Manuela Martinez Espinoza likes living in Tigard, but the increasing traffic jams bother her.
"It used to take me 20 minutes on the bus to get to downtown Portland from my house," Martinez Espinoza said about her travel time 15 years ago. "Now it takes me an hour" during weekday rush hours.
Large portions of the Southwest Corridor, which stretches from downtown Portland through Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, are car-centric, with wide stretches of busy highways. Many areas lack basic infrastructure, like sidewalks.
Faces of the Southwest Corridor
The walk across Pacific Highway to the bus stops along Southwest Barbur Boulevard frightens Linda and Richard Edwards, even though there's a crosswalk. This is where they catch buses to go shopping in Tigard or to connect with other buses and the MAX to go to Gateway for doctor appointments from their home in Southwest Portland.
Learn more about the Edwards and others who live, work, play or study in the Southwest Corridor.
Regional leaders recognize the growing needs of people who live and work in the Southwest Corridor: transportation options that include an improved transit system to go to work and school, and safer conditions for walking and biking within local communities.
They're studying how to manage escalating traffic and better connect the Southwest Corridor to the rest of the region through the Southwest Corridor Plan. It’s a partnership of seven cities, Washington County, Metro, TriMet and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The plan is anchored in a shared community vision with goals, which include improving roadways so that people have a safe and reliable transportation network for walking, biking and taking transit.
Some of the projects to help fulfill these goals have already been completed.
Those projects include the Tualatin River Greenway, a new crosswalk on Barbur Boulevard at Alice Street, and new TriMet bus lines 97 - Tualatin-Sherwood Rd, which connects Tualatin and the Sherwood Town Center, and 42 - Denney/Hall, which connects Tigard, Washington Square and Beaverton Transit Center.
More projects are underway.
Expanding the transit system
A new MAX light rail line is a key piece of the Southwest Corridor Plan.
The proposed 12-mile light rail would connect downtown Portland to Tigard and Bridgeport Village in Tualatin, building on an existing network of 60 miles of light rail.
Multiple routes are under consideration within this proposed path, but project staff have suggested an initial route for community members to start discussing.
The suggested route would begin near Portland State University, travel through South Portland with a new pedestrian connection carrying people up to Marquam Hill, and proceed down the Barbur corridor with stations serving Burlingame, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, West Portland Park and Mount Sylvania. A shuttle system would link the Portland Community College Sylvania campus to a MAX station.
From there, it would cross I-5, have two stops in the Tigard Triangle, and then cross Highway 217 to serve downtown Tigard with a station near Hall Boulevard. It would travel alongside existing freight rail lines until its final destination at Bridgeport Village.
TriMet would adjust bus services to connect people to the Southwest Corridor light rail and the rest of the MAX light rail system.
Every day about 19,000 people go to Marquam Hill, south of downtown Portland, to work at or visit the site's three hospitals – Oregon Health & Science University, the VA Medical Center and the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Marquam Hill "has a parking backlog of 10 years," said David Unsworth, director of project development and permitting at TriMet, the transit agency that would build and operate the new MAX line. That area will continue to grow.
So will Tigard and Tualatin.
“[What] we've learned is how many people are commuting to and within and between the suburbs for jobs,” said Jennifer Koozer, TriMet’s community affairs manager. “There are really good jobs in Tigard and Tualatin and people are coming from all over the region to go to those jobs.”
In 2015, nearly 92 percent of people who worked in Tigard lived outside of Tigard. And about 93 percent of people who worked in Tualatin lived outside of Tualatin, according to U.S. Census data. Light rail would help many of these residents get to their jobs.
Many students would also have more reliable commutes to their classes at Portland State University, OHSU, the National University of Natural Medicine, Portland Community College's Sylvania campus and George Fox University's satellite campus in the Tigard Triangle.
Preparing for growth
The Southwest Corridor is expected to welcome as many as 70,000 new residents and 65,000 additional jobs by 2035, which will further increase traffic on roadways.
Regional planners see light rail as a key travel option that maintains speed and reliability, even as roads become more congested, slowing buses.
The number of miles people drive alone is expected to increase by 22 percent, from 42 million to 51 million per day from 2015 to 2035.
"If you're trying to get from Bridgeport Village now to downtown Portland, it could take you an hour on a bus or an hour in a car," Unsworth said. But traveling by a new light rail line, "should take you 30 minutes."
In 20 or 30 years, that trip should still take 30 minutes, which provides certainty in travel time and a "real option" to driving alone, Unsworth said.
By 2035, about 43,000 people are expected to ride trains along the MAX's Southwest Corridor line. As a result, planners hope the project would reduce pressure on roadways and improve travel for everyone including drivers.
“You can choose to sit in traffic in 30 years… but you will also, because of this project, have other choices.”
Erik Halstead, who lives in Tigard, said he will choose to continue to drive.
“Right now, I can get to my destination in about 20 or 30 minutes,” Halstead said.
He does not think a light rail in the Southwest Corridor would help him get to where he needs to be on time. Halstead would like to see more improvements in the bus system, before any investments in light rail.
“If I took MAX, I would have to take a bus to get to Tigard Transit Center to take a train, to take another train, to take another bus,” he said.
Halstead relied on public transit for many years. “I had jobs in downtown [Portland],” he said. “But over the years as the buses just became less and less reliable for various reasons, it got to the point where I just had to drive.”
That prompted his family to buy a second car.
But for people who rely solely on transit – because they may not have the means to buy and maintain a car – the proposed light rail is a welcome addition.
“This new [MAX] line would benefit me," said Humberto Rodriguez, who lives in Beaverton. Rodriguez wants to move to Tigard to live with his partner, Martinez Espinoza.
He thinks the transit system needs improvements. Rodriguez sees the proposed light rail and other plans to improve bus service as a win for the region’s overall transit system.
“I move around by taking the MAX and the bus,” he said. His construction job is based in Portland, but sometimes he gets assignments in other parts of the region. “[A new MAX line] would be good, very good.”
Johnnie Shepherd agrees. He lives in Southwest Portland and depends on transit. Shepherd describes his neighborhood as "centrally-located" with many different transit options available within walking distance.
A new MAX line along the Southwest Corridor won't change how he gets to work or runs his errands, but "[for] people who don't have cars, it will be easier for them to get around," he said.
"I remember 20 years ago how difficult it was to catch a bus," he said. "I lived in Tualatin. I lived in West Linn. And it would take you an hour or hour and a half… It's more easier (sic) now... For them to even think of sending a rail line out there [along the Southwest Corridor], it would be beneficial to the community, to the people that ride mass transit."
The Southwest Corridor is home to many people and families who do not own a car or who share one car among working adults, particularly in areas near the proposed alignments, such as in downtown Tigard, the Tigard Triangle, along Highway 217 and I-5.
People across the region would share the benefits of an expanded light rail system, Unsworth said. A person riding on the MAX Green Line from Northeast 82nd Avenue "can have a one-seat ride getting out to Bridgeport and then a connection to a job through a bus...," he said. "So we're trying to knit all this stuff together using transit."
Protecting affordable housing
Unsworth said these planned transportation improvements for the Southwest Corridor build on Metro's vision to create dense regional town centers connected by great transit.
Since 2016, staff from TriMet and Metro have attended events or hosted community conversations - about 65 of them - to inform people about the Southwest Corridor Plan and encourage them to share their input.
Martinez Espinoza, Rodriguez, the Edwards and Shepherd are among many who support adding a new MAX line in the Southwest Corridor. As is expected with major infrastructure projects, some people, such as Halstead, oppose the proposal all together.
Others have tempered their support with varying degrees of concern about the potential impacts the project may have on housing affordability.
These concerns are rooted in history. Past infrastructure improvements in other parts of the region (and the country) attracted private investments that contributed to rising rents and property values, subsequently pricing out people from their long-time neighborhoods.
The Federal Transit Administration awarded Metro a grant of $895,000 to identify the needs of the Southwest Corridor with respect to jobs, housing and education, and to develop strategies to improve opportunities in those key areas.
At this early stage of the light rail proposal, regional leaders want to provide people who currently live in the area with better jobs, educational opportunities and stable housing.
They hope doing so will help people to thrive and withstand changes that may come about as a result of a new light rail line and the private investments it could attract to their neighborhoods. Regional leaders are particularly focused on ensuring stability and equity for people with low incomes, and communities of color.
“Planning for the proposed light rail project continues to take into account the best locations to serve existing and future residents of the corridor, and visitors,” said Chris Ford, Metro's project manager for the Southwest Corridor Plan.
This planning balances “needs for access, along with the possible effects on people of having a train and a station suddenly come to their community,” he said.
"It’s no secret that people and their families are struggling," said Brian Harper, a regional planner at Metro. "Many in our region have to make hard decisions between paying their rent or paying their overdue utility bill. Whether or not the region agrees to build a light rail in the Southwest Corridor, these pressures will continue to grow for many of our most vulnerable."
Harper said the efforts Metro and partners are undertaking to stabilize small businesses and struggling households ahead of a new light rail line are important, no matter the outcome of the train project.
With support from Metro’s 2040 planning and development grants, the cities of Tigard and Portland are developing a strategy to bring more housing choices to Tigard and Southwest Portland. Portland's affordable housing strategy includes enhancing tenant protections and services.
Regional leaders are making a commitment to raise money and pool it together with additional sources of income to build new regulated and acquire existing non-regulated affordable apartment buildings.
To support these short- and long-term goals, Metro is considering placing an affordable housing measure on the November 2018 ballot.
“The greater Portland region is looking to make sure that access to affordable and safe public transportation are prioritized, which means funded,” said Jes Larson, a government affairs specialist at Metro.
“We also recognize access to safe, stable and affordable housing needs to be a priority and funded," she said. "And so that is why the region is looking at an opportunity to create new funding to both preserve existing affordable housing and create more permanent affordable housing.”
In May, Metro and TriMet will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that will help decision-makers select the final route. The public will have an opportunity to share input during a 45-day comment period before a steering committee recommends a route to Metro Council for its adoption.
Planners estimate building Southwest Corridor light rail will cost between $2.6 to $2.8 billion. Construction could begin as early as 2021 with opening in 2027.
A regionwide transportation ballot measure in 2020 would help fund the project along with matching funds from the federal government. Across the country, projects like the Southwest Corridor light rail are also competing to secure these federal transportation dollars.
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Learn more about the Southwest Corridor Plan. Metro wants to hear from you during the next public comment period.
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