TriMet now has $745.2 million from the Feds for the S.E. MAX line…
As you will read elsewhere in this issue of THE BEE, on May 22nd, in a ceremony in the Brooklyn neighborhood, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced an agreement by which the Federal Transit Administration will provide $745.2 million to TriMet to complete the Portland-Milwaukie light rail project - which, among other things, will allow easier commutes between Portland and Inner Southeast and the area around the City of Milwaukie.
That prompts us to raise our hand in the back of the room to ask TriMet if we can't, please, put the Harold Street Station back into the current construction plan…?
S.E. 17th south of Powell is already seeing increasing demolition to make way for the new line; the Holgate-17th intersection is being widened for it; the building on the east side of McLoughlin and just south of the Harold Street intersection at the Union Pacific train yard has been removed, and there is much more to come.
And on the maps, the MAX station at Harold Street, where there have been northbound and southbound bus stops for generations, remains but an asterisk.
Without that station, the longest stretch of the new MAX line within Multnomah County without a station will be - the envelope, please - between Holgate and Bybee Boulevards!
Here's why that's a real problem…
• TriMet has said publicly that it is considering ending the northbound service of Buses 31, 32, and 33 at the Milwaukie Transit Center, instead of in Downtown Portland, when the new MAX line is put in service in 2015. These three buses now stop at Harold Street and McLoughlin (as well as at S.E. 17th and McLoughlin), northbound and southbound, providing service for the north end of Westmoreland to and from Downtown Portland daily.
• Adding a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Union Pacific tracks at Reedway Street, where the right-of-way still exists between the rails and S.E. 28th, would permit passengers to access a Harold Street Station from Reed College and from the Reed neighborhood. TriMet insists the Reed neighborhood has good access from Holgate - by trudging from 28th and beyond, over the Union Pacific viaduct, all the way to 17th! - but even if that works for residents near Holgate, it is impractical for those living near Reed College. (TriMet insists Reed College will have good access using the Bybee Boulevard station; but from the new college dormitories near S.E. Steele Street, that is an unrealistically long hike.)
• With such a pedestrian bridge over the U.P. tracks, Westmoreland residents would again have easy access to Kaul Auditorium and cultural events at Reed College - access that disappeared in the 1920's when Reedway Street was closed at McLoughlin, forcing a trip of well over a mile down to Bybee, over the Bybee Bridge, then around S.E. 28th to Woodstock Boulevard, to get to the college.
The Harold Street Station would not only provide needed access to the MAX transit system to those living in the north end of Westmoreland, but could provide the only easy access for Reed College students and the southern part of the Reed neighborhood.
The primary objection publicly given by TriMet to building the Harold Street Station has been that its studies have shown that stopping the trains at Harold Street would add over a minute to the commute time to Downtown Portland by Clackamas County riders, and their studies say that that small delay would divert a significant number of Clackamas County riders from taking the train!
The delays increasing each year on McLoughlin for DRIVERS from Clackamas County make that lost minute seem miniscule, and this objection seem almost laughable. Even if it were true, surely the substantial population in northern Westmoreland deserves some consideration for their eternal support of this light rail line, while a noisy segment in Clackamas County continues to throw roadblocks at building it!
The other objection publicly given by TriMet to the Harold Street Station is that its studies show that Westmoreland residents would not walk down to the station from as close as Harold Street and Milwaukie Avenue! Since they are currently doing so to catch Buses 31, 32, and 33 - which may be discontinued with the opening of the MAX line, leaving Westmoreland commuters with far less service than they have NOW, if they are not given access to the MAX line - this argument, too, strikes us as being silly.
Particularly silly since TriMet paradoxically seems to think the Reed neighborhood has 'good access' to the line by walking north to Holgate, and then walking all the way down to 17th to catch the train there. That is a FAR greater distance than the distance to the potential Harold Street Station location from anywhere in Westmoreland closer to Harold Street than to the Bybee Boulevard MAX Station!
If those arguments don't really hold water, then what could be the real reason that TriMet does not want to build the Harold Street Station?
The station will have to be somewhat elevated, to meet the rails that will be elevated OVER the Harold Street entrance to the Union Pacific rail yard, since the railroad plans to move the exiting container truck traffic from the unregulated intersection of S.E.Schiller Street at 17th down to the Harold-McLoughlin intersection, where the trucks can get onto McLoughlin through a traffic light (which will have to be upgraded to accommodate the increased traffic). The rails will arch in a bridge over the train yard entrance, and the elevated station platform could add to the cost of building it.
And, probably more importantly, there's the cost of building that pedestrian and bike bridge over the U.P. tracks, whether it ends at the MAX station, or continues across McLoughlin, to end on Reedway on the west side of the highway!
Yet the overpass would have great significance to the large base of potential riders at Reed College and in the south end of the Reed neighborhood, as well as to those in Westmoreland who would like to walk or bike to Reed College and the area around it.
So, we say to TriMet - now that the federal government has chipped in its $745.2 million - how about taking the asterisk off of the Harold Street Station and BUILDING it, as part of the initial construction of the new light rail line?
If the cost of that footbridge is the sticking point, we suggest going ahead with constructing the station, and adding the footbridge later. The city might eventually even be able to help with that!
But, if there is no station, there won't be any access to those in north Westmoreland who now ride Buses 31, 32, and 33 - and who would wind up with less service than they have now, if these bus lines end northbound at the Milwaukie Transit Center.
On the other hand, if you do continue these buses at Harold Street and at 17th, doing so will cost you money month after month for their operation to Downtown Portland. That's money you could have saved by providing access to the MAX line at Harold Street.
Still hoping you will actually go ahead and build the Harold Street Station now,