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Light Rail Expansion

Portland light rail expansion orange line

$134 million dollars car-free bridge. ETA 2015.

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


john deere mini excavatorEmployment – 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?


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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Kurt @ Money Counselor July 29, 2012, 7:02 am

    Sadly, American cities have been designed around the automobile and commuting; installing transit retroactively is very expensive. If/when gasoline prices really spike, and for good, Americans are in big–or maybe I should say bigger–trouble, financially.

    I love transit, and use it when I can. Though our community is only 90,000 people, we have what I consider a good bus system. We chose a house that’s near a bus route so we can get downtown in ~10 minutes by bus, $2.50 fare each way. Also we can easily get to a major nearby city by a bus–ferry–bus trip at a total cost of less than $20 each. For me, transit options significantly improve quality of life.

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2012, 11:37 am

      I guess things are much more spread out here in the US. Portland has less sprawl than other cities, but our public transit is still not as good as Europe or Asia. We live in a good location to take advantage of public transit, but we do pay more for housing.

  • Lance @ Money Life and More July 29, 2012, 7:42 am

    Public transit where I live is a joke but we do have a bus line that is very unreliable. I used to live in DC and the metro there was having similar money problems. They’d raise the fare a couple times a year but they continue to expand and add more costs. Hopefully it works for them!

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2012, 11:42 am

      I think it’s pretty difficult for public transit to make money here. It needs have extensive service area and the population too. I guess we’ll need to subsidize them until then. If gasoline price keep rising, more people will use public transit.

  • Daisy @ Add Vodka July 29, 2012, 8:39 am

    I would say that Vancouver has a good public transit system within the city itself. But there are dozens of surrounding cities that don’t see such a great benefit from them. I like the thought of expanding transit to make it more user-friendly and accessible, because it cuts down on pollution and is good for the environment.

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2012, 11:26 pm

      I haven’t been up there for a long time. Do you have a good rail system now? I like public transit too.

  • krantcents July 29, 2012, 12:46 pm

    In Los Angeles, we are expanding our subway system too. I believe it is because of some Federal funds. LA is definitely a car town although it could be changing! I hope it is done in my lifetime!

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2012, 11:28 pm

      Southern CA is such a huge sprawl. I don’t see how the subway will work. It will take a lot of investment.

  • Broke Professionals July 29, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Oh how I WISH my city had something like this, but we don’t. I did live in DC for a while after grad school and found the Metro to be absolutely wonderful.

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2012, 11:29 pm

      I haven’t been to DC, but Mrs. RB40 said the Metro is much better than our system here. Our city is much smaller than the DC area.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina July 30, 2012, 8:27 am

    Our Dallas public transit system could use a lot of improvements. A 15 minute car ride equates to 45 minutes on public transit. I didn’t have a car for four years while in school here, so I had to use the transit system many a times. Would spend an entire day traveling for a simple errand or meeting.

    • retirebyforty July 30, 2012, 11:13 am

      Our public transit takes about 2x the driving time (if no traffic.) If there is a lot of traffic jam, the time is about the same. Dallas is a lot more spread out than Portland and I’m sure driving is much better in that situation.

  • DaveL August 1, 2012, 11:27 am

    Im from a smaller area so we have a very basic public transportation bus route but I have never taken it. I think in a larger area this could be a very effective system. Yeah the initial cost is great but like another commenter said, this could be beneficial to have when gasoline is more scarce .

    • retirebyforty August 1, 2012, 10:57 pm

      We take public transit almost everyday and it is very convenient. It would have cost us much more if we need two vehicles. That’s true about gasoline. The rails run on electricity so gasoline price shouldn’t make a big difference unlike the buses.

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