TriMet and Metro to extend Blue Line to Central Oregon

Today, TriMet president Neil McFarlane and Metro president Tom Hughes announced the start of a new transit project, the Hood and Central Oregon Corridor.  This project, a 210-mile (338km) extension of the Blue Line, would provide light rail service to Sandy, Mount Hood, Madras, Redmond, Bend, and Sunriver.  The line would end at a transit center in Chemult, Oregon, where riders may transfer to the Amtrak Coast Starlight for service to Klamath Falls and points in California.   The proposed project, a direct result of the approval of Ballot Measure 91 by Oregon voters last Novemeber, is estimated to cost between $35B-$40B; the project is scheduled for opening in 2042.

Route description

The line would roughly parallel the routes of US26 between Gresham and Madras, and US97 from there until the terminus in Chemult.  The HCOC would mostly be a surface route, except for the Wy’east Tunnel, a deep-bored tunnel under Blue Box Pass, with two underground stations serving Government Camp and the Meadows/Hood River Transit Center.  The latter, a transit center located near the junction of US26 and OR35, would include a multi-story parking garage, an all-year lodge, and ski lift service to various resorts on the southern and eastern faces of the mountain.  The tunnel option is being forwarded to the DEIS phase in order to avoid the steep grades west of Government Camp, and because planners have a strong desire to name something big and expensive “Wy’east”, particularly since the transit bridge constructed as part of the Portland/Milwaukie Light Rail project was named “Tilikum” instead.

A minimum operational segment ending at the Reed Market stop in Bend has been identified.  This would shorten the project by 65 miles, and avoid running light rail through the mountainous terrain south of Bend.  However, this truncated alignment would not provide service to Sunriver or Mount Bachelor, nor would it meet the project goal of connecting the High Desert Museum to other educational destinations along the route.

It is anticipated that TriMet would not operate the full 210 miles of the route as a Frequent Service line.  According to a TriMet spokesperson, the Blue Line would short-line at the Cleveland Avenue station, with half of eastbound trains turning around in Gresham, and the other half continuing on to Chemult.  As part of the project, maintenance yards would be built along the line in Madras and Gilchrist, allowing early-morning and late-evening service along all parts of the line, without the need for trains to first travel from Ruby Junction.

Stops and stations

blue_line_extension

Twenty-seven new stops are planned as part of the route, with an additional stop in Wemme being designed for future service, when local land use conditions allow it.  Planned stops include:

  • SE First Avenue and Burnside Street, in Gresham
  • SE 282nd Avenue, with service to Boring
  • Sandy/SE Meinig
  • Brightwood Loop Road
  • Wildwood/Mt. Hood Village
  • Wemme (future)
  • Rhododendron, with service to that Dairy Queen that everyone stops at on the way back from skiing or snowboarding.
  • Government Camp (underground)
  • Meadows/Hood River TC (underground)
  • Clear Lake
  • Wapinitia Highway
  • Warm Springs
  • Madras/NW A Street
  • Metolius
  • Terrebone/Smith Rock
  • Redmond TC, with Google Bus service to Prineville.
  • Yew Avenue/Airport Way, with shuttle service to Redmond Airport
  • Robal Road, serving northern Bend and Cascade Village Shopping Center
  • Butler Market TC, with shuttle service to Oregon State University-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College.
  • Greenwood Avenue, serving downtown Bend
  • Old Mill/Reed Market Road
  • Powers Road
  • High Desert Museum
  • Century Drive/Sunriver
  • Wickiup Junction
  • LaPine
  • Gilchrist/Crescent
  • Chemult TC, with connecting service to the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

Controversy

The project, still in the planning phases, is not without its detractors, and several obstacles lay in its path.  First and foremost, a significant portion of the line lies within Clackamas County, which recently passed a county ordinance requiring that all future rail transit expansion in the county be voted on by County residents.  Already, County Commissioner John Ludlow is opposed, calling the project a “waste of money” and a “blatant attempt by Metro to force high-density Soviet-bloc housing on the pristine slopes of Mount Hood”.  Ludlow instead called for upgrading US26 to an Interstate freeway, and for the immediate construction of thousands of McMansions on the pristine slopes of Mount Hood, noting that such a project was sustainable as the timber clear-cut from the mountainside could be used to provide lumber for the homes.

The project would also require approval from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, through whose land the proposed line passes.  The tribe has not yet issued a statement on the proposal.

Finally, many Portland-area activists note that the Gresham-Central Oregon corridor was not identified as a high priority corridor in Metro’s 2009 High Capacity Transit System Plan, and all but a few miles of the 210-mile project lies outside both Metro’s jurisdiction and TriMet’s service area.  A spokesman for Active Right of Way expressed dismay that Metro would even consider such a thing, given the backlog of maintenance work and new projects within the Portland area.  But planners noted that the project was consistent with the goals of ODOT’s Mount Hood Multimodal Transportation Plan, and that by providing recreational users of the mountain with a reliable car-free way of reaching the ski slopes, highway capacity on US26 could be instead utilized by the freight industry.

Finally, several critics of the project have suggested that a Mount Hood routing is an incorrect choice, and instead have called for the Orange Line to be extended to Salem via Oregon City and Canby, and then east through Stayton, Detroit, over Santiam Pass, through Sisters, and then to Redmond and Bend.  While such a routing would not provide service to the ski industry on Mount Hood (nobody, after all, wants to ski at Hoodoo); it would have the advantage of providing service to Oregon City and the Willamette Valley, as well as the State Capital.  Plus, noted Bike Portland columnist Michael Andersen, “a Santiam Pass routing would give us an excuse to run mass transit through Camp Sherman.  I can think of no better use of taxpayer funds than putting a light rail stop in Randall O’Toole‘s front yard”.

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