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Southwest Corridor officials weigh rail, bus transit options

Recommendations to be made by mayors, others by July 22


A decision that potentially could bring a MAX light-rail line through Tigard and into Tualatin is fast approaching.

This month members of the Southwest Corridor Plan Steering Committee are expected to vote on whether they want to continue looking at both light rail or bus rapid-transit options into Tigard and most of the corridor.

The committee — which is made up of Tigard Mayor John L. Cook, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and a host of other regional mayors, county commissioners and Metro, ODOT and TriMet officials — met Monday for the last time before it is scheduled to make a decision.

“This is a very exciting moment in the life of this project,” said Bob Stacey, Metro councilor and co-chairman of the steering committee, “because we’ve spent two years ... identifying a list of potential projects, potential investments.”

The 14-member steering committee has met several times during the past month and Monday’s meeting was a way to get any last-minute grievances with the plan out in the open, said steering committee co-chairman and former Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen.

“For the leaders around this table, today is the time to air if we have any outstanding questions or concerns,” Dirksen said.

The Southwest corridor connects Portland, Tigard, King City, Tualatin and Sherwood, but also impacts Beaverton, Durham and Lake Oswego.

Although many decisions have yet to be made, the project could cost up to $3.1 billion, according to Metro staff. Based on comparable projects, a light rail line to Tigard could cost $1.7 billion. Extending it to Sherwood could cost an additional $700 million. And tunneling under the Oregon Health and Sciences University could cost another $700 million.

Study both, decide later

At this point, the steering committee isn’t expected to decide between light rail and bus rapid transit. The committee will narrow its decision from five proposed routes — a MAX line to Tigard and four variations of bus rapid-transit lines — down to two.

The committee is expected to recommend studying both options from Portland to Tigard, with a line connecting Tigard to downtown Tualatin as well.

Unlike light rail, which runs on train tracks, bus rapid transit runs in a lane on existing roads. In the current proposal, at least half of the bus rapid-transit line would be in its own lane outside of normal traffic.

Studying both options sits just fine with Mayor Cook, who said that narrowing the field more will help the committee members compare the two transportation options side by side.

“I was hoping we would be able to narrow it down to one option and go from there,” Cook told the Tigard City Council at a June 25 meeting. “But having two (options), we will be able to compare exact things back and forth. I’m OK going forward with that because we don’t have a consensus on which way to go.”

Continuing to study both also will help the communities see the pros and cons of each, Cook said.

“Going out into the community, there are some folks who like one option, some who like the other, and some who don’t want any,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Juan Carlos Ocana-Chiu, senior public effort specialist at Metro, said that the public, overall, is for putting in some type of line between Portland and Tigard. “There is strong support for high-capacity transit in the Southwest Corridor,” he said.

More than 2,600 people weighed in on surveys about the project, Ocana-Chiu said, “which is very strong for this type of public-opinion measure.”

The majority of respondents cited Sherwood as a preferred destination and supported studying both bus rapid transit and light rail as the committee moves into the next phase of the project, Ocana-Chiu said.

But not everyone was happy with where things were headed.

Kathy Newcomb, a member of Tualatin’s transportation task force, said there were other options that were not being considered.

“Rapid travel is very important,” she said, “and that does not seem to be part of what has been studied at all.”

In Tigard, a group hopes to put a ballot measure in front of voters stopping both bus rapid transit and light rail without a vote of the people.

More than just transit

The committee will decide more than just which type of rapid-transit service comes to town. The committee will recommend a set of potential investments to the roads, active transportation, parks and natural resource projects in the corridor.

Draft recommendations also urge project partners to invest in roadways and active transportation by considering investing in 81 potential projects, ranging in cost from $500,000 to more than $20 million.

All the projects support either the potential high-capacity transit line, the project’s community land-use vision, or both.

One potential project is to construct improvements for transit, bikes and pedestrians in the corridor, including preferential signals, shelters, turn lanes, sidewalks and crossing improvements.

“Whether bus service enhancements or bike improvements on Barbur,” said ODOT Region 1 Manager James Tell, such projects “actually have more value than we’re used to ... They’re not as earth-shattering ... but they really can affect people’s lives.”

No matter what, Tell said, “The focus on transportation going forward is going to be just critical — both for land-use objectives and mobility objectives.”

Having had one last chance to hear public comments and engage in discussions with their fellow committee members, panel members were asked to submit their own comments on the draft recommendation this week, to be incorporated into a revised draft. The committee will vote on whether to issue this recommendation to Metro Council at its next meeting on July 22.

Reporters Drew Dakessian, Geoff Pursinger and Saundra Sorenson contributed to this news story.