Mellow yellow MAX rolls on Saturday

In the past few weeks, many people found themselves confused.They would be waiting expectantly at Pioneer Courthouse Square forthe approaching lights of what appeared to be a westbound MAX.

Instead, they found themselves frustrated by the arrival of atest train, going nowhere. Information on the windows indicatedthis train was an empty dummy for the yellow MAX line. Signsindicated it was making test runs over the new route to NorthPortland and the Expo Center.

Saturday, the frustration and confusion ends. The test runs arecomplete. The new yellow line will open for business and folks willget a free to North Portland and back ride all day Saturday andSunday.

The first free ride will be an exclusive affair, starting at theExpo Center station, the north end of the line, at 9 a.m. Theselect list of riders will include representatives from the City ofPortland, the Portland Development Commission and Metro. There willbe the customary politicians from Oregon’s Congressionaldelegation, the Federal Transit Administration and selected membersof the community. All will ride to the grand opening celebration atthe Rose Quarter MAX station, arriving at about 9:30 a.m. By 10a.m. the speeches will begin, there will be a grand openingceremony and parade. At 11 a.m. the line will open to thepublic.

Six of the nine other stations along the route will presententertainment programs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Albina andMississippi Avenue station will present a street fair with jazz andblues by Ron Steen and Norman Sylvester. The Overlook Park stationwill feature a “healing haven” or healthy lifestyle fair.

At the North Killingsworth street station, TriMet willblow its own horn with a display of transportation optionsincluding a hybrid-electric bus. At the Kenton and North DenverAvenue station the mood will shift to Kenton’s 100th anniversarywith bluegrass, barbershop and vintage cars.

For fans of the varoom, varoom, Portland International Racewaywill be running events all day Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.,accessible from the Delta Park/Vanport station.

The Expo Center station will go international with JapaneseTaiko drummers and traditional food. There will be historicalinformation about this area, which served as a temporary internmentcamp when Japanese, even those who were American citizens, werecollected during World War II.

For Portland State students, fares and departure times can becrucial information. The yellow line will all fall in zone 2,making the single fare $1.30 from zone 1 downtown. The yellow willrun every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes orbetter throughout the day. The downtown turnaround comes after thecounty library stop at Southwest 10th Avenue and Morrison Street,where the yellow loops to go back down Yamhill Street.

The new line runs 5.8 miles and cost $350 million. It isopening four months ahead of schedule and “millions” under budget.Its addition brings the entire MAX system to 44 miles with 64stations.

The route of the yellow runs in the middle of Interstate Avenuefrom the Rose Quarter to Argyle Street in Kenton. From there, itcrosses a new bridge paralleling Denver Avenue to Victory Boulevardin the old Vanport site, where it parallels Expo road to the Expocenter. Travel time will be 30 minutes between the Expo Center andPioneer Courthouse Square.

There is still no prediction as to whether hip students willchristen the new line “the mellow yellow.”

You don’t get something without giving up something and PSUstudents will be giving up the No. 5 Interstate bus. The 5 is oneof those convenient buses which run frequently along SouthwestSixth Avenue through the campus and assist in whisking studentsquickly to downtown connections. As of May 2, the 5 Interstate willno longer operate between downtown and Kenton, meaning it will notservice the Jantzen Beach shopping center. The line 6 Martin LutherKing Jr. will now service downtown to Jantzen Beach and Vancouver.It will connect with the yellow at the North Lombard transit centerand a stop near the Kenton/Denver avenue station. TheVancouver-operated C-tran will continue to make its interstateruns.

There are two new park and ride lots. The Expo Center station atthe north end of the line has 300 spaces, open weekdays only, freeonly until 10 a.m. The Delta Park/Vanport station has 129 spacesnext to the MAX platform, open all days, and another 175 spacesopen weekdays only.

More significant to most PSU students will be the question, whenwill the MAX run its tracks north-south through the downtownPortland mall to the campus? Right now, the hoped-for target is2009. The proposal is to build along the mall between Union stationand PSU through Fifth and Sixth avenues.

But first will come a line extension already in design phase, a6.5 mile extension into Clackamas county. The first phase of whatis known as the I-205 South Corridor project would add light railby 2009 between the Gateway transit center and Clackamas TownCenter. Connecting with downtown Portland and Milwaukie would comein the second phase. Somewhere along that timeline, both I-205 andthe yellow line would be set to operate along the mall.

With the Portland streetcar due to extend from the campus intothe south waterfront area, the Portland State campus truly willfind itself a hub of concentrated urban activity.

All that confused waiting by people at Pioneer Square as thedummy yellow test trains came by is now said to have been a safetynecessity. The test trains became more noticeable April 18 whenTri-Met stepped up the test schedule to trains every 10 to 15minutes from 5 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. and populated the area withsafety information representatives.

The Portland fire department conducted a safety drill April 7with Tri-Met personnel. They simulated a situation of getting”accident victims” out of a car “struck” by a yellow line train atNorth Interstate Avenue and Winchell Street. The simulationincluded placing a wrecked vehicle on the tracks and a MAX trainwith riders who needed to be evacuated. The practice was part of asafety certification process required by the Federal TransitAdministration.

The yellow line project has also deemed itself a “green”project. Tri-Met planted its final tree, a flowering pear, atFenwick Pocket park in Kenton April 1. Since fall 2003 Tri-Mettripled the number of pre-construction trees along InterstateAvenue, adding 1,300 trees and planting 7,000 shrubs.

Opening the yellow line marks almost two decades of Portland’sMAX experience. The 15 mile eastside line was completed inSeptember 1986, from downtown to Gresham. The Westside line toHillsboro was completed in September 1998. Construction on theyellow began in November 2000.

Businesses along Interstate Avenue are relieved to see thecompletion of the line. Tri-Met worked to keep businesses open andpromote business on the avenue. Nobody wanted a repeat of theoriginal downtown track construction bottleneck for the eastsideline. That spelled doom to many businesses, including the Yamhillmarketplace. The marketplace building has since rebounded, housinga Bally fitness center, a popular Great Harvest Bread company,several restaurants and other businesses and offices.

For many area residents, there has always been a MAX. Forold-timers, the resurgence of electric-powered public transithearkens back to the trolley system that served the area throughoutthe first half of the 20th century.