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Portland's streetcar eventually will pay off

But there's definite pain during the latest efforts on the metro's eastside


The Portland Streetcar moved to the east side of the Willamette River a few weeks ago, providing the region with its latest link in an increasingly diverse transportation system.

The newest streetcar line, dubbed the Central Loop, will carry passengers from the Broadway Bridge to OMSI. Like all other transportation projects in the Portland region — including roads, bridges, trams, buses, bikeways and light rail — the streetcar doesn’t arrive without controversy. But like nearly all of those modes of moving people around, the eastside streetcar is destined to be well-used and eventually embraced by the majority.

Will a 3.3-mile streetcar extension solve the region’s most important transportation problems? Of course not.

Will it prove to be a good tool for economic development and for spreading westside success to the inner eastside? Almost certainly yes.

The $148 million Central Loop brought $75 million in federal dollars to Portland. That money created construction jobs, but it also will lead directly to intensified investment from private developers.

Residents of the region should expect to see residential towers rising from the Lloyd District to the south, and they will witness a revival for businesses near the new line.

Economic and other benefits will extend beyond Portland proper to the suburbs such as Lake Oswego. Not everyone greets increased density with enthusiasm, but more efficient use of land in central Portland can relieve the pressure for high-density housing in the suburbs as the region tries to accommodate hundreds of thousands of new residents during the next two decades.

Plus, with streetcars now being produced by United Streetcar in Clackamas, the region also can become a hub for this type of manufacturing. We do have concerns, we must admit, about various delays coming from United Streetcar’s production facilities and cost overuns for the engineering firm tasked with oversight of streetcar construction.

Previously, Portland’s streetcars have proven popular with tourists and certainly the entire region gains when visitors introduce new money into the local economy.

As the streetcar moves to the east, it will continue to have its supporters and critics — in the same way that the Columbia River Crossing or the Milwaukie MAX extension will continue to be topics of fierce debate. But with any transportation project, the true value of the public’s investment isn’t likely to be clear for several years to come.

As the eastside begins to transform — and particularly when the streetcar loop is completed across the Willamette River near OMSI — the Central Loop is likely to take its place among numerous transportation projects in the Portland region whose initial cost produced far greater economic benefits in the long run.




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