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Light rail project reaches half-way mark

TriMet celebrated reaching the half-way point on the Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail Line with a Thursday morning event that featured many of the agency's partners on the $1.49 billion project.

"This is like a family reunion," said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane, who announced the 7.3-mile line is now scheduled to open on Sept. 12, 2015.

Appearing with TriMet officials were members of the Oregon Legislature, the Metro Council, the Portland City Council and the Clackamas County Commission. Also in attendance were representatives of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader, Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and the Oregon Health & Sciences University.

The event took place at Southwest First and Lincoln, where the line crosses a new rail bridge from South Waterfront into downtown Portland. McFarlane said the project had created 6,800 direct, indirect and induced jobs so far.

Speaking at the event, state Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Portland) said the Legislature approved the first significant funds for the project with allocated $250 million in Oregon State Lottery funds for the new transit bridge over the Willamette River in 2007. She said the project had been in the planning stage for around 20 years before that.

Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette called the project "breathtaking," saying it will reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emission by giving motorists in southeast Portland and Clackamas County an alternative to driving.

"It will help keep the planet alive by giving people a choice to not have to drive everywhere," Collette said.

Portland City Councilor Steve Novick said the line will also allow those who ride it to save money over owning and driving a car.

And Brian Newman, director of campus planning, development and real estate for OHSU, said the teaching university its facilities on Marquam Hill and in South Waterfront are dependent on transit. Newman noted that OHSU donated the land for the MAX station that will be in front of the new Life Sciences Building it is building in South Waterfront. A satellite campus is also planned there on land donated by the Schnitzer family.

Four of those in attendance had served on the Milwaukie City Council while the project was being planned and authorized. There were Newman, Collette, Tomei and Clackamas County Commissioner Bernard. Newman referred to them as members of "an urban progressive cell" committed to the project.

Anti-light rail activists in Clackamas County have tried unsuccessfully to block the project from crossing the Multnomah County border. TriMet has prevailed in a court case to make Clackamas County abide by the agreements it signed to site and fund the project.

Editor’s note: This online story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the correct amount allocated by the Legislature. We regret the error.