The Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project is an approximately $2.4 to $2.8 billion endeavor that aims to connect downtown Portland, SW Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. It’s currently in the design phase, with construction planned to begin in late 2022. Ultimately, the goal is to start service in Sept. 2027. If the project is completed as originally planned, it would take riders as far south as Bridgeport Village.
Impacts on Tigard and Tualatin residents
One of the goals in constructing the light rail is to alleviate congestion in one of the most affected travel corridors in the region. In particular, TriMet estimates a 17% increase in traffic on I-5 by 2035.
Once completed, the light rail will provide a 30-minute, 11-mile trip between downtown Portland and Bridgeport Village. This transit time will be unaffected by traffic conditions. Currently, the trip between Bridgeport Village and Portland State University can take anywhere between 13 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the time of day.
There are five stops planned for Tigard: 68th Parkway and Barbur Boulevard, Elmhurst Street and 70th Avenue, Hall Boulevard and Hunziker Street, Bonita between Hall and 72nd Avenue, and Upper Boones Ferry Road near Carman Drive. A final stop planned at Bridgeport Village has recently been called into question.
The light rail project also encompasses potential improvements for bike riders and pedestrians, along with new Park & Ride lots. There are also considerations being given to creating affordable housing along the route.
The $400 million budget deficit
The project planning began in 2011, with many more adjustments and decisions to be made before construction begins. Currently, the project is at a crossroads in the design phase, as it faces an approximately $400 million budget deficit.
On Sept. 23, the Steering Committee considered four potential options. The committee is comprised of regional stakeholders, including Tigard Mayor Jason Snider and Tualatin Councilor Robert Kellogg. The four options looked at several factors: securing additional funding, reducing the scale of the project, and modifying Barbur Boulevard. Reducing the scale of the project means that planned stops south of Hall Boulevard may be in jeopardy, including the final planned stop at Bridgeport Village.
Modifications to Barbur Boulevard could mean losing an auto lane in each direction between Capital Highway and Brier Place, along with Custer Street to the Barbur Transit Center. Also, the light rail could be routed adjacent to I-5 between 13th Avenue to 30th Avenue.
Tigard weighs in on the light rail plans
Tigard Mayor Jason Snider, along with the Tigard City Council, have expressed their opposition to reducing lanes on Barbur Boulevard.
“Frankly, I think just about everyone from the Portland southwest neighborhoods to folks living in other Washington County cities will also hate this proposal [to reduce lanes on Barbur Boulevard],” he noted, and added that “the proposed ‘Barbur Refinements’ are a terrible way to balance a budget.”
The mayor also emphasized the importance of staying consistent with a 2016 vote by Tigard voters. The vote was for a light rail that would serve downtown which wouldn’t eliminate road capacity within five miles of the city. With that being said, the proposed rail stops in Tigard were influenced by the rest of the line.
“We determined that it would be unfair for Tigard to insist on an appropriately located downtown station if that location made it harder to reach Bridgeport,” he noted in a July 2019 “Mayor’s Statement on SW Corridor.”
Mayor Snider also explained that he is in full support of the project so long as there is funding to complete the rail to Bridgeport Village or south of downtown Tigard without reducing lanes on Barbur Boulevard. And should the project return to the drawing board due to budgetary needs, he said that he would advocate for a project that allows for a station in downtown Tigard.
“We want light rail not just for the transit ride, but for the thousands of new affordable housing units, new restaurants, and walkable streets in downtown Tigard that everyone wants to see there,” he said.
Tualatin weighs in on the light rail plans
Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik described the need for the light rail in the area.
“The goal is to reduce congestion in the region. We’re all complaining in Tualatin about traffic. The SW Corridor project along with the Tualatin Moving Forward improvements seek to decrease traffic congestion,” he said, adding, “[the light rail will] take more cars off I-5 and with improved bus transit, ideally we’ll get more cars off Tualatin-Sherwood Road and 99W.”
For Tualatin, there are also additional points to consider. An above-grade crossing, which was planned over Upper Boones Ferry between Sequoia Parkway and SW 72nd Avenue, was part of the initial plans but later removed in May 2019. However, Tualatin Councilor Robert Kellogg described the importance of the above-grade crossing.
“Above-grade crossings are clearly safer than at-grade crossings and do not create the delays and resulting congestion that would be occasioned by an at-grade crossing,” he noted.
At-grade crossings would require cars to stop to let the train pass, with cross-arms lowered for about a minute approximately every ten minutes during high traffic periods.
In addition, the Park & Ride garage has been going through different iterations, with the original 900 parking spots being reduced to 700 due to budget considerations. With the projected numbers of Park & Ride users, Kellogg noted the following.
“If the goal of creating the SW Corridor is to reduce future congestion on I-5 by providing a meaningful, efficient alternative to driving, then the Park & Ride at Bridgeport Transit Center needs to be built to a size that will accommodate enough vehicles to accomplish that goal,” he said.
The Steering Committee will meet twice in November. The meetings are open to the public, and people are encouraged to send written comments in advance to [email protected].
On Nov. 4, the committee will meet at 6 p.m. at the Tigard Library. There will be a public comment period before the committee begins discussions. This meeting will focus on potential changes to the scale of the project, along with funding assumptions.
On Nov. 18, the committee will meet at 9 a.m. at Tigard City Hall. The committee is expected to make a decision at this time.
In addition, the Community Advisory Committee Meeting will take place on Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the Tigard Public Works Auditorium.