Tri-Met unveils final plans for light rail project

Tri-Met unveiled its final design plan for running the MAX through the Portland bus mall Wednesday, a project that will affect Portland State for the next four years.

The construction will drastically change the look of the mall, installing a MAX line that runs from Northwest Irving Street on the north to loop south of Southwest Jackson Street at the south end of the campus.

Portland State will have four stations. South on Fifth Avenue the train will stop at Southwest Mill and Jackson streets. Going north, it will include the present No. 8 bus stop at Southwest Montgomery Street and install another at Southwest College Street. That plan will bypass Tri-Met’s currently most-used bus stop at Southwest Sixth Avenue and Montgomery Street.

Robert Hastings, Tri-Met project architect, said the Portland State area will receive special treatment.

“We will have additional designers to make the stations around PSU,” he said. “Using the Urban Center as the campus front door, we will create an urban design treatment.”

One artist’s conception at the open house showed an elaborate futuristic design for a tentative PSU station.

The proposed construction timetable shows final design completed by September 2006. Relocation of private utilities such as PGE and Comcast will begin in January and be finished by December. Public utilities such as water and sewers will begin relocating in September of 2006 and finish in February 2008.

Up to now, the Portland Mall project has aroused little public concern but now it is looming as a reality.

Kay Dannen, community affairs consultant for the mall project, said, “People aren’t really engaged until you start the first jackhammer.”

The real impact on the downtown will come in January 2007 when civil construction begins and all buses will move off the mall, not to return until late 2008 or early 2009.

Tri-Met says no single pair of streets can handle all the buses that now run on Fifth and Sixth avenues. Third and Fourth avenues are the closest pair of streets to Fifth and Sixth and can handle many but not all the mall buses. Columbia and Jefferson streets would provide improved east-west bus service downtown and Tri-Met may make some of these changes permanent. Tenth and Eleventh avenues can handle a few bus lines, using some of the existing Portland streetcar stops and shelters. Broadway may be lightly used by buses to help balance the number of buses on Southwest Third and Fourth avenues.

“It hasn’t been exactly decided which routes are going where,” Tri-Met service planner Kerry Ayers-Palanuk said.

She said Tri-Met plans to have open houses downtown in late March and early April to solicit public input. Businesses will be solicited for their views. The company is hoping the dislocation will be two years or less. Of particular importance to downtown drivers: There will temporarily be no parking on Third and Fourth avenues.

The alternate bus routes will have additional shelters.

During the temporary dislocation, “We are hoping to put in as many shelters as space allows,” Ayers-Palanuk said.

The planners say the downtown loop will bring frequent trains, meaning a MAX train is always within sight most of the day. The new light rail configuration is designed to give a break to downtown drivers. All transit riders would board buses and trains on the right side of the street, allowing two travel lanes for transit and one through lane for autos. This will help downtown drivers by eliminating the present corners where autos are directed to turn off the mall, either right or left. After completion, driving through downtown will become a straight shot.

Pedestrian access to mall businesses will be maintained during business hours.

Public art will receive considerable attention. The project has allocated $750,000 for public art, based on 1.5 percent of the project’s visible elements. Plans include artwork for the Union Station area, support and extend the existing mall sculpture and commission artists to create custom glass for shelters.

Three present sculptures on the mall will have to be moved to new sites. They are “Driver’s Seat” by Don Merkt, “TriMet (Fountain)” by Robert Maki and “Soaring Stones” by John Young. The Young work is the series of huge stones perched at differing elevations in front of Pioneer Place.

One Portland State staffer attending the open house was Dresden Skees-Gregory, PSU sustainability coordinator. She said she is campaigning for a possible bike station on campus with valet parking and a bike service shop included.

“We would want it to be very close to where MAX and the streetcar would cross,” she said. As for funding, she said, “Tri-Met might give us some of their bike money.”

Dan Zalkow, manager of transportation and parking services for Portland State, said. “PSU will be the only location where light rail, streetcar and the transit mall all come together. In addition to the bike shop located at Fifth and Harrison, which is scheduled to expand in the next few years, the area around the Urban Plaza will be the most impressive hub of multi-modal transportation in the region.”

Hastings said funding for the mall project is coming 40 percent from a “local grab bag” of various funding sources and 50 percent from the federal government.

“We just recently got our final allocation from the Federal Transportation Agency,” he said.

One of the interested people at the open house was Joe Vaughan, a real estate professional, vice president of Norris, Beggs & Simpson’s brokerage division.

“I think it’s going to be good,” he said. “The biggest concern is the shutdown during construction. In the long term it’s clearly going to be a good thing for downtown.”

The downtown mall project is only the next step in the master plan for light rail extension. In Phase 1 of the South Corridor project, MAX will also connect Gateway transit center and Clackamas Town Center along I-205. Phase 2 would extend light rail from downtown Portland to Milwaukie and could open in 2014.

The web site for the mall project is