Get off the MAX at Gresham's Civic Drive station and you'll see something puzzling. Just north of the tracks, an isolated stub of paved path looks inviting. Then it disappears after 100 feet or so.
Update: Wy'East Way
The path, now known as the Wy'East Way Path, opened in fall 2015.
That stub will soon stretch into something more useful: the MAX Path, a direct, 2-mile paved trail through the heart of the region's second-largest city.
An $890,000 Regional Flexible Funds allocation from Metro will cover most of the cost of building the MAX Path, connecting the Ruby Junction MAX station in Rockwood with the Blue Line's eastern terminus in downtown Gresham.
Since the MAX was completed here in 1986, light rail has been the most direct connection through this area. MAX is fast – just eight minutes between Ruby Junction and Cleveland Avenue – and its diagonal route is considerably more direct than surrounding streets.
But bicycling or walking through this part of Gresham – whether trying to reach or a MAX station or connecting to other destinations in the city and beyond – has meant one of two things. Either take a circuitous route along city streets that can double how long a trip takes, or follow informal trails and a gravel service road that parallel the MAX tracks – a haphazard option that is nevertheless the preferred choice for many.
Many Gresham arterials have bicycle facilities, but not everyone is comfortable using them, said Greg Olson, chair of the Gresham planning commission's transportation subcommittee. "We've noticed in Gresham that people bicycling with families, as well as folks commuting through, tend to want to be on sidewalks and paths rather than in our bike lanes," he said.
As soon as next year, Gresham will see a new option that serves those preferences.
High need, big return
The MAX Path will be a major asset to Gresham's growing inner neighborhoods, said Gresham transportation planner Katherine Kelly. "The path will provide direct access to transit stops and schools including Gresham High School and the Center for Advanced Learning, as well as the commercial and residential destinations in Rockwood, Civic Neighborhood and Gresham Downtown," she said.
The path will also serve a high-need population, Kelly added. The neighborhoods around the path's alignment are younger and more diverse than the rest of Gresham, and incomes are generally lower. Additionally, the eastern end of the path has a higher-than-average proportion of seniors.
The MAX Path could make for a very high return on investment, said Metro active transportation planner Lake McTighe. Modeling for the Regional Active Transportation Plan, adopted in July by Metro Council, returned strong results for the MAX Path. "It was one of the paths that really popped out in terms of attracting higher numbers of new bike riders," she said.
The MAX Path is clearly important to Gresham. But it has value to the entire region, Olson said. The path will complete two major bikeway connections between downtown Portland and downtown Gresham. It will link to the so-called "4M Bikeway," a proposed Portland neighborhood greenway that will give riders a safe, low-traffic connection all the way to Interstate 205.
And at its western end at TriMet's large Ruby Junction train facility, the MAX Path will connect with the Gresham-Fairview Trail, and via that, the Springwater Corridor to the Willamette River and Boring.
The MAX Path will be built thanks to regional flexible funds. Pooled from several federal sources, they represent only about five percent of transportation funding in the region, but often fill crucial gaps to get projects built. Every few years, Metro Council and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation – a body of local elected leaders and representatives of major transportation agencies – identify which transportation needs eligible to receive these funds are most pressing to the region's communities. Through a competitive process, they then give funds to eligible projects that serve those needs.
The MAX Path was awarded funds in 2004, a funding cycle when regional and local leaders prioritized projects that helped complete regional and town centers in the region's 2040 Growth Concept. At the time, Gresham’s funding application emphasized that the trail would help the city achieve its goals for mixed-use livability, jobs and mobility in its historic downtown and rapidly developing Civic Neighborhood.
Kelly said that regional flexible funds were critical to building the full trail link. Without the funds, "we may have been able to do minor segments, but the Metro funding allowed for a full corridor connection," she said. She also praised TriMet for donating right-of-way for the trail's construction.
The city is currently collecting bids from contractors. Depending on how construction goes, the MAX Path could be open as soon as summer or fall 2015, said Gresham transportation engineer Dave Daly.
Olson said that neighborhoods east of downtown Gresham are already asking about connecting the MAX Path to them. He recognized it might take some time, as has been the case with the MAX Path, which has been delayed by staffing constraints at the city of Gresham.
Olson believes the delay will be worth the wait. "We see results by being patient and finding projects that are worthwhile," he said. "People will be on this trail all day long."