Portland's Seemingly Never-Ending Light Rail Program Keeps Growing

Portland-Milwaukie LRTPortland-Milwaukie light rail approved to begin preliminary engineering

The Oregonian reports that Portland’s next light rail line – to be its fifth – has been approved for preliminary engineering by the Federal Transit Administration. The Portland-Milwaukie Line (Orange Line) will run north-south between the two cities. The approval does not guarantee essential New Start federal funding for the line, but it does promise federal money for planning and a likely future contract. The line has received $250 million thus far from the state legislature, which combined with expected federal money and local tax revenues, will cover the cost of the line. However, Portland’s transit agency, Tri-Met, has not yet found the operating funds for the project. The agency is currently planning significant service reductions because of a recent loss in sales tax revenues.

The 7.3-mile line will run from downtown Portland to Park Avenue in Milwaukie, with 10 intermediate stops, including along Portland’s rapidly developing south waterfront. If the construction timeline holds steady, the $1.4 billion project will be completed by 2015. The system is expected to carry almost 30,000 riders daily by 2030. The downtown segment of the route will be shared with the Green Line LRT currently under construction and sit along the Portland Mall. In addition, the line’s bridge over the Willamette River will be shared with a future streetcar loop, currently being planned.

Considering Portland’s breathtaking success in getting its light rail projects built, there’s little reason to believe that the city won’t be able to secure money from Washington to complete this line. What’s particularly exciting about the project is that unlike the soon-to-open Green Line, as well as much of the routes of the older Red and Blue Lines, this Orange Line will not operate in a freeway median. As a result, there will be significantly more opportunities for transit-oriented development in the areas around the line’s stations. Like the streetcar, then, this line may act as a generator for a number of not-so-dense neighborhoods, and not just serve to wake up a few hotstops as previous light rail lines in the city have. This promises to be the city’s best transit expansion project yet.

Image above: Plan for Portland-Milwaukie LRT, from Tri-Met

6 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax, and so transit isn’t funded through a sales tax. Most of Tri-Met’s funding comes from a payroll tax. While Tri-Met is facing a shortfall in operating funds, that’s one reason why they’re better off than most transit agencies in the country.

    Also, while the blue line spends a fair amount of the distance that it covers in a freeway ROW, it is less than half, and only four of the blue line stations (Sunset, Hollywood, 60th (my stop) and 82nd) are on the freeway portions of the line. Interestingly, there actually is some TOD around the Hollywood and the 60th stations.

  • tom veil

    Curious that it’s not considered an extension of the Yellow Line, but that’s a minor quibble. Go Portland!

  • Jason

    I’ve read that in service it will almost certainly carry the yellow line designation.

    Also not that the map is slightly inaccurate. The yellow line will follow the N/S downtown alignment. (It currently follows the E/W.)

  • jon

    minor point but this is the region’s 6th light rail line not 5th line…
    eastside/banfield max – 1986
    westside max – 1998
    airport max – 2001
    interstate max – 2004
    i-205 & portland mall max – 2009
    milwaukie max – 2015?

    the big question is what major max line comes after this, as a result metro is undergoing a high capacity transit plan for the whole region

    be sure to check out the build your own transit system tool…
    http://www.metro-goingplaces.org/bast/

    i dont think sales tax is all that bad of a way to pay for transit infrastructure afterall voters dont seem to have much of a problem funding new transit lines with sales taxes. sales tax for transit operations is a whole other issue though.

  • Michael – thanks for the correction re: sales tax.

    Jason – the Map is Tri-Met’s – Not sure why they kept the Yellow line on the east/west alignment.

    Jon – Sixth constructed line, but fifth service line (by color).

  • EngineerScotty

    While this line won’t go down a freeway corridor; much of the line WILL run parallel to the UP main freight line.

    And it likely will be an extension of the green or yellow lines (both of which will soon run down the transit mall downtown), not a new color.

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