Portland Metro is adding a new light rail line through our neighborhood. Currently, the rail lines end at Portland State University, the south end of downtown. The new Orange line will start from PSU, go over the river, and then head south toward Milwaukie. I’m a huge fan of the light rail because I hate rush hour traffic. I took the light rail to work for many years and had a good experience for the most part. We also have traveled to other cities where a rail system is expansive and a great convenience. Tokyo and London are just two cities with awesome rail systems and I wish we had something comparable here in the US.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of the new light rail line
Employment – This new Orange line will create 1,500 local jobs. The project will also spend a lot of money on construction equipment, construction supplies, new trains, and more. This will create/sustain many jobs for US companies like John Deere and Caterpillar. This John Deere dozer will be very busy over the next few years. There were a bunch of other cool construction vehicles there like the John Deere skid steer loaders and Caterpillar excavators. It was kind of fun to watch them work.
New bridge – TriMet is building a new car-free bridge across the Willamette especially for this new line. The new bridge will support pedestrians, bikes, light rail, and street car. This will give non-drivers another way to get to downtown. I like it, but why didn’t they just add 2 car lanes too? Seems silly to build a bridge and not let cars go over it.
Investment – A new rail line will spur new investments and create many new small businesses. We have seen new businesses spring up where ever the rail line goes. The areas surrounding the rail stations attract new eateries, convenient stores, gyms, and mail and package shipping stores. A new rail line enhances a neighborhood and usually home owners like it. The only exceptions are the unfortunate people who live right next to the track.
Compound rail services – A new rail line enhance the accessibility of the whole rail system. The sum is more than its parts when it comes to rails. When a new line is added, all the neighborhoods can access each other. As we build more and more tracks, the whole system will get better and more people will use it.
Cost – Here are just few numbers that illustrate the cost of a new rail line.
Cost: $1.5 billion
Bridge costs: $134 million
Federal contribution: 50 percent of funding (Thank you tax payers!)
A new rail line is expensive and this one is even more expensive than usual. A new bridge and costly land acquisition in an urban area are just two things that drive the price up. They have to build an elevated rail from PSU to the river and I’m sure that’s a lot more expensive then retrofitting a line on to an existing street. I think this is because there aren’t any big streets that provide access from PSU to the river.
TriMet – TriMet is not doing well. They are operating on a deficit, have recently cut services, eliminated the downtown free zone, and hiked the fee again. Many bus services have already been reduced or eliminated entirely. TriMet had to borrow $60 million from future operations to build this line. Things might look better once the economy improves, but for now TriMet is struggling.
Traffic Jam – This new line will not alleviate any traffic jams. Unless you ride the train, your rush hour drive will still suck. The light rail doesn’t get enough people off the road to make a difference. We’ll have to create more park-and-rides to reduce traffic jams.
As you can see there are many negatives about this new Orange line. Personally, I think the new line will be great for us. The new bridge will give us much easier access to the east side of the river. It will be great to be able to hop on the street car or light rail and go visit OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.) There are many fun neighborhoods on the eastside of the river and now I have to drive and contend with parking whenever we visit. This new line and bridge will reduce our driving even further.
Does your city have a good public transit system and do you use it? Do you think investing in rail is the right way to go or should we build more roads?