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Cities, planners narrow focus on SW Corridor transit options

The transit element of Metro’s Southwest Corridor study is coming into focus, after a steering committee of local leaders asked for studies of several transit options.

Members of the Southwest Corridor Plan Steering Committee unanimously agreed Monday to study bus improvements and light rail for the area, which is roughly a wedge from downtown Portland to Tigard, King City, Tualatin and Sherwood.

Metro and the cities have worked for about a year to develop a list of transit projects that could be studied as part of a comprehensive look at transportation, zoning and economic development in the southwest part of the city.

But answers to zoning and economic development questions in the study are dependent on what transit options are considered for the area.

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Stories Nick Christensen writes for Metro are not edited or altered by the regional agency or the Metro Council. Christensen is a Metro employee, but provides independent reporting on the agency. Metro news is committed to transparency, fairness and accuracy.

This month, planners from Metro gave steering committee members a list of possible transit projects to study and others to consider later. Several bus rapid transit options were suggested for further study; planners suggested dropping off ideas like streetcar or running transit on lanes of Interstate 5.

Staffers recommended that some other options, like building a light-rail line to Sherwood, be put on the shelf. Planners left it to the steering committee to decide whether to study light rail to Tigard or Tualatin, or whether to also put that on the back burner.

Portland’s steering committee representative, planner Joe Zehnder, asked that light rail be part of the study. He said including light rail in a study with bus rapid transit would help local community members and businesses understand the difference between the two options.

And, he said, it would offer a cost comparison between bus rapid transit and light rail in areas where rights of way would have to be purchased.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said a study of light rail would help the discussion about transit in the area.

“I’ve got people in Tualatin who’ve told me, ‘No way, light rail in Tualatin,’ and I respect their opinion,” Ogden said. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. I think it’s important to not throw out any idea as a bad idea or to herald any ideas as good ideas” until a study is done.

Bus rapid transit ideas

The committee decided to study bus rapid transit from Portland to Tualatin and Sherwood, and light rail to Tigard and Tualatin. It also said local bus improvements should be considered immediately.

The bus rapid transit option sparked some intrigue at the table, in part because of its flexibility in the corridor, and in part because it’s a relatively new concept in the Portland region.

Bus rapid transit systems can operate in existing lanes or in their own lanes or roads, and can have other upgrades from regular buses. The goal would be to have a rapid transit line that runs on rubber wheels instead of rails, but still acts like a train, in a sense, making stops at stations along the way and moving even when other vehicle traffic is jammed.

Such lines are generally much cheaper than light rail. A bus rapid transit line that launched this year in Las Vegas cost $3.75 million per mile. The first four miles of Eugene’s Emerald Express bus line cost $6.25 million a mile.

Factoring out the costs of the new bridge, the Milwaukie MAX line is forecast to cost more than $180 million per mile.

TriMet planner Alan Lehto described an idea where a bus rapid transit system could run from Portland to Tigard, then have “a starburst of connections” out to other parts of the area, like Sherwood, Tualatin and Washington Square.

But Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers questioned whether TriMet could afford to run such a system.

“We really like TriMet but we have limited funds,” Rogers said. “Everyone’s trying to figure out solutions. What I see is a very expensive system being proposed here, and at some point we’re going to have to say, how do we make it work?”

Planners will start studying the costs and impacts of a possible transit system in the area. The study won’t single out any transit line as a preferred option, but will look at how much various transit projects would cost, how they would affect the communities of the area and how many people are likely to use them.

The study, which could be complete by next summer, would also look at how any potential transit project would impact the economy of the region, and how the transit options would affect growth plans in the southwest region’s cities.




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