Traffic jams need real fixes
The tram originally was sold to the city as a $15 million solution for getting people from Oregon Health & Science University to a proposed South Waterfront biotechnology center and back.
Now that the projected cost of the tram has escalated to $55 million, it is becoming obvious that it may not be the best way to solve the real problems of limited access to OHSU and the overuse of neighborhood streets in Southwest Portland.
OHSU is a very successful Portland icon with 11,500 employees and 3,000 daily patient visits that is served by three small neighborhood streets. The main route to OHSU is scenic Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard Parkway. In 1983 the City Council enacted the Terwilliger Parkway Corridor Plan, which said the parkway was to be used as a leisurely scenic drive and not a busy commuter route. At that time, no one envisioned OHSU becoming the highly successful medical center it is today.
Successful as it is, however, OHSU's biotech aspirations are still many years away, and the tram that will link the campuses still is controversial in the Southwest neighborhoods. As the tram's costs rise, many are wondering whether the money wouldn't be better spent solving the real problems of access and connectivity in the Southwest.
The glaring problem is the lack of a good route from OHSU to Barbur Boulevard and Macadam Avenue. It takes twice as long to go the one mile from OHSU to the waterfront as it takes to go the four miles from Burlingame to downtown.
OHSU-bound traffic from the south takes Terwilliger or cuts through the surrounding neighborhood streets to get to the medical center. The city receives a constant stream of complaints about traffic problems in the area neighborhoods.
About 20,000 vehicles travel Terwilliger Boulevard daily, a number that is expected to double by 2030. Because of the lack of good OHSU access, Terwilliger is designated an emergency route and therefore is not eligible for traffic calming devices that would allow a return to its original purpose as a park. That means we will continue to lose Terwilliger to a steady stream of noisy cars, buses and trucks.
If the city is serious about encouraging OHSU's success and developing the South Waterfront area, it should consider a direct highway from OHSU to Barbur and Macadam. That would be a rational first step. Maybe it's time for the City Council to forget about postcard views of a tram.
Walt Amacher is a Southwest Portland neighborhood activist who has served on the board of Friends of Terwilliger and on the Southwest Hills Residential League Traffic Committee.