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Portland, Gresham celebrate MAXs connection

Light rail supporters note the 25th anniversay of first line and the system's growth since then

More than 100 supporters of Portland's light-rail system gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday morning to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Portland-to-Gresham Blue Line, and the expansion of transit service throughout the region since then.

"There has been an amazing transformation of our transportation system and how we think about transportation [since the line opened]," TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane told the crowd as MAX trains glided by three edges of the downtown Portland square. McFarlane noted that MAX lines serve all three Portland-area counties.

Some of those involved in the earliest decisions to build the line attended the event, including Metro Councilor Barbara Roberts, who voted to authorize the project as a member of the Multnomah County Commission. So did Metro President Tom Hughes, who voted for the project as a member of the Hillsboro City Council.

'Light rail is vital to our quality of life,' said Hughes, explaining that the current system supports the urban growth boundary administered by Metro that restricts where new development can occur.

During the presentation, representatives for Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Portland Mayor Sam Adams read letters supporting the regional transit system. Both said the region had become an international model for how transit can spur economic development while protecting the environment.

Portland Business Alliance President and CEO Sandra McDonough said light rail had helped save downtown by inspiring over $6 billion in public and private investments, keeping the retail core more vital than those in many other American cities.

McFarlane noted that the Portland to Gresham MAX line provided 19,600 rides per day the first day, growing to around 60,000 rides a day now. The light-rail system has since grown to 52 miles of tracks that carry 130,000 rides a day. The next 7-mile line from Portland to Milwaukie is already under construction, and plans are being laid for even more high-capacity transit lines, tentatively beginning with one from Portland to Sherwood along Southwest Barbur Boulevard and Highway 99W through Tigard.