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Congressman Earl Blumenauer, representing Oregon's third district was one of many speakers at the opening of the MAX Green Line, TriMet's first light rail foray into Southeast Portland.
The MAX Green line opened for business Sept. 12 and had 17,000 riders the first working day of service. This train is parked at the south end of the I-205 segment at Clackamas Town Center before beginning its roundtrip back to downtown Portland.
Two new type 4 trains at the Lents Town Center/S.E. Foster Road station disgorge some of the 40,000 people that rode the new MAX Green Line on opening day last month.
MAX Green Line opens

Vows to bring rail north, farther south next up


It was not a matter of plagiarism, or even of great minds thinking alike: speakers at the dual grand opening ceremonies of the MAX Light Rail Green Line hit the same themes because they were so obvious.

The new line extends southward 8.3 miles from the Gateway Transit Center adjacent to I-205 to Clackamas Town Center. Along the way it stops at eight stations, including one on Southeast Main Street a few blocks from Portland Adventist Medical Center in Mid-county. The line proceeds westward along tracks shared with the old Blue and Red lines across the Steel Bridge. At this point new tracks take it to Union Station, and then along the Southwest Fifth and Sixth Avenue Transit Mall to Portland State University.

Speakers at Clackamas Town Center and at PSU repeatedly hit several points:
•With a total of 52 miles of track, MAX is now a transit system by which passengers can reach multiple destinations with an easy transfer or two.
•The system has stimulated $8 billion worth of private investment on adjacent land.
•The system has persevered despite opposition, naysayers and disappointments.
•The change of administration from presidents George Bush to Barack Obama has been huge for rail advocates.
•There is more to come, with plans on the drawing board to extend the rail line south from PSU to Milwaukie, and goals of taking it eventually to Vancouver, Oregon City and Tigard.

A band and the PSU cheerleaders accentuated the rally atmosphere at PSU.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a consistent champion of rail transit, told the crowd at the university, “Twenty-two years ago, 33 counties had lost population, and there was a question of whether we had the will to go forward. When rail advocates put forth their vision, they were told, 'Don't do that! You'll freak out the Reagan Administration.' It was hard enough to get them to finance the first MAX line (from Gresham to downtown Portland in 1986). They'll think they'll never get rid of us.

“What a difference a couple of decades and a change of administration make! The Obama Administration has never told us to lower our vision, even if it makes their job a little harder. We're extending light rail, building community, giving people a sense of what we're about. Today we're celebrating the evolution of a rail line into a system. But it's only a milestone. We want to extend northward into another state.”

Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transportation Administration congratulated political leaders who “took something from a concept to an operational project.”

He extended this to “business leaders who came together and agreed to tax themselves to create the transit mall. I couldn't be prouder to congratulate you on your victory. This will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. We've finally reached Clackamas County. This will mean shorter commutes and getting people home on time for dinner. When it comes to livability, Portland is a leader for the nation.”

Referring to future expansion plans, he said, “I've been in Portland 12 hours, and 12 mayors have told me they're next in line to be served by this system. I don't know how (TriMet General Manager) Fred (Hanson) gets them to believe it. (Blumenauer) brought his vision to Washington and really distinguished himself as a national leader. It's a form of patriotism we rarely recognize.”

Rogoff noted that 60 percent of the funding for the new $575 million addition came from the federal government. This sort of project “embodies what President Obama means by recovery. It's not just about moving dirt, but creating a cleaner environment for our kids.”

Metro Council Chair David Bragdon said that he grew up in New York City and regularly used its transit system. He joked that with an underpass on the proposed Milwaukie line, “We'll have our own Lincoln Tunnel.” When the first MAX line opened, he said, “There was a lot of trepidation, a lot of naysayers, fear that someone would get electrocuted. The effort lasted because people like Earl were willing to make visionary, unpopular decisions.” He concluded, “On to Milwaukie, Tigard and Vancouver!”

Clackamas County Commission Chair Lynn Peterson said, “This is a great day for the region, and for Clackamas County. We're connected to a whole lot of things we weren't connected to before. It's not just a transit project. It will connect the Oregon Institute of Technology and Clackamas Community College to PSU. It will bring more people to Clackamas County to shop. It will reduce our carbon footprint. It will support families and communities. Many have had questions about this project before, but they don't have questions any more about the benefits of light rail to Clackamas County.”

Peterson had served as Master of Ceremonies at an earlier ceremony at the Clackamas Town Center station. There Hanson had noted the multiplier effect of the new line, whereby ridership on all MAX lines could be expected to increase because the system now serves more destinations. “It gets more convenient to get from where we are to where we want to be.”

Congressman Kurt Schrader said the economic benefits of the line are sorely needed as “we're coming out of the worst depression we've seen in years.”

Oregon State Senator Martha Schrader added, “This is the kind of infrastructure that's critical to the health of the region. It helps us make communities that are livable and green. This is one piece on the road to Oregon City, and we can't wait 30 years this time.”

The south-north light rail project of the 1990s would have taken a rail line from Clackamas Town Center to Vancouver. However, lack of support in Clark County and the failure of a critical bond measure doomed the project. Portland Mayor Vera Katz, in designing the Red Line to Portland International Airport and the Yellow Line to the Expo Center, devised funding schemes that didn't involve public votes. The Bechtel and Trammell Crow companies contributed $28 million to the Red Line in exchange for the right to develop Cascade Station. Katz created the Interstate Urban Renewal District to assemble funding for the Yellow Line.

In addition to the speeches, there were free rides for the day on the Green Line. Some 25,000 people took advantage of the opportunity during the 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. public events smorgasbord, filling some trains to standing capacity and beyond. Ridership dropped precipitously when TriMet began charging fares, but agency representatives hope the numbers will go up over time.

So does Clackamas Town Center Manager Paul DeMarco. Pointing to his vast surface parking lot, he told the Memo, “We're typically filled up by noon.” MAX access can only help, he said.

Press reports said that the Green Line ridership dropped considerably from opening day. According to Mary Fetsch of TriMet, the ridership for the first working day was 17,000 - a drop from the estimated 40,000 free and paid rides of opening day, but less of a reduction than the agency expected.

Hazelwood neighborhood activists Arlene Kimura and Linda Robinson noted that although the number of opening day boardings and de-boardings was impressive, very few of either occurred at the seven stations between Gateway and Clackamas Town Center.
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