TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane could hardly wait to pass out the commemorative Tilikum Crossing pins.
The cause for his enthusiasm: the committee had just decided to move forward with using the new transit bridge for what is planned to be the region's first bus rapid transit project.
"As you know, the Tilikum Crossing is the 'bridge of the people,'" McFarlane told fellow members of the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project steering committee. "You are all part of the Tilikum's people now."
Advancing the Tilikum Crossing was the most decisive route choice made by the steering committee Monday afternoon at Rockwood Seventh Day Adventist Church. But the committee also chose to eliminate some route options in Portland and Gresham from further consideration, helping focus the next steps of studying routes for the project.
Wide support for 82nd Avenue
The committee expressed near-unanimous enthusiasm for using 82nd Avenue as the route to connect the bus rapid transit line from Powell to Division in Southeast Portland, citing access to PCC Southeast and the Jade District.
"I'm really excited about the 82nd [Avenue] option," said Gresham City Councilor Lori Stegmann. "I shop at Fubonn and it'd be awesome to get on a bus from Gresham to go there. I'm really excited about all that's happening in the Jade District, and that's the same thing I want for Gresham and Rockwood – for Jade District residents to be able to get on a bus to come to Gresham."
But some on the committee cautioned that it would be good to keep another option on the table for comparison's sake – in particular due to already heavy traffic on the road, which is also a state highway.
"I think 82nd is the best choice," McFarlane said. "But I would like to keep 50th and 52nd on the table, because we know there's going to be some challenges on 82nd. Hopefully we can overcome them."
ODOT Region 1 manager Rian Windsheimer agreed with McFarlane's assessment. "We support 82nd, but keeping another option on the table for a period of time until we understand and work through some of those issues seems wise," he said.
The committee ultimately chose to keep 50th and 52nd Avenue options for further study.
Cesar Chavez Boulevard and 92nd Avenue, which saw little support in public engagement and initial technical analysis, were removed from further study.
Harder choices in Gresham
In Gresham, the steering committee advanced three options that make an important connection to Mount Hood Community College, which many on the committee and in the public have highlighted as a priority. The three options also mean the line could serve Gresham Vista Business Park and Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center on SE Stark Street.
The committee did not yet have a clear preference among the three – 223rd Avenue/Eastman Parkway, Cleveland Avenue or Hogan Drive – citing the need for further study to understand their tradeoffs.
Cleveland has the advantage that it could serve more of the Gresham Vista Business Park, which has the potential to host as many as 3,000 jobs but is largely still an open field today. But Cleveland is primarily a residential street, prompting several steering committee members to emphasize the importance of engaging nearby residents.
Hogan, a busier arterial, would only serve the southeast corner of the business park, and several committee members worried that heavy congestion there would delay the rapid bus line or require higher costs to get around the traffic.
223rd/Eastman, meanwhile, would serve the whole business park but would also require the new line to backtrack from Gresham Transit Center, increasing the total transit time along the new route. Project staff had marked that option as "less promising," suggesting it be removed from further study, but the committee chose to keep it on the table while removing a Kane Drive option from further study because it avoided the business park and medical center altogether.
Planners hope more study will make the choice easier. "We don't view this as an endorsement of any one of these options, but as an indication of a need for further information," said Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, who co-chairs the steering committee with Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick.
Options to end the line at Gresham Transit Center, connect back to Powell Blvd. south of Downtown Gresham or use Kane Drive to connect to Mount Hood Community College were all removed from further consideration.
Equity, displacement also discussed
Powell-Division project explores equity impacts, potential strategies at East Portland meeting
The meeting also included some discussion of strategies under development to avoid displacement of existing residents if the new line results in significant development and increased property values.
The need was underscored by Kolini Fusitua, who spoke to the committee about the concerns of the Tongan community in Gresham. "Once upon a time we used to all live in Northeast Portland," Fusitua said. But increasing rents and new development in those neighborhoods pushed much of the Tongan community to Gresham.
"Now everyone is looking around and listening for other places in the Portland area to move to, because we're afraid the same thing is going to happen here," Fusitua said.
The steering committee and project planners have repeatedly reiterated their intention to avoid such an outcome. To that end, planners from Portland and Gresham presented work that will feed into action plans to bring improvements people want to see in their communities, while helping existing residents of the diverse and still largely affordable Powell-Division corridor stay in their homes. Several steering committee members have also shared tools for community stabilization for discussion in that process.
Over the next few months, project staff will look more closely at the routes the committee moved forward and conduct additional public engagement. The steering committee will consider the technical and public findings at its June 1 meeting, when it is expected to adopt a final action plan and route for the line. With continued agreement, that could put the project on track to begin construction as early as 2018.
Learn more about the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project