Stretching from downtown Portland into Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, the Southwest Corridor is a major pipeline for people traveling to work, class and other destinations. And not everyone is trying to get into downtown Portland.
The corridor includes several cities' downtowns, college campuses, employment areas such as the Tigard Triangle and southeast Tigard, and the extended commercial strip of Barbur Boulevard through Southwest Portland. Each day the corridor hums with activity: employees going to work, students going to class and customers going to stores, restaurants and appointments.
In May, leaders on the Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee will make one of their most significant decisions yet about how to provide more options to help all these people get where they're going: Should a high capacity transit line from Portland to Bridgeport Village be light rail or bus rapid transit?
The committee has many pieces of information to guide its choice, which is often called the "mode decision." Thousands of people have provided comments at open houses and via online surveys. Planners have conducted exhaustive technical analyses of the potential advantages and drawbacks of either option, from costs and ridership to community and environmental impacts. And committee members have had many opportunities to discuss the decision with each other and residents in their own communities.
But what are businesspeople and employers in the corridor saying leaders should be thinking about with these decisions? We reached out to a few to ask a couple of questions as the decision nears. Answers are edited for clarity and length, and organized geographically – going from Portland to Tualatin first, then from Tualatin to Portland.
What do you think is most important to consider when deciding between light rail and bus rapid transit for the Southwest Corridor?
David Schleich, president, National College of Natural Medicine, South Portland. There are several things that come to mind. One of them has to do with future growth. The light rail becomes an organizing tool or mechanism for land use long-term. ... The other is ridership capacity. There's no question that light rail would attract more people who want to access us, the city and the environs. … It's an organizing mechanism for future choices. That has played out in many, many dynamic cities. And Portland is very dynamic.
Michael Jones, store director, Burlingame Fred Meyer, Southwest Portland (via email). Where will the stops and transit centers be located in proximity to the store. Also will they be park and rides or will the stops be near other retailer or business parking lots.
John Attar, owner, Barbur World Foods, Southwest Portland. Convenience to customers is a very important thing. Safety too. Wherever you decide to go, it has to be something that's going to take people from Point A to Point B and make sure they're safe.
David Crosley, spokesperson, Oregon Public Employment Retirement System. (PERS has been headquartered in the Tigard Triangle for more than two decades, with more than 300 employees and numerous public events.) Cost and efficiency and the preferences of area residents and potential riders. Also rider capacity – the more people that can be transported via public transportation means less road congestion and less time on the road for those who need to drive. There's also a need to consider which system will serve the area better in the future as the population grows.
Jim Corliss, owner, Landmark Ford. (Landmark Ford has been in the Tigard Triangle for 42 years.) The cost and utilization. I would look at the other lines to get more information. … Mass transit is highly subsidized. Subways get utilized, but the surface mass transit doesn't have that high utilization.
Steve DeAngelo, owner, DeAngelo Catering, Tigard. Obviously each option has its advantages. If I understand correctly, BRT is less expensive to produce, but more expensive to operate. Personally I think the BRT model hasn't been explored enough to get stakeholder buy-in. I think the cost-effective solution for the future would be the determining factor.
Linda Moholt, CEO, Tualatin Chamber of Commerce. I was a commuter for over 20 years from Tualatin to downtown Portland. To me, if I could get there quickly – 40 minutes or less – that was worth my time. Today that might be an hour or less. To get on something and get there quickly was really important. It was time and money. The cost of that monthly (TriMet) pass had to offset the cost of my time.
Fred Bruning, CEO, CenterCal Properties. (CenterCal owns and operates Bridgeport Village in Tualatin, along with several other shopping centers around the Portland region, several of them near transit.) I like all modes of transit, they're all valid. I'm a particular fan of light rail. Because I know it does work. We've done it twice. I think the future, in my mind, has only been rail. To be able to take some of the edge off the freeways and put it back onto a proven system that works all around the country, that's a smart thing to do.
What's most compelling about high capacity transit in the Southwest Corridor? What's most concerning?
Bruning, CenterCal Properties. Look at where the metro area is going to be in the next 30 years. You'll have up to another million people in the five county area. You have freeways and roads getting more and more clogged. … Do it now before the big growth. It will never be easier to do than now, and if you wait until later it'll become financially impossible. We are planning for the growth we know is going to come.
Moholt, Tualatin Chamber of Commerce. What's compelling is the (TriMet bus No.) 96 is really only a commuter bus. If we can start opening up more hours in the day, our work force – 90 percent of the people who work in Tualatin don't live here – we can open options to the people coming in at 4, 5 or 6 in the morning. We want a corridor that serves our needs early in the morning and late at night. We have a number of companies that are 24/7. Even those of us not working like that we want transit to be flexible.
DeAngelo, DeAngelo Catering. What's most compelling is the opportunity to connect our region with the core. I don't know that traffic reduction is ever going to come to fruition. Although some people (stop driving to ride transit) – that means more people come here and take up those spots on the road. As a business owner, who does timed deliveries, I have to tell you now I'm looking at our truck routing, alternate routes, how much time we might have to be in traffic. When you order your lunch you want it to be on the table at noon. Those early morning deliveries and afternoon deliveries to any part of the city are impactful now on our business.
Corliss, Landmark Ford. I see very little (benefits). Perhaps to come and go. We're in in the automobile business, not the mass transit business. Most all the employees drive to work. Very few live along the route that's proposed. How many customers who would use that, I don't know. We provide shuttle service as it is. I don't really have any concerns. Just the cost of it. We all have to participate in that.
Crosley, PERS. I think reducing employees' commute time is always a plus. Of course, getting more cars of the road, if it reduces someone's time driving, that would reduce their frustration and stress level.
Attar, Barbur World Foods. It certainly reduces traffic on the street, which is getting worse. Everybody uses them in bigger cities. If the stations where people get on and off is easy (to access my store), that's helpful. If it's not close, they'll probably stop at the next station closer to the other grocery store.
Jones, Fred Meyer. These always have the potential to bring in a wider customer base. There is great potential to draw in new customers depending on the stops of the transit. … As for concerns if there are stops near the location there is also the possibility of people using our lot to park in while at work. And then of course depending on proximity of stops there is the potential for increase in theft as it can become a quick way to leave the property. The benefit far outweighs any concerns though.
Schleich, NCNM. The biggest factor is access. We have a campus emerging in our part of the corridor. It's not just the educational resources here, but health care. Access is very compelling. Along with that is safety. Safe egress and ingress. … Things like street crosswalks, lighting, improvements, ADA accessibility and platforms, people being able to get to and from stations. Safety factors are top of mind.