The Southwest Corridor Plan is more than light rail. It's an integrated plan for getting around in a growing, high-opportunity area of the Portland region.
A Shared Investment Strategy adopted by Southwest Corridor leaders in July 2013 includes scores of projects to make walking, biking, driving and taking transit safer and more convenient throughout the area's communities.
Local, regional and state agencies haven't been waiting for the light rail line to move ahead with some of the projects on the list. Several have already been built or are under construction.
Throughout summer and fall 2016, Southwest Corridor partners will determine which subset of these sidewalk, bike lane and roadway projects will be studied in the project’s detailed environmental review, known as a Draft Environmental Impact Study. Studying a project in the review is necessary for federal funding, which means it could be included with the light rail project in the region’s funding request to the Federal Transit Agency.
(Update: The Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee advanced a final list of projects on Dec. 12, 2016. A full list will be available soon.)
Projects ineligible or unlikely to receive federal funds will not be studied in the review. These projects will remain part of the overall Southwest Corridor Plan and will continue to be local and regional priorities, however.
Here's a sampling of what's new with some of the walking, biking and transit projects in the Shared Investment Strategy:
Portland: SW Spring Garden St., 19th and 22nd avenues
Capitol Hill Elementary School has been around since 1913, but the student population doubled in the last 10 years. The narrow residential streets surrounding the school -- bordered by SW Barbur Boulevard and I-5 to the west and SW Taylors Ferry Road to the east -- are gridlocked during pick up and drop off hours, with many parents and students dashing across Spring Garden Street in between traffic flows to reach the school.
But the area is getting a lot safer.
Approximately a half-mile of recent improvements to the area include bike lanes, 6-foot-wide sidewalks where there was previously just gravel, and bioswales filled with water-loving plants that collect, convey and filter storm water. These improvements can be seen along SW Spring Garden Street, SW 19th Avenue and SW 22nd Avenue. The Portland Bureau of Transportation completed these improvements in early 2014.
Strong pedestrian connections are important for more than just daily commutes and drop-offs.
“It’s a huge improvement. I can walk to Safeway with the kids now. There’s a clear path all the way,” said one parent during a rainy February pick up hour at Capitol Hill Elementary. Before the sidewalks were put in she would still walk to the Safeway on Barbur, “but it was a lot scarier,” she said.
A lot remains to be done. Car traffic continues to stall during arrival and dismissal time at Capitol Hill Elementary, and transportation improvements in Southwest Portland are difficult due to hilly geography. But this is one of many bike and pedestrian improvements in the works for the area that will not only connect neighborhoods to each other, but also to potential stations for a future MAX line.
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Portland: Crossing improvements on SW Barbur Boulevard at Alice Street
Southwest Barbur Boulevard is a major north-south connection for the Portland region, extending from downtown Portland all the way to Tigard before becoming Pacific Highway.
But this vital lifeline can be a scary place for people walking and bicycling, who have to dash across four to seven lanes of traffic to cross this busy thoroughfare. In recent years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has been working on improving safety and comfort for people walking on Barbur.
One of these projects, completed in March 2016, upgraded the intersection at Barbur and Southwest Alice Street. This intersection is one of three priority locations for crossing improvements on Barbur identified by Portland's Barbur High Crash Corridor plan.
The nearest crosswalks with traffic signals are located more than 1,000 feet away. But people often cross at this location because the sidewalk on the southbound side of Barbur ends just south of the intersection. People also cross to access TriMet bus stops on each side of the road, as well as employment centers on the east side, retail destinations on the west side and adjacent residential areas.
A new crosswalk with rapid flash beacons, a pedestrian island and new ADA ramps for sidewalks will make it much easier and safer for people walking or cycling to cross Barbur.
These safe crossing improvements at Alice St and Barbur Boulevard were funded by ODOT as part of a bundle of “Southwest Corridor Early Opportunities,” which are projects that could be quickly implemented to support safe access to existing transit stops in the corridor.
Tualatin-Sherwood: TriMet Line 97, Connecting workers and jobs
The year 1970 began a period of rapid growth for Tualatin, then a small farming town with a population of about 750. The community has since experienced a sharp rise in residential, commercial and industrial activities, with a population of more than 26,000 in 2015 and no signs of slowing down.
Tualatin’s industrial growth really started booming in the 1990s, said Melinda Anderson, the city's economic development manager. The city now has more than 12 million square feet of built industrial space, and even more land zoned for industrial use. Employers such as LAM Research, Ichor Systems, Jugs Sports, Nortek Air Solutions, Pacific Foods and the Kaiser Clinic and Sleep Lab employ thousands of residents in Tualatin and the surrounding area.
But a growing population means a growing number of people trying to get around.
Tualatin has four main roads that serve the industrial area: Boones Ferry Road, Herman Road, Tualatin Road, and Tualatin-Sherwood Road, all of which are heavily used during commute hours. Some manufacturers have opted to move freight at night to avoid delays. Freight, commuter, and residential traffic demand will continue to increase as the employment areas and new residential areas continue to develop.
But transit options are limited. The need for increased transit service to the area has long been a priority for regional transportation planners, and their efforts are finally coming to fruition.
That changes in June, when TriMet will launch a new bus line, No. 97-Tualatin-Sherwood Road.
Besides serving downtown Tualatin and the Sherwood Town Center, Line 97 will connect workers with the light industrial businesses along Tualatin-Sherwood Road every 30 minutes during the weekday morning and evening rush hours. The line will also connect with the Tualatin WES station and Lines 76, 93, 94 and 96, providing connecting service to Beaverton, Tigard, Wilsonville and downtown Portland. In the future, it will be extended to Bridgeport Village where it could connect with a future Southwest Corridor MAX line.
By connecting workers with jobs in this rapidly growing employment corridor, Line 97 will fill a longstanding gap in the TriMet bus network. It will also allow for the re-routing of the Tualatin Shuttle, resulting in increased service throughout Tualatin. It is the first new bus line introduced to the system since TriMet began developing its Service Enhancement Plans in 2011.
King City: Sidewalk and bike improvements on SW Fischer Road
During an eight-hour period in September 2015, Washington County observers recorded 121 people crossing King City’s SW Fischer Road in the few blocks just east of its intersection with Pacific Highway. Fischer Road is what planners call a “collector road,” which funnels bike, pedestrian and auto traffic from residential areas to major arterial roads (Pacific Highway in this case).
People walking along Fischer have to cross the street at several points where the sidewalk runs out, without crosswalks or signals. People bicycling must share the road with high-speed traffic -- the narrow road has one lane in each direction and no bike lanes.
Washington County and King City are working to make it easier and safer to walk and bike along SW Fischer Road by adding bike lanes and completing sidewalks in both directions.
New sidewalks and bike lanes will provide residents in the area with safe access to school bus and transit stops along SW Fischer Road and Pacific Highway as well as a safe route to Deer Creek Elementary School on SW 131 Avenue. The improved SW Fischer Road will also serve as a main connection for people walking or biking between Pacific Highway and the future Westside Trail, which will one day link the Willamette River to the north and the Tualatin River to the south with a single paved trail.
The project, estimated to finish construction at the end of 2016, will cost approximately $1.93 million. $1 million will come from King City’s Transportation Development Tax and $930,000 will come from Washington County’s Gain Share Program.
Out of all 438 miles of collector and arterial roads in Washington County, only 56 percent have sidewalks on both sides and only 38 percent have bike lanes, buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks in both directions. In addition, there are many miles of neighborhood and local streets that access schools and parks that lack sidewalks. Filling gaps such as these in the bicycle and pedestrian network are a key part of the Southwest Corridor Plan and other regional efforts to make the transportation system usable, safe and efficient for everyone in Washington County.
This story was updated on Dec. 28, 2016.