Transit plans take long road
TribTownStreetcar extension not yet ruled out as projects creep forward
By Jim Redden
The Portland Tribune, Dec 18, 2007
L.E. BASKOW / TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
The aging Sellwood Bridge is in serious need of repair or replacement, and a panel is studying the options. Determining a final design and cost is likely to take until 2009.
The idea of extending the Portland streetcar to Sellwood is complicating two significant transportation projects – dealing with the aging Sellwood Bridge and creating a transit line between Portland and Lake Oswego.
No one has formally proposed building a new Sellwood streetcar line.
But city transportation Commissioner Sam Adams is interested in extending the streetcar service throughout Portland and believes the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Sellwood might be a good candidate, along with such east-side areas as Hollywood and Hawthorne.
“There are a number of neighborhoods that could be well-served by new streetcar lines, but a lot of work needs to done before deciding which ones are the best,” he said.
Primarily because of Adams’ interest in the issue, those working on the Sellwood Bridge and the Portland-to-Lake Oswego transit project are trying to avoid making any decisions that would preclude a new Sellwood streetcar line.
This is not yet much of a concern for the Sellwood Project Advisory Group, a panel of regional elected and transportation officials working on the project to repair or replace the bridge.
Adams serves on the committee, which last met Dec. 10 to finalize which alignments and bridge designs to approve for the Draft Environmental Impact Study phase of the project – a step that must be taken to qualify for federal aid.
The meeting ended with the committee agreeing to study how well four designs would work on four possible alignments, including rehabilitating the existing bridge at its current width.
The two lowest-cost designs are the box girder and delta frame. Two higher-cost designs are the deck arch and through arch.
The committee also agreed to study two designs for a separate bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists: cable-stayed and stress ribbon. No cost estimates are yet available for such a bridge.
Trolley line still in running
Despite the large number of remaining options, a streetcar line could theoretically be included on all of the designs under study, said Mike Pullen, a spokesman for Multnomah County, which owns the bridge.
Pullen said that because a streetcar weighs only as much as a large truck, the rehabilitated or replacement bridge would not have to be strengthened beyond current thinking. And because no stops would be required on the bridge, the line could be run within the existing two-lane width.
“We’re not actually planning for it, but there’s nothing we’ve done yet that would prevent it,” Pullen said.
Depending on which alignment and design is chosen, current cost estimates for the bridge range from around $270 million to $400 million, in 2012 dollars, the year construction is expected to begin. The county has not yet secured its match, estimated at around $100 million.
The Portland-to-Lake Oswego transit project also moved to the environmental impact phase last week.
The Metro Council approved further in-depth study of two possible streetcar routes through the Johns Landing neighborhood between the South Waterfront and the existing Sellwood Bridge.
One would install rail in the outer lanes of Southwest Macadam Avenue. The other would follow the existing rail line, which lies between Macadam and the Willamette River, a route known as the Willamette Shore line.
Residents in the numerous condominiums along the river favor the Macadam Avenue route. They argue that the existing rail line runs too close to some of the condos that have been built since freight trains stopped running on the line more than 10 years ago.
“The line is so close to some of the units, you could reach out and snatch a drink off the deck,” said Vern Rifer, a Portland developer and resident of one of the affected condominium developments, who serves on a citizen committee advising Metro on the project.
Streetcar heads south
Rifer favors running the line along Macadam Avenue. He argues it would spur redevelopment of the Johns Landing neighborhood by giving residents and visitors a transportation alternative.
Rifer also noted that both routes could include a spur across the river into Sellwood that would encourage travel between the neighborhoods.
“There’s nothing that would prevent it from hooking over the Sellwood Bridge,” Rifer said.
Metro has yet to decide whether to run the line through the Dunthorpe neighborhood to Lake Oswego, an option strongly opposed by many of the people who live along the route.
In some cases, the proposed streetcar line cuts through backyards, and even between houses and garages.
“I’m concerned about the safety of the children who live here, and also wonder if there would be enough riders to support it,” Riverdale area resident Elizabeth English said.
Cost estimates for a line to Lake Oswego range from just under $200 million to more than $215 million.