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Southwest Corridor delays decisions on mode, PCC Sylvania tunnel until February

Staff say more work is needed before decision can be made.

This story has been updated from its original version.

FILE PHOTO - Planners have delayed two key decisions on the Southwest Corridor Plan, which could see either a MAX line or rapid bus line come to Tigard and Tualatin as early as 2026.The Southwest Corridor Steering Committee has delayed two key decisions in the years-long plan to build a MAX light-rail line or rapid bus line from Portland to Tualatin.

The committee was expected to finally announce a decision on a transit mode this December, choosing between a rapid bus system similar to Eugene’s EMX or a new MAX light-rail line.

But at their committee meeting, Monday, Oct. 12, committee members pushed that decision back to February 2016, as well as a decision whether to build a tunnel from Barbur Boulevard to Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus.

The committee — made up of representatives from Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, TriMet, Tigard, Beaverton, Sherwood, Tualatin, Portland, King City, Durham and Washington County — has been studying the Southwest Corridor Plan since 2008. The plan calls for a series of transportation improvements across the region, including plans to build a high-capacity transit line down Barbur Boulevard into Tigard and Tualatin.

The committee was originally scheduled to choose between MAX light rail and rapid bus line in July 2013, but opted to move both projects forward and decide between them at a later time.

Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen said that the delay won't have a large impact on the project, which he doesn't expect to be finished until 2026 at the earliest.

“We’re talking about a delay of a few months,” he said. “This line is not something that will happen fast … It’s more important that we get it right than that we do it fast. I think it’s well worth the delay for the small amount of time that we’re talking about.”

PCC decision delayed

If a MAX light rail line is the eventual choice, committee members have said that would likely require a tunnel from Barbur Boulevard to PCC Sylvania which sits near the top of 978-foot-high Mount Sylvania.

And that tunnel would be expensive — it would cost an estimated half-billion dollars, according to Metro planners — and would force neighbors in the path of the tunnel out of their homes.

Committee members had been expected to decide on whether or not to move forward with plans for the tunnel at their Monday meeting, but agreed to push that decision until February as well.

The delay gives planners more time to study alternatives for the tunnel, said Dave Unsworth, the director of capital projects at TriMet.

“The tunnel is not an inexpensive option to look at,” he told a room full of committee members and the public on Monday. “Before we make the decision to remove something from the plans, we want to see if there are other ways of getting to PCC with quick service that still accomplishes the goal.”

Those other options could include a mix of light-rail and rapid bus service, with a main light rail line down Barbur and a rapid bus line carrying travelers to PCC Sylvania, eliminating the need for a tunnel altogether, he said.

“We want to take more time to get it right, see the costs of these impacts and have further conversations with PCC and other partners,” Unsworth said.

Dirksen, who served as Tigard’s mayor from 2004 to 2012, said that running more than one transit line would be more expensive than choosing only one plan, but would likely be far cheaper than the cost of the tunnel.

“Up until now, we were thinking this was either/or,” he said. “We looked at whether this would be a rapid transit alignment or a light rail alignment. But this way, we could have a light rail line and still serve other stations like PCC by providing them with another type of transit line that links us all together. I think that’s an intriguing process.”

This is the second time that Southwest Corridor planners have pushed back a decision regarding the PCC tunnel. Committee members originally planned for a July 15 decision, but delayed that decision until Oct. 12 to give planners more time to conduct analysis and learn about future PCC planning efforts.

If approved, the Sylvania tunnel would be built near Southwest 53rd Avenue and would run underground to PCC’s campus. An underground station, similar to one at the Oregon Zoo, would connect passengers to the community college. The tunnel would then continue through Mount Sylvania, ending at a bridge that would carry the train across Interstate 5 into Tigard.

The schedule changes don’t alter plans for deciding where stations in Tigard and Tualatin would be sited. Those decisions are expected in December, as planned.

'Likely southern terminus'

It appears increasingly unlikely that, if built, the new high-capacity transit line for the Southwest Corridor will have a stop in downtown Tualatin. But two members of the project's steering committee said they think the line could terminate at Bridgeport Village instead.

“It seems like Bridgeport Village is a likely southern terminus for a lot of reasons,” said Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden at a Tualatin City Council work session Monday evening.

“That's my observation as well,” responded Dirksen, there to brief the council on Metro initiatives.

Ogden said Bridgeport is comparable to other MAX line termini elsewhere in the Portland area. The Green Line's southern end is at Clackamas Town Center, another large commercial development, while the Cascade Station shopping center near Portland International Airport, where the Red Line terminates in northeast Portland, hosts big-box retailers like Ikea and Sports Authority.

But Dirksen and Ogden suggested that if too much of the project's budget is spent elsewhere along the line, there might not even be enough money to build the line out to Bridgeport.

“If it turns out that spending money at PCC or somewhere else along the line … has a better cost benefit overall for the system than coming to Bridgeport, well, so be it,” said Ogden. “But I don't want to lose the option of studying Bridgeport because we've eaten up all the financial capacity elsewhere along the line.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a section on Bridgeport Village's possible role in the proposed transit line.