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Tram ideas either a coup or a curse

If they build the tram, who will use it?

Busy researchers. Administrators. Students living in housing built near the North Macadam site. Visitors who don't want to bother trying to park at Oregon Health & Science University's jam-packed Marquam Hill campus.

In short, 'anybody who would otherwise jump in their car and travel between business points will use the tram to keep cars off the road,' says Mark Van Buskirk, OHSU associate vice president of corporate real estate and facilities.

While the proposed aerial tram will mostly be used by those with OHSU-related business, it also will be part of a metropolitan transportation system that would include bus and streetcar stops at the North Macadam site, Van Buskirk says.

The tram is the quickest, easiest and most direct solution to traffic problems that will only get worse as OHSU grows, he says.

A one-way tram trip, he says, will take about three minutes.

Portland area bioscientists are excited by the tram plan, says Ann Bunnenberg, co-chairwoman of the Oregon Bioscience Association board, which has endorsed the project.

A quick connection between OHSU's hospital and buildings on Marquam Hill and new research facilities planned for North Macadam will attract biotech companies, she believes.

'Researchers are outrageously busy people,' Bunnenberg says. 'To move back and forth quickly, I think, will be a powerful attracter.

'The tram has become a symbol being watched by people outside Portland,' she says. 'How serious are we about wanting to play in bioscience? We've made an enormous investment as a state in growing OHSU. We need to make sure we get economic development and industry development spinoffs that will come over the years.'

Tram opponents aren't buying any of these arguments.

Sean Brennan, who lives under the proposed tram lines and is a member of the Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill Neighborhood Association, calls the tram 'OHSU's private carnival ride.'

'Who's going to go from the river to the hospital besides OHSU (employees)?' Brennan asks. 'No one. It's flabbergasting to us. Trying to call it a public transportation project is an amazing public relations coup.'

Brennan says regular shuttle routes between OHSU and the Macadam site would be less expensive (about $1.3 million compared with the $20 million tram proposal). Test drives show that a shuttle trip would take no more than 10 minutes, except during commute times, which could be planned in advance.

'The bottom line is, the city has decided they'll put a postcard up and give OHSU a symbol,' he says. 'Meanwhile, the city's oldest neighborhood, here since 1870, gets shafted.'

Ñ Mary Bellotti