To-do list: Ride MAX, in about 4 more years
by: Courtesy of TriMet Here’s the stylized boat concept proposed by artist Bill Will to adorn S.E. 17th between the Rhine and Holgate Stations. Brooklyn was originally Brook Land, and did have areas where boats could be used in estuaries along the Willamette River – primarily where the newly-rebuilt viaduct north of the Ross Island Bridge is now – and that inspired this art design.

It's been quite a while. The plans for an Inner Southeast light rail line were on the drawing board as early as the 1980's, and they looked forever doomed just ten years ago, but it now appears that construction will begin in BEE Country early next year - starting with utility work at S.E. 17th and Holgate, and with preparations for the new MAX line crossing Powell Boulevard, next to the railroad via an overpass.

There have been a long series of public meetings here planning the project, and more recently a number of Community Advisory Committee meetings, open to the public, to hone the plans.

Of special interest to this newspaper, since we have been alerting the public to issues about it for most of the last decade, is the current plan for a MAX station near Harold Street.

In the mid-1990's, TriMet came to the SMILE neighborhood association, which represents Sellwood and Westmoreland, and asked that the north end of Westmoreland be upzoned for more residential density, because there was to be a light rail station on the north side of McLoughlin near S.E. 18th - about where Rag Muffler is located now - with a pedestrian overcrossing for easy access, and the zoning would accommodate that plan.

THE BEE discovered that by about six years after that, TriMet had completely forgotten that request, could find no record of ever having made it, and had no plans for a north-Westmoreland light rail station. We pointed out that pedestrians have been crossing McLoughlin at Harold via a traffic light to catch northbound buses into town for a great many years, making building a station there easy to rationalize.

The location soon was marked on the maps as a 'possible future location' for a station. When we pointed out that the Reedway Street alignment still existed east of the Union Pacific tracks, allowing easy access via an elevated pathway for Reed College students and Reed neighborhood residents - and potentially, a way for Westmorelanders to stroll to Reed College and back for events there - enthusiasm in the community grew.

Then, federal money for the new MAX line came in lower than expected, and cutbacks were made - with restoration promised later. One of the cuts was to $100,000 in construction amenities just south of Harold Street - which, we had been informed, absolutely had to be made if there were ever to be a future Harold Street Station.

Given the community demand for the station, two Metro Counselors, SMILE, and the Reed Neighborhood Association all wrote letters earnestly asking that the $100,000 of construction elements be added back into the multi-million-dollar budget, so that there would at least be the possibility of a Harold Street Station someday.

Alas, TriMet has belatedly discovered that adding that money back in before the rail line is built past that point is forbidden under the terms under which the federal money was granted.

That's the bad news. But, apparently, there is now good news.

At the October 5th SMILE General Public Meeting in Sellwood, Rob Barnard of TriMet was present, and after being pointedly asked about it by THE BEE, he directly and unequivocally responded that this construction requirement was no longer the case.

He said that TriMet has now come to the conclusion, based upon its experience in building other legs of the MAX line, that any such construction elements built now might actually have to be first removed, at additional cost, when a future Harold Street Station would be constructed, because of advances in what TriMet has learned in constructing its tracks.

He said - and we want to make sure this is on the record - that not adding these construction elements at Harold Street while building the new MAX line would NOT preclude building a Harold Street Station later on.

Now, that doesn't mean they will. There has always been some reluctance to add a station in north Westmoreland back into the plan, although Barnard says TriMet now clearly understands that the community is interested in one. But, he says, they still CAN build it, even if the track is laid past Harold Street without adding any of those amenities for such a station.

Meantime, the stretch of the planned MAX line between the Holgate and Bybee Stations will remain, until that time, the longest stretch of the new line inside Multnomah County without a station.

Also part of that SMILE meeting, and another one held September 28 in Brooklyn, was a discussion by TriMet of the 'public art' which will be part of each station.

Although plans are not final - which is one reason TriMet has been publicly showing, and drawing comment on, these art plans - we can tell you what is currently in the works.

Bill Will is the artist selected for the Holgate and Rhine Stations in Brooklyn, and he proposes a string of stylized metal boat structures between the stations, near the tracks, to suggest the neighborhood's original name: Brook Land, back when a brook ran through it.

Dana Lymon Lewis is the artist chosen for the Bybee Boulevard Station, and her concept is rather subtle - a dim, pulsing beacon light visible at night above the elevator shaft on the north side of the bridge. (The south side elevator and turnout, previously added to the plan, are also now a victim of those subsequent budget cuts.)

And, the artist for the Tacoma Street Station is to be Thomas Sayre, who recognizes the limited space available for a large statement there, and thus is proposing a pair of giant stylized circular sawblades, thirty feet in diameter and set on end in the ground, to suggest the locale's rich history in the wood products industry a century ago.

The new MAX line is slated to open in the fall of 2015.