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TriMet releases cost, rider numbers

Milwaukie light rail will cost up to $1.4 billion and carry as many as 26,000

Metro officials still don't know exactly where the Portland to Milwaukie light rail line will run or how it will cross the Willamette River, but a preliminary report provides a better idea of what it will cost and how many passengers it will carry: up to $1.4 billion and as many as 26,000.

Metro is in the process of crafting the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the project. The document doesn't require final figures or routes, but winnows down the options for the line. For the Portland to Milwaukie line, that means there are still five different possibilities for crossing the Willamette, two different alignments into Milwaukie, two different ending points and several combinations of park-and-ride lots.

The report estimates the line will cost anywhere from $1.25 billion to $1.42 billion and bring anywhere from 22,400 to 25,800 new boardings each day, including 8,000 to 12,100 new passengers who currently aren't using the TriMet system.

'Everything gets more and more specific as you move on with the options,' said Metro public affairs specialist Karen Withrow. 'In this phase the design is really only about 5 percent of what we would need to build it.'

The agency and the Portland to Milwaukie Citizen Advisory Committee will have to make some big decisions in the coming months, according to Metro Councilor Robert Liberty. He said TriMet needs to have a final decision on a new bridge and route alignment by July to maintain the current construction schedule, which calls for the line's completion in 2015.

Alignments

While the new bridge for the light rail will have the largest cost impact to the project, the bigger issue for Milwaukie residents is likely the alignment. When TriMet first held meetings on the Milwaukie light rail line in 2000, it developed a locally preferred alternative (LPA). This plan was finished in 2003. TriMet subsequently decided to move forward with the Clackamas Town Center line first, and revisited the LPA last year. The result is three routes that are being considered.

• The original LPA crosses over the Willamette River near the Marquam Bridge and links up with SE 17th Avenue, which it follows south to McLoughlin Boulevard. The line jogs eastward before McLoughlin's junction with Highway 224 and enters downtown Milwaukie, ending at Lake Road. The line can accommodate 1,475 parking spaces at three park-and-ride lots: one at Tacoma; one just north of Milwaukie; and one at the line's end. The total cost with inflation factored in is estimated at $1.25 billion.

Estimated new riders: 9,000 to system; 22,390 boardings on the new line.

• The LPA to Park Avenue option changes the line's terminus. Plans originally called for it ending at Lake Road near Kellogg Lake on a parcel that turned out to be deeded to Clackamas County to use as parkland. Thus, a newer version of the LPA was crafted that would extend down McLoughlin Boulevard to Park Avenue. This option allows for a bigger park-and-ride lot at the line's end, creating a total of 2,600 total parking spaces spread between three lots. The total cost with inflation is estimated at $1.42 billion.

Estimated new riders: 12,140 system-wide; 25,770 boardings on the new line.

• The newest alignment option is called the Tillamook branch. It follows the LPA's route to Tacoma Street before veering to the east and following the old Tillamook rail line into town rather than following McLoughlin Boulevard. The line was created due to business owners in the industrial area north of Milwaukie who thought this option would better accommodate their truck traffic. The line would eliminate the park-and-ride lot just north of Milwaukie, but the Tacoma lot, Park Avenue lot and a smaller lot at Lake Road would create spaces for 2,275 vehicles. The cost with inflation is estimated at $1.39 billion.

Estimated new riders: 11,330 system-wide; 24,660 boardings on the new line.

Liberty said extending the line to Park Avenue not only creates a higher number of trips, but more trips proportional to the extra project cost. He said the new line would have impacts beyond just moving people in and out of Milwaukie.

'There are not just a lot of new riders on this line, but there will be a lot of riders on the other lines as well,' Liberty said. 'Everyone who uses the system has more destinations. Having the south leg is important in building a system and looking ahead to the next generation; building the framework for the next 20 years.'

Liberty also pointed out that the increases in cost over old estimates are essentially functions of bookkeeping. The federal government now mandates that transit authorities break out their financing costs as a separate item on budgets.

Bridges

There are still five options on the table for crossing the Willamette River, and each create changes in the number of people who will ride the light rail line. The option in the initial LPA was to cross on a cable-stayed bridge that would leave the west side just south of the Marquam Bridge. Other options connect either SW Meade or SW Porter with either SE Sherman or SE Caruthers. The development of Portland's South Waterfront area has partially driven the conversation about exploring those options.

There are a number of factors driving the bridge decision, and they're primarily technical or financial. Liberty said TriMet recently discovered that the crossing near the Marquam Bridge would require engineers to 'thread the needle' between two buildings, and may not be feasible for a bridge that will carry light rail, street cars, buses and pedestrians. In addition, the original LPA bridge was longer, which adds to the cost, since it can only be a cable-stayed bridge. The other options could potentially use a traditional bridge design. Liberty said engineers are also looking at timelines for different bridges, since work in the river is barred during certain times of the year due to salmon runs.

From an economic standpoint, a bridge options along SW Meade or SW Porter would help establish better transit access in the area, where there is already a streetcar line.

'At the time the LPA was being developed the plans for the South Waterfront were still being drawn up,' Liberty said. 'So part of what has changed is the massive scale of development compared to what it was before and the fact that there will be more people coming there as part of OHSU's campus expansion.'

The SDEIS also states that the new bridge configurations could add up to 1,500 new riders to the line.