why not truncate the line at Tigard TC rather than extend it to Tualatin? With Trimet now investing in BRT for Powell-Division, perhaps Tualatin and Sherwood are better (and more cheaply) served by BRT to Tigard TC. Tigard TC would could be a regional hub for MAX, WES and bus service.

    3. A new areal tram from PSU Max station to OHSU I thought was a clever alternative. Someone mentioned a lack of capacity of the Areal Tram to keep up with transit riders deboarding MAX trains. I don’t know if that would be the case, but it would be interesting to run the numbers. Of course, eliminating the Marquam Hill tunnel also likely means eliminating Hillsdale as servicing the area adds additional cost, transit time and reduces ridership on a surface street option.

    Lastly, with BRT now being all the rage in transit blogs now, I see a lot of red flags. The standard BRT system that American cities are currently looking to is the Cleveland Healthline. People are calling it a huge success, but when you look at ridership, it’s only pulling in 14,000 transit trips a day. Additionally, the City of Cleveland has permanently turned off the transit priority system as it was causing too many delays for car traffic in the area. The result has been 7 additional minutes added to the BRT system. With the SW Corridor, we are talking 2-3x as many riders as the Cleveland Healthline. I’m fine with BRT being a supplemental service to MAX servicing parallel corridors and/or far-flung communities where MAX is no longer cost-competitive, but we’re talking about the last major transit corridor in and out of downtown Portland funneling all of the region’s SW transit commuters over the West Hills. We should spend the money and get it done right the first time. We can be cheaper elsewhere.

    • I think Tri Met needs to devote itself to trying to balance the budget, as opposed to promoting either a land use planning agenda or shepherding social justice. A lot of the underlying concept of transit oriented development is going to happen naturally as certain areas become more desirable for people to live in, and as developers exploit that potential market. If TriMet maintains flexibility, i.e simply uses buses, it can respond to what is built. It should concentrate on where it can go and pick up the riders who will fill the bus, and put other issues in a secondary status. For example: the Sherwood and Tualatin areas could be served by one express route, because those are two town centers that could easily be linked. This is what the Snohomish County agency is doing in the Seattle area—they just get their folks up and and hit I-5 to downtown Seattle and have a limited number of stops there, too. No long, winding, sparsely populated routes.

      This is not to say forget about people who have special transportation needs. You have to make money in order to be able to do those things better.

      Regarding the SW Corridor, there is concern that an express bus system would still get stuck in I-5 congestion. Why could they not shift over to Barbur Bv. for the last segment, at least during hours when I-5 is experiencing a heavy load of traffic? Tri Met needs to look at what other cities are doing, and there are examples of successful express, or in METRO jargon “limited stop” services. I’m not intrinsically against light rail—it just seems now it is not adding up financially. And other cities are having success with other strategies.

      • What Seattle transit agencies, and WSDOT have been doing, is building facilities to expedite express bus. I-5 has HOV lanes from Everett to just north of Tacoma, and buses routinely use these. More than a few park-and-rides have special exits for buses to get off the freeway, serve the P&R, and get back on again. Of course, the I-5 HOV lanes tend to slow down when the rest of the freeway slows down, the reversible express lane from downtown to north Seattle being the main exception.

        Were BRT chosen for the SWC, then having express buses using the busway (even if not stopping at every station) becomes possible. (You don’t need special sidings for one bus to pass another).

        OTOH, express bus (or commuter rail) is of limited use: If it only runs in the peaks, if it only serves the commute, and if it only stops at the endpoints, then it only helps a limited demographic and cannot support a car-free lifestyle. There are some people who want this–nonstop service between your home and your work is nice to have–but it can be argued this is unfair for all the places skipped over.

        Of course, for some people–“not supporting a car-free lifestyle” seems to be a feature, not a bug. There are more than a few vocal suburbanites that seem to view bike lanes, decent transit infrastructure or service, and anything else that does not cater to automobile traffic, to be a threat to their lifestyle.

        • EngineerScotty, always interesting to read your comments.

          I would like to say that express buses are a viable solution when you have existing, high-quality transit service serving two nodes. Once population density and travel demand exceed the capacity (or get close to exceeding it) of the service, and travel patterns are largely between the two nodes, then it would make sense to start running express buses to give those riders a faster ride and alleviate pressure from the existing system.

          You can already see this between Downtown Vancouver and Downtown Portland, although I would argue that there is still plenty of capacity on the existing non-express services. If lightrail were extended into Vancouver, and downtown Vancouver grew into a dense residential and commercial node, then all-day frequent express service could run alongside all-day rapid transit service, with each being useful in its existence: the rapid transit service will get people to and from each downtown, whereas the express service is a quick one-stop service for people traveling between the two downtowns.

          In the case of the SW Corridor, there are no developed high-density centers that would justify an express route to downtown. Rapid transit (or high capacity transit, as Metro likes to say) is a much better solution because it is an improvement in capacity and speed over the existing service. It allows a faster, more reliable ride than what is currently available, and it will be practical for thousands of people. If the terminus of the future transit line were developed into a dense mixed-use center, then the advent of an express bus could be possible. Until then, I agree with EngineerScotty. Express buses are expensive to run and serve a small portion of the population.

          • A good rule of thumb for an express bus is: Does it duplicate an existing local service?

            TriMet has four lines billed as “express” routes–92 (South Beaverton Express), 94 (Pacific Highway/Sherwood), 96 (Tualatin) and 99 (McLoughlin Express). There are also a few other local routes that run express extensions into downtown during peaks, but are local-only routes otherwise, but we’ll ignore those. The 94 and the 99 essentially duplicate the 93/12 and the 33, and don’t provide any service that can’t also be done with local buses.

            The 92 and the 96, however, run routes with no local equivalent.

            The 92 serves Beaverton’s Murrayhill and Conestoga neighborhoods as a peak-only local, hit the Progress Park and Ride, and the run express to downtown. Inbound only in the morning, outbound only in the evening. The Conestoga neighborhood currently has no other bus service; Murrayhill is served by the 62, which doesn’t go downtown. The 96 runs between Tualatin and downtown; there is no local bus running a similar route. 96 also provides service to Commerce Circle and South Tualatin during peak hours; no other bus serves these areas. At least the 96 is bidirectional in the peaks.

            The good news is the Southwest Service Enhancement Plan cures some (but not all) of these deficiencies: Conestoga will get full-time service via the 67, and Tualatin riders will be able to get downtown on the 44. (Tualatin HS will still only be reachable via the peak-hour 96, however).

            One thing interesting about the Orange Line opening: The 99 will continue to operate, though via a different route. Part of this makes sense, as the light rail won’t continue to Oregon City, so the Orange Line is not a complete replacement for the express bus. OTOH, I’m certain TriMet remembers well all the whining that went on when it killed its eastside and westside express lines after the Blue Line (east and west) projects opened–including from the wife of the current Metro president, who was forced to get a car and drive when she no longer had a one-seat ride from her house in Hillsboro to her office in Portland. Apparently, taking a local bus to the transit center and getting on the train was too much of a burden for her to bear…

            (In fairness, Westside MAX can be slow. But unless it’s exclusive-lane BRT, a bus isn’t going to be much faster in today’s Washington County rush-hour traffic…)

            • I wasn’t suggesting that service to given destinations be express only. I am suggesting those as supplements—or perhaps limited substitutions—for regular bus service. I disagree that there are no centers in the SW corridor that would be amenable to express service, although I recognize that Sherwood is not within Tri Met boundaries, currently.This is kind of a moot issue because planning also anticipates what will likely happen—and with adaptability you can put something together that will work. I was hoping that the Lake Oswego led consortium could make their old Red Electric line work and extend it into the Boones Ferry/I-5 interchange.

              I used to go up to the union hall on N. Lombard quite a lot and in all of my observations of the MAX train—aside from peak commuting hours—it had generally about 20-25 passengers. If your responsibility, then, is to serve the largest number of people what sense does it make to incur a multi billion dollar investment when a few million will do? Snohomish Co. Double Tall was about 22 million, although they are now increasing that, since the service is working.

              Regarding west side congestion; True, it is. But how are the current proposals going to address problems that are still a good distance from the route? And in general, a lot of people who live in the suburbs also work in them and may have a number of priorities that mitigate against alternatives.

              Perhaps there could be more bikeways if prefabrication was used to provide the paths, since this would allow routes through rough terrain or wetland areas. That may not result in the most direct routes (as compared to following a road) but if it could be done reasonably, why not?

            • Ron, one clarification. The yellow line was not a ” multi billion dollar investment ” it was completed for around $400 million, and also came in under budget.

            • Ron,

              Double Talls are great for long distance commuter expresses. In other words, “exactly what Community Transit is using them for”.

              They’re not so good for frequent service BRT lines, because part of the point of BRT is to provide service rapid and reliable enough for people to makes trips other than the once-a-day-each-way commute. Many of those trips are shorter. Just to sort of make the point, the buses CT uses for Swift are standard hybrid articulateds.

              I have ridden the Red Buses in London several times and of course, it being London, my wife and I always headed for the upstairs. We were accompanied by few people.

              The low-floor downstairs would be packed with people while one or two seats in the upper level were occupied. The problem for experienced transit users is that the bottom of the stairs can get clogged and one can’t get off at the right stop. So for frequent service lines articulated buses are a better solution. They offer more doors for boarding and de-boarding and don’t segregate passengers by seat so strongly.

            • Dave,

              Yes, so does London. The question is “why”? In London road space is so valuable that long buses would consume too much of it. So it makes sense to put up with the hassle of the stairs which few people except tourists use outside the rush hour.

              That’s clearly not even an afterthought in the Ultimate Car City In the World®, Las Vegas. So why would they do it?

              The TOURISTS! Oh silly me, I forgot that almost everyone in Las Vegas is either a tourist now or came there as a tourist and got blinded by all the lights so they can’t now leave.

              The tourists want to see the city, so climbing the stairs is a good thing! The locals, not so much.

    • CW,

      The “transit priority system” won’t ever be turned off in the Southwest Corridor. That’s because it will never be turned on.

  17. There are quite a few cities using them now. Berlin, Dublin, a lot of cities in Asia, three or four in Canada, one in Australia. Wouldn’t each city have unique circumstances? I’ve been to London a couple of times, the first time for a week—-doesn’t the density result in shorter trips, so probably more on and off boarding?

    Dave is right that Tri Met includes Sherwood. The SW Corridor apparently does not. But getting from Sherwood to Portland on 99 is really slow, so I don’t see why a joint Sherwood-Tualatin to Downtown Portland would not be feasible. But Sherwood would have to opt in.

    I went to Everett somewhat over a year ago to see their express line. They have two routes, each utilizing a park and ride lot. Could not a combined Sherwood and Tualatin express route have four to six stops and get adequate riders? I am just saying that Tri Met routes are not fixed in stone and they shouldn’t be, either. At least with buses the routes can be modified.

    I think another value to express or BRT is that it simply doesn’t require a lot of public input or construction headaches. Probably in some areas they do it with very little committee involvement.

    • While you’re certainly right that adding express bus service typically requires no construction except possibly special ramps for HOV lanes. But that’s no true of “Bus Rapid Transit”. BRT is a replacement for LRT and as such typically stops on 1/4 to 1/3 to even 1/2 mile spacing, it sometimes gets exclusive lanes and signal priority, but the essential thing is that it is all-day every day, late-into-the-evening frequent service in urban corridors.

      Express buses are one way commuter trainlets almost always with an empty backhaul.

      • Express buses are one way commuter trainlets almost always with an empty backhaul

        Sure they may be—but still they are a lot cheaper.

        Basically I’m saying that if there is no need to do something greater than an express service–to enhance, NOT substitute–conventional routes, why not? And if they have to put them away in the middle of the day because of less demand, fine. They’ll last longer.

        • But the SW Corridor needs much, MUCH more than just an express bus. Like Anandakos pointed out, it needs All Day, Every Day, Frequent Service for the whole length of the corridor.

          • Did someone say “an” express? All I said was that I thought Sherwood and Tualatin stops could probably be combined into an express route, using I-5 and then Barbur, if needed. That is not overlooking other needs. The rail proposal doesn’t include Sherwood, anyway. We should not have to endure one more botched rail project: Interstate MAX doesn’t go far enough, MLR doesn’t go to Oregon City. Get it completely right or don’t do it.

            • Ron,

              I totally disagree with your assessment of needing to get it done all at once. Remember the original NS Max line that ran from Vancouver, through Milwaukie and terminating at Clackamas Town Center? It was big and ambitious… it also freaked everybody out and it ended up being killed. As a result of that, Trimet rehuddled and eventually built the Green line, Yellow line and Orange line. Would I like to see extensions to all 3 of those lines, abosolutely! But piecemealing it out bit-by-bit has proven to be much more politically tolerable by Portland’s residents.

            • “Get it completely right or don’t do it.”
              Alright, you’ve finally come around and are in full support of the tunnel Markham Hill! :)

            • CW – The original Vancouver to Clackamas line was extremely ambitious and the fact that they cut it up into two lines was the right thing to do. By making each a separate line into downtown Portland allowed them to get federal funding.

              There has yet to be any real extensions of existing MAX lines. I’m not sure if Trimet or the feds would support it. The Blue line should have been extended to the gold mine of riders at Mt. Hood Community College. The Yellow line should at least go to Hayden Island.

            • Actually, technically, there has been one extension done so far… the extension of the Westside line from its original terminus at 185th to downtown Hillsboro. It was intended to open two years after the initial 185th segment, but the tunnel took longer than anticipated and the extension was finished simultaneously.

  18. The Milwaukie Line, when first announced was $515 million, and then grew to $1.3 billion. The Interstate MAX has done nothing that an improved bus line couldn’t do.

    These two issues could have been solved for under $200 million.

    There are myriads of technological innovations underway for surface transport, yet hardly any for light rail—in the form it is built here—that will change it from what it has been for the last thirty years. Still rails and ties and overhead wires. Once you build that you’re stuck with it. Road vehicles will change, with possible hydrogen power, fast charging electric power, low noise tires…and the construction of stations ought to change by utilization of prefabricated, standard components. They could, of course do this now, but the way it actually takes place is a very labor intensive, costly process. In short, keeps the construction industry busy.

    in my own neighborhood the results of myopic, spendthrift policy is showing up in dangerous main streets and not enough money left over to implement real solutions. The SE Portland transportation puzzle could have been solved for about one-fourth the cost of the projects we actually ended up with.

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