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OHSU asset is good for all

THREE VIEWS • It's time to clear the air over divisive tram

One of the main considerations that shaped the planning for the expansion of Oregon Health & Science University to the South Waterfront was finding a way to link Marquam Hill to the riverfront campus without adding to the current traffic congestion on the hill.

The tram, which is well under way and will be up and running later this year, was chosen as the best solution.

Alternative links to the riverfront were thoroughly explored. One was a fleet of dozens of shuttle buses. A third-party transportation consultant concluded, however, that existing roadways would become even more congested and that, as a result, shuttle ridership totals would be 40 percent to 45 percent lower than the tram's ridership projections.

Another option looked at by the citizens advisory committee to the city of Portland tram planning project was a direct roadway link from Marquam Hill to Southwest Barbur Boulevard, mainly to relieve traffic congestion on the hill. The advisory committee's members rejected the connection because they said it would 'adversely impact Terwilliger Parkway and private property without providing sufficient benefit to the community.'

What gets lost sometimes in discussions about the tram is that it will be at the center of a unique array of community connections. While the majority of the tram's costs are being paid for by OHSU, it is an asset that will belong to the entire community. This nonpolluting rapid transit connection will link up in the South Waterfront area with TriMet bus lines and an extension of the Portland Streetcar, which connects to the MAX light-rail lines. A pedestrian bridge across Interstate 5 under the tramway and new trails will reconnect a number of neighborhoods to the riverfront and further expand a trail system that makes Portland one of the most walkable cities in America.

OHSU's expansion into the South Waterfront is sparking almost $2 billion of investment in an underused area in the heart of the city. The OHSU Center for Health and Healing now being completed there will house 100,000 square feet of clinical research labs as well as physician practices, outpatient surgery, a wellness center and educational space. This new urban center has the potential to create thousands of family-wage jobs in the coming years.

In addition, OHSU's expansion to the riverfront will enhance its ability to carry out its public service mission of improving the well-being of people in Oregon and beyond through healing, teaching, research and community service.

Mark Kemball is director of community relations at OHSU.