MAX in, money out

    For Portland State residents at the Ondine Residence Hall and the Broadway Housing Building, construction on Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues has been a hassle, disrupting their commute between home and class.

    For businesses on the same streets, like Big Town Hero between Southwest Jackson and Harrison streets on Sixth Avenue, it has created even greater problems.

    ”We’ve been underperforming for sure,” said Galen Eggert, co-owner of Big Town Hero. “It’s been easier for customers to think about avoiding the traffic and just getting lunch somewhere else. And even when they do come in, it’s a pain for them to stay when work is going on.”

    The construction is the beginning of the development of the new Portland Mall Light Rail, which will run the MAX Green Line track down Fifth and Sixth avenues. The fourth addition to the city’s zero-emission tram, the MAX Green Line will eventually span from Union Station to the Portland State campus.

    The current construction between Southwest Jackson and Harrison streets near PSU is utility relocation to prepare the streets for the new rail system and should last through April 2007. Additional construction that will more thoroughly prepare the roads for the instillation of the MAX rails will begin in 2008, though no specific dates have been specified in the light rail timeline.

    During the construction, all the bus lines that currently run on the bus mall will be relocated to Southwest Third and Fourth avenues going south and north, and Southwest Columbia and Jefferson streets going east and west. Line 14, which travels from downtown to Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, will travel on Southwest Second Avenue.

    As this massive undertaking for a new MAX line begins, contractors have been working to realign the sewage and water utilities along the southbound Sixth Avenue, which will host the final leg of the new MAX line. Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues will be the southbound and northbound settings for the new MAX line, respectively.

    ”It’s gonna be a hell of a job,” said Ryan Garrett, lead foreman. “We’re gonna be here a little while and do our best to keep as clean as possible. At the end of it, getting around downtown should be easier, though. We’re talking about getting from here [Southwest Jackson and Sixth] to past Burnside in five minutes.”

    Eggert said he knows that the current construction is just phase one and thinks that his sub shop will benefit from its location so near a MAX stop. Still, he said, there are growing pains.

    ”Just last week, we had customers in here who had to keep repeating their orders over the sounds of jackhammers,” he said. “And when the workers were filling a hole they’d been working in, the vibrations were so bad that we joked with customers for over an hour that it’s like getting the California lunch hour, what with all the earthquakes.”

    Portland State has requested that the major work originally scheduled to start in 2008 begin during summer 2007, the time least likely to affect students who are on the campus. This phase of the job will consist of heavy operation on the street, with the gravel being torn up, the sidewalks closed and trucks constantly running through the site with material to make it MAX-ready. The entire project is set for completion in 2009.

    ”Well, the good news is that we’ll see a lot of business in 2009,” said Eggert, “but what are we going to do when the streets are being torn apart for three months? The other guys on the block – the Cheerful Tortoise and the Chit-Chat Cafe – can still be reached on the side streets, but we’re going to be smack in the middle of what I’ve been told by city planners will resemble a war zone.”

    The section of the construction near PSU has been contracted to a joint venture between two major national construction outfits, Stacy & Witbeck and Kiewit Pacific. The joint venture contract penned by city affiliates is a type of construction contract usually formed between two large construction outfits to merge and operate as one entity during a specific job, and will include three other subcontractors.

    The new Green Line will be the first MAX line to connect to Clackamas County.

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