Although it's called the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project for the two arteries that define most of its 15-mile route, the region's first bus rapid transit line will actually be on Stark Street when it reaches its eastern end at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
But how rapid buses will make the 1-mile connection from Division Street in downtown Gresham hasn't been finalized.
Three options are still being studied.
In October, project planners from Gresham and Metro hope to hear from Gresham residents and workers about which option they prefer, as they look to turn those three options into one final line by spring 2016.
They are meeting residents at local events and opening a 5-minute online survey where anyone can weigh in. The survey is open until Oct. 28.
Take the survey
Similar benefits, different impacts
Maps, detailed benefits and renderings of all three options are available on the Powell-Division project page.
Get all the details
Lines on a map can seem benign, but to the people who live or work near them, they mean a lot.
"It is going to have impacts," said John Bildsoe, vice president of Gresham's coalition of neighborhood associations and a member of the Powell-Division Transit Project steering committee. "Not quite as heavy as the MAX, but there's going to be impacts on people who have homes and businesses on these streets."
Many of those impacts will be good, regardless of the option chosen. In fact, the three options have remarkably similar technical benefits, said Elizabeth Mros-O'Hara, Metro's new Powell-Division project manager.
Any of the three options – Main Avenue/223rd Avenue, Cleveland Avenue and Hogan Drive – would all provide far faster and more reliable connections to Mt. Hood Community College, Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center, Gresham Vista Business Park and other parts of the Gresham community than exist today.
All three would serve roughly the same number of homes and jobs, and all three could bring welcome safety improvements like sidewalks and crosswalks along with the new transit line.
Three potential route and stop configurations under study for the Gresham routes. Learn more and see additional images
And on all three, transit vehicles would probably share existing lanes with cars – meaning roads wouldn't likely be widened. Transit vehicles would use technology or special lanes to jump backups at traffic lights and other chokepoints.
But each option also presents individual challenges and opportunities.
Main/223rd, the furthest west, follows two arterials along a slightly longer route, but allows the transit line to run the entire southern edge of Gresham Vista Business Park, one of the region's most significant developing employment areas. Putting the transit line there might also open up more commercial opportunities and benefit from a wide right of way for stops.
Hogan Drive, the furthest east, follows a wide arterial past a half-dozen apartment complexes, two shopping centers and a golf course. Putting the line there might also mean opportunities for new commercial development and providing excellent service to apartment dwellers along a road that currently has no transit service.
And in the middle, Cleveland Avenue follows the most direct route along a road that is today two to three lanes through a largely single-family residential area. A line there could mean new sidewalks and crosswalks for a community where today they are spotty, as well as service to a large private school on a road that also has no current transit service.
Maggie Anderson, a 21-year resident of Gresham's North Central neighborhood and chair of its neighborhood association, lives just off Cleveland Avenue.
Anderson is vocally proud of the community of roughly 5,000 homes. Though still struggling out of the recession, she said, new families are moving in, vacant homes are getting occupied, and there's new construction at the neighborhood's edges.
Talk with planners
Powell-Division project staff will talk with residents at several Gresham locations this week:
- 3 to 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 8: Mt. Hood Community College
- 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 10: Gresham Farmers market
- 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17: Gresham Transit Center
"At this point it's a quiet neighborhood," she said in a June interview. "It's community-driven, neighbors helping neighbors."
But Anderson is concerned about the Cleveland option's potential to disrupt what she likes most about the neighborhood. "It's a two-way street. It's two lanes. People's bedroom windows are just steps away from where (the line) would be running," she said.
Anderson prefers Hogan. "Hogan's at least got four lanes. It's already lit up. It's already commercialized," she said.
But Bildsoe noted that despite Hogan's advantages, it also presents challenges at its congested intersection with Division Street in downtown Gresham. Cleveland, he pointed out, has the benefit of being straight and direct – though he, too, worried about the line's potential impacts on the neighborhood.
"I'm sort of torn between Hogan if they can figure out the turning [at Division] and Cleveland if they can figure out a way to run the mass transit in a way that doesn't overly disrupt the character of that area," Bildsoe said.
At a neighborhood association meeting Oct. 1, Hogan was the clear preference among the handful of people present, Mros-O'Hara said.
But she added that planners and members of the project's steering committee need to hear from as many Gresham residents as possible. She urged people to take the online survey and share it on social media with friends and neighbors.
"From a technical aspect there isn't a huge difference between the three options," Mros-O'Hara said. "It's what residents think that's going to be most important [to the decision]. So we really need to get that input from them."
Bildsoe shared that perspective. "We're representing the people who are living in those neighborhoods," he said. "We have to be really respectful of what they want and need."
Take the Gresham options survey
Gresham employers eye project benefits
Local employers say they're excited about the potential of faster transit, whatever option is selected.
One of the largest employers in Gresham, Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center, wants to improve patient and employee access to its growing campus of medical offices, said its chief administrative officer, Gretchen Nichols, in a June interview.
The center will celebrate the grand opening of a new medical services center on Oct. 29, but expects growth to continue, Nichols said. It envisions a new hospital tower in five years and other new buildings on its still half-vacant 80-acre campus on Stark Street a half-mile west of Mt. Hood Community College, where it has been located since the 1980s.
Better transportation will be a key part of fulfilling its community mission, Nichols said.
"Public transportation to the campus here requires multiple transitions in buses," Nichols said. "Figuring out how to streamline and simplify buses for individuals who have to use public transportation is important because those are often our more at-risk individuals anyway. If is not easy to use public transportation they sometimes choose not to access preventive care," she said.
Nichols said employees could benefit too. "We have a lot of employees who live west of here and would like to take public transportation," she said. "Our employees don't want to take public transportation if it would take them over an hour."
Better transit might also support development of Gresham's largest jobs opportunity sote.
"Transit will play a big part" in fulfilling the vision of the 221-acre Gresham Vista Business Park, said Ken Anderton, program manager for the Port of Portland, which owns the site. Over 1,000 people work there today at companies including ON Semiconductor and several dozen more jobs are expected at a Subaru distribution center slated to open next year.
But expanding industrial development on the site can only benefit from expanded options for employees to get there, Anderton said. "Both projects align well," he said.
Learn more about the options in Gresham