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MAX to Milwaukie?

Plans are on track to bring light rail to Milwaukie - but there are a lot of stops between this point and the final destination

Metro is preparing to move ahead with planning for a new, $880 million light rail line that will run from downtown Portland, across a yet-to-be-built bridge over the Willamette and south into downtown Milwaukie.

Starting in May, the regional government will begin work on a supplemental draft environmental impact statement - a detailed review of all aspects of the project, including: ecological, economic and social repercussions, as well as project financing and its place in the region's broader transportation infrastructure.

'Some of the work has already been done, in the past,' said Karen Withrow in Metro's Office of Citizen Involvement. 'We'll be able to look back at the old reports and update them.

'The important thing is that this corridor has been looked at for a long time. There is a demand, and public support for transit service, and light rail in particular.'

The push to extend Tri-Met's MAX light rail service to Milwaukie has an uneven history stretching back almost a decade.

'In 1998, there was a bond measure to pay for what would have been the North-South light rail line, that would have gone all the way up into Vancouver, south to Milwaukie and out to Clackamas Town Center along Highway 224,' said Withrow.

The $475 million measure failed in a region-wide election, with voters split 51-49 in rejecting the project. Following that failure, Metro began to consider alternatives. These included carpool lanes, rapid-transit buses, river transit and dedicated busways - everything except light rail.

'We held listening posts, going back out into the community to talk about options. Council directed staff not to include light rail,' said Phillip Kennedy-Wong, with Metro. 'People kept bringing it up, and in 1999, those SE Portland and Milwaukie neighborhoods began plotting to get light rail back on the table.'

Working with local representatives, Metro introduced a proposed route for the Milwaukie light rail line in 2003, known as the 'locally preferred alternative.' It ran into opposition from businesses located in the city's north industrial area, afraid that the line running alongside McLoughlin Boulevard would interfere with truck traffic.

'The locally preferred alternative turned out not to be so locally preferred,' said Withrow. 'They proposed an alternate route that would run along the Portland and Western railroad line.'

That alternative would eliminate a planned station at the Southgate Park and Ride, presently under construction for use by bus passengers. Along with a myriad of other project details, which route will ultimately be selected is under consideration by a steering committee made up of local and regional elected officials.

To reduce the impact light rail will have on downtown Milwaukie, the current plan would extend the line further south.

'One advantage of the southern addition is that it allows for more park and ride capacity outside of downtown,' Withrow said. 'We held an open house recently, and some people really liked the southern extension. There were some concerns expressed by the folks in the neighborhood, however - maybe because it's a new idea.'

Work on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement is expected to take a year, to be followed by a 45-day public comment period. If the project is received favorably, and Congress provides federal funding for the project in a timely manner, the first trains could roll in 2014 or 2015.