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Panel: Focus on Division Street bus corridor for now

Study shifts after difficulties arose with Powell Boulevard crossover plan.


Advocates agree with planners to focus their study of bus rapid transit on the Division Street corridor between downtown Portland and Gresham.

The project is a different version of what planners envision to speed up travel times between Portland and Gresham. Planners concluded in March that no time savings would have resulted from the previous preferred alternative, which would have involved a crossover from Powell Boulevard east to 82nd Avenue, then onto Division Street east to Gresham.

One advocate says a project focused on Division Street still would serve a significant share of Southeast Portland families that are low-income, minorities and speak languages other than English, although it would leave out those along Powell Boulevard.

“It is important for our ability to connect that whole area of the city with resources in education, jobs and small business support,” said Jessica Howard, president of the Southeast campus of Portland Community College, which is at SE 82nd Avenue and Division Street.

Other advocates emphasize that rapid bus service should not overlook the rest of Division Street, which extends to downtown Gresham.

“They need opportunity, access to community colleges and social services,” said Michael Calcagno, board member of Mt. Hood Community College, which would be the final stop on the eastbound line.

“Those resources we save (by forgoing the Powell-Division crossover project) could be put into building out the transit center in Gresham, like it ought to be done in the first place.”

Their comments came Wednesday (June 1) at a meeting of the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project steering committee. The project is a partnership of Portland and Gresham, Multnomah County, TriMet, Metro and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Division Street focus

Bus rapid transit would offer more frequent service and higher-capacity buses, but fewer station stops.

Twelve stops are envisioned, between 12th and 82nd avenues, for express buses in the inner Division Street corridor.

Nineteen more stops are listed for the outer Division Street corridor between 82nd Avenue and the Gresham Transit Center, and seven more from there to Mt. Hood Community College.

The proposed route turns north in Gresham from Division Street, tentatively onto Hogan Drive, and then east on Stark Street to Mt. Hood Community College. Hogan Drive was favored over two others, Main/223rd Avenue and Cleveland Avenue.

Advocates said they want planners to come up with more information on the proposed stops, as well as current and potential bus riders, by the next meeting in September.

Neil McFarlane, TriMet general manager, said he looks forward to improving service on TriMet’s 4-line that follows Division Street between downtown Portland and Gresham.

“I think getting better transit on that street … is essential to the success of the district long term,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, TriMet can look at impediments on Powell Boulevard — where the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Portland Bureau of Transportation plan a series of improvements in the next several years — and on 82nd Avenue.

New to metro area

Portland lacks a bus rapid transit system similar to the Emerald Express, which operates between Eugene and Springfield on a dedicated busway. A similar concept was contemplated on the Southwest Corridor between Portland and Tualatin, but planners now are looking instead at a light-rail line that will have higher passenger capacity but cost more.

The Powell-Division study has been underway for more than two years.

Federal grants are available for “small-starts” projects with total price tags under $300 million, although local matches are required.

“Having a small-starts project serves the Division Street corridor,” Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said. “It does not foreclose a future high-capacity transit project on Powell. In fact, I think success on Division would invite regional investment on Powell to make those connections.”

Planners concluded that development of bus rapid transit on Powell Boulevard would consume parts of Creston and Powell parks, and have negative effects on already congested auto, bicycle and truck traffic.

Another issue that planners must resolve is where buses on the Division Street corridor should cross the Willamette River into downtown Portland.

The Hawthorne Bridge would provide the same crossing for those buses as TriMet’s current 4-line, but offers no direct service to Portland State University, the South Waterfront or Oregon Health & Science University.

The Tillikum Bridge would provide direct bus service that would be lacking via the Hawthorne Bridge. But that route crosses both Union Pacific tracks and TriMet’s Orange Line tracks, which are far busier than lifts on the Hawthorne Bridge.

“In my experience, you cannot mess around with railroad tracks,” said Gresham City Councilor Lori Stegmann, who also sits on the steering committee.

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Story is rewritten to reflect that the revised project focuses on the entire Division Street corridor, not just the inner segment ending at 82nd Avenue.