June 1 could represent a big milestone for the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project.
At a church in Portland's Hazelwood neighborhood, the project's steering committee will consider advancing into a "project development" phase.
It's more than a formality. Project development would begin more detailed engineering and analysis of route options and open up key federal dollars for those activities.
The Powell-Division project seeks to build the region's first bus rapid transit line from Portland to Gresham, along with implementing strategies for development and safer walking and bicycling in the 15-mile corridor.
The steering committee, which decided in March to have the line use the Tilikum Crossing, will also hear Monday about findings on route options they've left on the table and learn how Portland and Gresham officials hope to leverage transit investments to create desired changes near future stations.
Here are three key things to know about Monday's meeting.
Keeping the options open
Three options remain in consideration for connecting bus rapid transit between Southeast Powell Boulevard and Division Street in Portland: 50th Avenue, 52nd Avenue and 82nd Avenue. Likewise, three options remain open for reaching Mount Hood Community College from downtown Gresham via Stark Street: North Main/223rd Avenue, Cleveland Avenue and Hogan Drive.
Each option has its strengths and potential weaknesses. Public engagement so far – including scores of public meetings, targeted outreach to ethnic, youth and business communities and several online surveys attracting thousands of responses – has found strongest support for 82nd Avenue in Portland and Cleveland or Hogan in Gresham.
But there are other factors to consider. Heavy traffic on 82nd could hamper making bus rapid transit truly rapid, unless certain design solutions can be found, like transit-only lanes or head-starts at busy intersections. In Gresham, Cleveland could serve more jobs, including at the Gresham Vista Business Park, but the connection itself is in a largely single-family residential area. Hogan would serve a higher-density residential area, but traffic is a concern there too.
Better information would make the choice clearer, planners hope. So they intend to enter project development not with one final route but with all six options still officially in the mix, with the goal of making a more informed choice later. More study and public engagement will follow this summer and fall.
Several "action plans" are on the agenda for Monday's meeting. Each has a different purpose and significance to communities along the project line.
First, the steering committee will consider a Transit Action Plan. This includes a recommendation to move into project development, which is particularly important because it allows planners to access federal dollars earmarked for that purpose.
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The Transit Action Plan directs Metro, TriMet and other project partners to begin more detailed design and preliminary engineering for different transit options, get to work on required federal environmental approvals and develop a funding plan for construction once the line's final route and station locations are identified. It directs project partners to start work on fostering equitable development around the potential transit line. And it sets the stage for considerable public engagement to continue through 2015.
If the committee approves the Transit Action Plan, it will next be considered by the governing boards of each of the Powell-Division project partners. Sometime in 2016, project planners would ask the steering committee to make a final recommendation on a preferred transit alternative, which would again need to be approved by the Portland and Gresham city councils and Multnomah County Commission, culminating in an official decision and action by the Metro Council.
Also on Monday, the committee will discuss two draft local "action plans" for Portland and Gresham. These plans present concepts and actions to create changes desired by local communities along the line, particularly around future bus rapid transit stations. Economic development, safer places to walk and bicycle and advancing equity are common themes in both plans.
The plans were built on considerable public input, said Gresham planner Brian Martin. "People got a chance to say which changes and actions are most important, to them," he said via email.
The draft plans will next be considered for adoption solely by the cities' respective city councils, because they will be responsible for implementation. But each plan includes supportive roles for Metro, TriMet, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other public agencies and private partners.
Stepping up for walking, biking
Safer sidewalks, more frequent safe crosswalks and better bike facilities in the Powell-Division corridor have been consistent themes throughout the project's public engagement.
Earlier this month, Metro released draft bicycle and pedestrian "elements" that inventory existing conditions for walking and biking and safety projects already funded or planned.
For the bicycling element, planners also included three potential concepts: a "shared" approach that would include continuous bike facilities along the whole length of the line, a "parallel" approach focused on east-west bike boulevards within a ½-mile or so of the line with frequent north-south connections to stations and a "hybrid" approach to mix the two.
Planners presented drafts to pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees this month in Gresham, Portland and Multnomah County. Although more analysis and public engagement will continue through the calendar year, the steering committee could eventually be asked to decide how to include bicycling and walking facilities in the design and funding plans for the Powell-Division project.
Learn more about the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project