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PCC Sylvania tunnel, MAX/BRT decision pushed back, again

Southwest Corridor Plan steering committee says it needs more time to weigh the options before reaching decisions.

SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Will it be MAX or BRT? A decision on whether a light-rail or rapid-bus line will be built from Portland to Tualatin remains, after planners with the Southwest Corridor Plan cancelled its Feb. 29 meeting. No new date has been set, yet.After years of waiting, it looks like watchers of a proposed high capacity transit line in Tigard, Tualatin and Southwest Portland will have to wait a little longer.

The Southwest Corridor Plan announced on Friday that it was rescheduling its Feb. 29 meeting, where officials were expected to make two key decisions.

The project’s steering committee — made up of officials from Metro, TriMet, the Oregon Department of Transportation and elected officials from cities across the area — was expected to finally decide between a MAX light-rail line or rapid bus line, similar to one currently used in the Eugene/Springfield area.

The group was also scheduled to decide whether or not to build a multi-million dollar tunnel from Southwest Barbur Boulevard to Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus. The campus has asked for a transit stop along the proposed line.

According to Metro, which is overseeing the project, steering committee officials have requested more time to consider their options for PCC.

The re-scheduling is nothing new. The steering committee has regularly pushed back its key decisions over the several years of the project.

The group was supposed to decide on the mode and fate of the PCC tunnel last July, then moved it to October and finally to February to give planners more time to study the options.

“We’re talking about a delay of a few months,” Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen said in October, when the when the decision date was changed to February. “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.”

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 this year.

A stop at PCC Sylvania isn’t a problem if committee members choose to build the so-called bus rapid transit line, or BRT. The buses have no trouble climbing Mt. Sylvania to reach the campus, but if the committee opts to build a MAX light-rail line, as Metro has done for nearly every high-capacity transit line in the Portland area, it presents several problems.

Light rail trains can’t go up Sylvania’s steep hill, planners have said, and building a tunnel underneath the mountain would be extremely expensive. Metro officials estimated that a tunnel might cost as much as a half a billion dollars and force several residents from their homes for years during construction.

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 Mt. Sylvania, ending at a bridge that would carry the train across Interstate 5 into Tigard.

Another option planners are considering is to have a MAX stop at the bottom of Mt. Sylvania and have riders either walk or take shuttle buses the rest of the way to PCC.

Click here for Metro's list of options for PCC Sylvania.

The group has been studying the Southwest Corridor Plan since 2008. The plan calls for a series of transportation improvements across the region, including a high-capacity transit line down Barbur Boulevard into Tigard and Tualatin.

The controversial project sparked citizen initiatives in Tigard, Tualatin and King City, which now require public votes before a MAX light rail line can be built. Opponents of the project say that MAX light rail is too expensive and would bring crime to the area.

No new date has been set for the steering committee. Metro said that a date and location will be announced once details are finalized.

By Geoff Pursinger
Assistant Editor, The Times
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