Light rail is the best kind of high capacity transit to connect Portland and Bridgeport Village, staff for the Southwest Corridor Plan recommend in a memo released today.
Read the recommendations
Steering committee meetings
Wednesday, April 6, 6 to 8 p.m.
Southwest Community Center
6820 SW 45th Ave., Portland
Agenda: Staff to present recommendations on high capacity transit mode decision, PCC Sylvania light rail tunnel. Public forum to discuss recommendations.
Monday, May 9, 9 to 11 a.m.
Tigard Town Hall
13125 SW Hall Boulevard, Tigard
Agenda: The steering committee is expected to decide on mode and PCC light rail tunnel
And a proposed light rail tunnel to directly serve Portland Community College's Sylvania campus should be dropped in favor of continuing to study alternatives that could also improve transit access to the school, staff recommend.
Coming after many months of planning, public engagement and numerous technical analyses, the recommendations are directed to the project's 12-member steering committee, which includes elected representatives from seven cities, Washington County and Metro plus top officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation and TriMet.
The committee will discuss the recommendations and hear from the public at a meeting and forum Wednesday, April 6 at Portland's Southwest Community Center. The committee is expected to make a decision on the recommendations May 9.
Light rail recommended over bus rapid transit
The recommendation memo focuses on two outstanding questions about the high capacity transit line, expected to open in about a decade.
The first: Which kind of high capacity transit is best for Southwest Portland, Tigard and Tualatin?
Known as the "mode decision", this question pitted a form of bus rapid transit against the more-familiar MAX light rail.
Two bus rapid transit lines are currently in development in the region – the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project between Portland and Gresham, and a C-TRAN line called "The Vine" on State Route 500 in Clark County, slated to open this fall.
Bus rapid transit is preferred in some communities because it is less expensive to build and is able to operate in mixed traffic, at least for some stretches. The Southwest Corridor steering committee had previously decided that any bus rapid transit in the corridor should operate on its own right-of-way for most of the route.
Despite light rail's higher up-front construction costs -- around 44 percent higher than bus rapid transit -- project staff recommend it for the Southwest Corridor for several main reasons:
- Ability to acommodate projected ridership growth: Staff analysis projects that bus rapid transit would be at capacity during rush hour by 2035, just ten years after opening. Light rail would be better able to serve a growing population and new jobs in the corridor after that, as well as possible line extensions.
- Better transit performance: Faster, more reliable service with lower per-rider operations costs
- Better integration into existing MAX system and the downtown Portland transit mall, preserving capacity for future transit service
- Higher level of public support in polls, surveys and community engagement
The memo states that light rail would be better than bus rapid transit at "serving the existing and projected transit demand in the corridor, improving transit service reliability in the corridor, improving transit travel times and providing transit service that is cost effective to build and operate with limited local resources.”
Memo recommends surface connections to PCC Sylvania
One of the most challenging questions in the Southwest Corridor has been how best to serve several of the hilltop destinations in the area. Tunnels provide the most direct connections to such destinations, but often at greater costs and community impacts.
In July 2015, recognizing such concerns, the steering committee decided to forgo tunnels beneath Marquam Hill and Hillsdale in favor of surface connections, but directed staff to keep exploring whether a light rail tunnel could work for PCC Sylvania, perched atop a butte surrounded by wooded, mostly residential neighborhoods.
In the new memo, planners recommend also dropping the tunnel to PCC Sylvania in favor of other options.
Planners have explored three tunnel options to serve the campus. One would have dug out SW 53rd Avenue – a mostly gravel and dirt track through a quiet neighborhood – to place tracks and then cover it over again. The other two would have been two lengths of deeper bored tunnels.
While a tunnel would provide fast, direct transit service to the Sylvania campus, it would cost as much as 21 percent more than a light rail line that sticks to SW Barbur Boulevard. Such a cost increase could mean the line would end in downtown Tigard instead of reaching Bridgeport Village, negating any increase in ridership from serving the campus. The costs could also reduce funds for locally desired pedestrian and bike links to new MAX stations.
Tunnels also met with strong opposition from the Far Southwest Neighborhood Association, which would be most directly affected by construction, although online surveys and engagement with PCC students and employees had shown modest preference for a light rail tunnel.
"PCC is an important partner and the Sylvania campus is a high-profile destination that needs to be well-served by transit for the Southwest Corridor Plan to be successful. A tunnel would clearly succeed in growing transit ridership to the campus," the memo states.
But the memo adds: "The significant cost of constructing a tunnel and potentially high neighborhood impacts would not be commensurate to the ridership benefits and would jeopardize construction of a cost-effective (light rail) project that includes station connectivity projects and local pedestrian, bike and roadway investments."
A range of alternative concepts have been floated for improving transit access to PCC without a tunnel, including reconfiguring bus routes in the corridor, shuttles from the nearest light rail stations and improving access for people walking or bicycling from the nearest station. If the steering committee agrees with the staff recommendation, these concepts would continue to be explored in the months ahead.
What's next – and how you can weigh in
Want to weigh in on the recommendations? Share your thoughts directly with the steering committee will discuss the recommendations at a public forum Wednesday at the Southwest Portland Community Center. The committee will hear the recommendations from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by a forum from 7 to 8 p.m.
Can't make the forum? Send an email to [email protected] to ask any specific questions regarding the selection of transit mode or transit access to PCC that you would like to be discussed at the April 6th event.
The steering committee will act on the recommendations on May 9. After that, staff will bring together a final 'preferred package' for the corridor, including the final preferred high capacity transit route and mode, as well as related roadway, bicycle and pedestrian projects.