Members of various ethnic communities along the east Portland route gather to voice their concerns about affordable housing and employment opportunities. COURTESY METRO

Members of various ethnic communities along the east Portland route gather to voice their concerns about affordable housing and employment opportunities.

The proposed rapid bus line that some have dubbed the “education route”—because of its stops at so many colleges and universities along the way—has moved from the planning stage to the development stage.

The steering committee and community members working on the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project met June 1, voting to move from the planning phase into the project development phase, which involves tweaking the final design and engineering details. The group hopes to reach consensus on a locally preferred alternative about the project by February or March 2016. At that time, costs of the project will be calculated, with final designs worked out over the next year and a half. Construction could begin as early as late 2018, with service starting in September of 2020.

The route, which will start at Oregon Health Sciences University in the west and end at Mt. Hood Community College in the east, is generally mapped out. However, a few of the streets the buses will travel down are still in question.

Southeast 82nd Avenue is one of those streets, even though most of the public prefers that busy corridor as the point where the rapid bus line would switch over from Southeast Powell Boulevard to Southeast Division Street, traveling west to east and back again.

“The work our staff did between March and June told us we need to be in this more detailed design phase in order to answer these route questions,” said Dana Lucero, public involvement specialistt for Metro.

At the committee’s March 16 meeting, members left on the table the options of Southeast 50th or 52nd Avenues as crossover points, along with 82nd Avenue. At June’s meeting, they continued to leave all three options open.

Some committee members cautioned, “We don’t know yet what it means to make it work on 82nd Avenue until we have a better sense of the traffic and if there needs to be widening and what impact that would have to businesses,” Lucero said. “There’s still a strong preference to make 82nd work unless the committee feels there are fatal flaws, like there are too many community impacts or something like that.”

Members still chose Mt. Hood Community College, rather than the Gresham Transit Center, as the final destination of the route. They also left open the options of either Eastman Parkway, Cleveland Street or Hogan Road to connect the route to Southeast Stark Street from Southeast Division Street.

Between mid-April and mid-May, Metro staffers opened a webpage for online public comments about the route. They mailed 450 postcards out to residents in the area, some living along Cleveland Avenue. They also dropped them off at about two dozen locations, including apartment buildings along the other routes. Community meetings for public input were held as well. Lucero said responses from the public were mixed.

“It’s a bit of a conundrum,” Lucero said, explaining that fans of Cleveland Street extolled its virtues in their responses, describing it as quiet street with less traffic, devoid of stops between Burnside and Stark, while opponents of the street cited the same trait—its quietness—as a reason to reject it.

Meanwhile, champions of Hogan Street as a connector mentioned its busyness as an ideal location for a transit line, while its detractors cited the same reason: it seemed too busy, too crowded and too congested to host a transit line.They claimed any line placed on Hogan would be slow in running. “We’re in a bit of pickle,” Lucero said, referring to the question of which streets to choose for the route. “We’ve got to do more work and more engagement to answer that question.”

Engineers will conduct traffic analyses of the various street options, figuring out whether transit would cause long delays or intersections to fail.

Such studies will determine “what changes would we have to make to keep the roads running smoothly,” she said.

Committee member Leah Street, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, requested that the group add a federal program, “Ladders of Opportunity,” to their action plan. That program fosters workforce development and local employment along the route.

Between March and June, student youth organizers canvassed businesses in Portland, gathering feedback about the route. During that same time, Metro held community conversations with local communities, including the Latino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian-speaking, Tongan, Bhutanese, African-American and African immigrant communities. At the June meeting, staffers presented written reports on what those communities desired along the route. “We’re hearing the need for better access to transit, for protection of affordable housing or creation of additional affordable housing and community gathering places,” Lucero said.

After next winter’s final design is reached, the group sends its recommendations to the elected jurisdictions, including Portland’s City Council, the Gresham City Council and the Metro Council for endorsements. Those are expected to be completed by summer 2016.

At the next meeting of the steering committee in September, Metro will present possible designs for the project to members, as well as a range of costs for the project. The meeting’s exact date and time will be decided by late July. For more information, email