Streetcar extension on target

Hard to believe, but in only eight months the Portland streetcarextension will be up and running from Portland State down toRiverPlace on the Willamette River.

Construction of the six-tenths of a mile extension is onschedule for substantial completion by January, according to KayDannen, spokesperson for the project. Operation on the new sectionis anticipated to begin in March 2005.

Right now a lot remains to be done. Giant earthmoving machineryrumbles daily, shaping a huge mound of dirt at the eastern foot ofthe present Southwest Harrison street at Naito Parkway. Thistowering mound looms high over Harbor Way and the RiverPlacedevelopment below.

Ahead lies a section which some have light-heartedly termed “thedive.” It is from this promontory at Naito Parkway that thestreetcar will turn sharply to the right and plunge downward on anew street, which will drop about 900 feet with a downgrade ofabout 9 degrees.

The sight and the experience should be little short ofspectacular. The MAX trains couldn’t manage this steep a grade butthe streetcars are lighter and more maneuverable. The descent willcreate a whole new street, now variously referred to as the NewHarrison Roadway or the Harrison Connector. Riding “the dive” willfurnish passengers with a sweeping overview of the RiverPlaceneighborhood and the Willamette River below.

After descending in its right-hand direction, the new streetwill angle left to connect with Southwest River Parkway. From thereit will travel through RiverPlace to Southwest Moody Street. Thenew section will contain two traffic lanes, sidewalks and a bikelane plus ample room for the streetcars.

Four new island streetcar stops will be located along theextension, with each stop accommodating both inbound and outboundtravel. Round trip length of the entire Portland streetcar lineincluding the RiverPlace extension will then become six miles with40 platform stops.

Tentative plans hope to extend the RiverPlace section further byDecember 2006 to Southwest Gibbs Street. This would put it near theriver terminus of the planned Oregon Health and Sciences Universityoverhead tram.

Although there’s no track laid yet on the steep descent fromNaito, foundation work is proceeding on schedule. Pre-castretaining wall panels are being placed and storm sewer installationis underway.

Part of the digging process below Naito Parkway involvesremoving two old concrete tunnels discovered in the constructionprocess. Dannen said the tunnels extended from the east end of thecurrent Harrison street west to Parkway. Their previous functionswere not certain.

“We’re just digging them out,” Dannen said.

At the current stage of construction at the brow of NaitoParkway, there have been one-way lane closures of Naito, but theseare scheduled to be lifted this week. Lane closures on southboundHarbor Way have been in effect all month.

Meantime, to the casual eye it appears some crucial work,involving major street closures, lie ahead. Track is in place onHarrison Street across First Avenue to the east and almost to ThirdAvenue on the west. Traffic barriers are set in place as far westas Fourth Avenue.

Still to be undertaken is the connecting link that brings thetrack from Fourth Avenue and Montgomery Street near PSU southwardto connect with Harrison and then over the brink of the hill. TheJuly construction schedule showed no work planned on this section,running from Third to Fourth avenues and along Fourth Avenue toMontgomery and the Portland State terminus.

Meanwhile, workers are busy preparing the river level section ofthe extension. This month they were continuing eastbound andwestbound track work on the south side of River Parkway from RiverDrive to Moody. This has required some eastbound and westboundclosures of River Parkway.

Extending the line is requiring the organization to buy two newstreetcars from the Czech manufacturers in order to maintain itsschedule of a car every 14 minutes.

“We’d like to run every 10 minutes,” Dannen said, “but we’re notquite there yet.”

There’s no end to the vision or ambitions of Portland streetcarenthusiasts. Extending to Gibbs Street would require another twonew cars, which currently cost about $1.8 million each.

One ambition is to extend the river level line to Lake Oswego.Another would have the streetcar cross the Broadway Bridge throughthe Lloyd District, past the Oregon Museum of Science and Industryand back across the Willamette River to RiverPlace.

East side neighborhood boosters would like to see the streetcarsrun one way on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and back on GrandAvenue. It’s all a matter of money, time and priorities. Yeteventually Portland, long ago known as primarily a streetcar town,may one day reclaim a measure of that reputation.