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Celebration introduces Eastside Central Loop streetcars

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - A streetcar officially rolls northward on its tracks for the first time in Southeast Portland since 1950, carrying cars full of official celebrants.With a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a marching band, and numerous speeches, service on the Portland Streetcar’s “Central Loop” – a 3.35-mile double-track extension of the existing downtown streetcar line – was grandly opened the morning of Saturday, September 22.

Before the speeches began, in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) courtyard, Portland Mayor Sam Adams spoke with THE BEE about the new eastside streetcar service.

“With this extension of the line, we are almost doubling the streetcar trackage. This will unite, by rail, the city on the east side and on the west side of the Willamette River. With this nearly concentric circle around the downtown, we can now fan out and get streetcars back out into all the neighborhoods.”

A big reason for building out Portland’s streetcar line is to spur real estate development, Adams commented. “Already, before it was opened, about 1,300 new [housing] units are appearing near the eastside extension of the streetcar line.

“It’s also provides an affordable lifestyle; it’s a lot cheaper to rely on the streetcar – not for every trip – but for trips would otherwise require you to take the car to wherever the streetcar goes.”

Adams also talked up the fact that the streetcars were being built by United Streetcars LLC, located in Clackamas. “They’re manufacturing the first streetcars made in the United States in about fifty years.”

As a sizable crowd of well-wishers assembled, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer stopped to speak with THE BEE.

“I’ve been working on the streetcar agenda here for 25 years. And, this line is a product of legislation that I passed about seven years ago. It’s been a long time coming, and it is going to lead to great things.”

Building streetcar lines is “fundamentally different” from adding more city busses, Blumenauer commented.

“First, bus service can move at ‘the drop of a hat’, but steel tracks are not just for years, they are for decades – which encourages business development along the streetcar lines.

“Streetcars are also more user-friendly,” opined Blumenauer. “People know exactly where they’re going, because they can see the tracks. And, we’ve had some of our federal tax dollars return to us, here. It’s already been a shot in the arm for the economy.”

Portland City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish also arrived for the ceremony.

Before the program, Fish quipped to OMSI President Nancy Steuber, “You now have the hottest address in Portland! With the new streetcar extension, MAX Light Rail line, Springwater Trail – and the Oregon Rail Heritage Center opening over there – you’re at the intersection of Portland’s past and present – the confluence of Portland’s major transportations investments.”

Then, serving as Master of Ceremonies, Mayor Adams introduced one official after another, each of whom praised the cooperation of the entities involved in the project.

After the speeches concluded, a sparkly marching band struck up lively tune as Adams took the baton and marched the crowd around OMSI’s east parking lot, and south on S.E. Water Avenue to the eastside streetcar terminus.

The streetcar is not planned to travel south of the new Transit Bridge at OMSI on the east side of Portland in the forseeable future, but it runs north to N.E. Broadway, and the Broadway Bridge, before turning back west over the river to downtown.

After a snip of the ceremonial ribbon, officials were whisked northward via streetcar, to attend a private celebratory luncheon. They were the first to ride a streetcar to get to a destination in Southeast Portland since 1950.

Want to ride? Learn where the 28 new streetcar stops are, and check the schedules and fares, at the Internet website: HYPERLINK "http://www.portlandstreetcar.org" www.portlandstreetcar.org