Light rail coming to PSU

Light rail is coming to Portland State – probably.

For $150 million, TriMet could build a rail line on Fifth and Sixth avenues between PSU and Union Station as early as 2007.

A cheaper option, however, would cut PSU out of the loop. For $100 million, TriMet would run light rail from Union Station to Main Street, and back stopping roughly six blocks north of PSU’s Urban Plaza.

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The rail line is just one piece of the $450 million South Corridor Project, which aims to bring light rail to Clackamas as well as downtown. Project planners expect the federal government to pay for 60 percent of the total cost.

At a public meeting in PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs building last Thursday, TriMet presented three plans for building the rail. With dramatic “fly-through” video simulations, TriMet representatives showcased options for running light rail on the left side of the street, and down the middle of the street.

A third option would run rail down the right side of the street, but a video depicting this was not completed in time for the meeting.

Both TriMet representatives and PSU administrators agree that bringing light rail all the way to the university, the single largest user of public transit in Portland, is a better option.

“It’s essential that light rail come to PSU in order for us to meet the transportation needs of our students,” said Jay Kenton, vice president of finance and administration.

Transportation surveys have shown that 40 percent of PSU students, faculty and staff use public transit on a regular basis, Kenton said.

As TriMet seeks to put together funding sources, there is an expectation that PSU will be footing part of the bill.

This is fairly common practice, said Robert Bertini, a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at PSU. “Generally, projects around the country have been implemented where adjacent property owners somehow contribute to the project.”

Trimet’s conceptual design report lists PSU as providing $5 million to $10 million of local funding to help pay for the rail extension, an amount that planners hope would be matched by the state funds.

State legislators’ willingness to provide these funds in the current fiscal condition is doubtful.

TriMet “wanted us to approach the Legislature (about matching funds) – and we told them that given our budget it would be better for them to approach them,” Kenton said.

Kenton is serving on the project’s steering committee, along with Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Metro President David Bragdon.

The project, officially the Portland Transit Mall Revitalization, seeks to do more than provide greater access to downtown.

Spurred on in part by business owners who believe in severely restricting car traffic on Fifth and Sixth avenues, city planners hope the plan will increase development along the rail lines.

“The current transit mall has been around for 25 years and it’s showing its age,” said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.

Besides replacing bus shelters and sidewalks that are starting to fall apart, the plan would establish distinct “urban rooms,” which would respect the character of the neighborhoods while breaking up what the report terms “the monolithic character of the Mall’s design.”