Portland just opened their latest light rail line.  The ‘Green Line’ is 8.3 miles and cost approximately $575 million. Critics point out that it uses an existing freeway right-of-way that is far from population centers. (Funded by Federal New Starts Dollars and local contributions). This from the Transport Politic:

But the transitway is the crux of the problem with the Green Line. The highway makes an ideal right-of-way for the purpose of increasing speeds and reducing interference with surrounding neighborhoods, but it is the worst when it comes to spurring transit-oriented development. TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public transportation investment, and Portland is likely to get very little of it along the Green Line. That’s because the mere presence of I-205, with its traffic, noise, and pollution, will make development adjacent to it unappealing. Worse, because the transit corridor will be located on one the side of the freeway, people will have to cross the very wide road to get to the other side. These are the same problems Dubai faces with its own just-opened rapid transit line.

Many around town have been toying with the idea of using the Dolphin Expressway as a route for the east/west orange line or some BRT alternative. Javier Rodriguez has said that he is open to the idea, but the problem with using the highway is getting people to use it. As anyone who drives on the Dolphin knows, there is plenty of room to include  mass transit, but the ample space is also the problem – who is going to walk 20 minutes to get to the station? A line going right down Flagler or 8th Street would be more practical for people to actually use than one on the Dolphin. Check out this great post from the Overhead Wire about the same subject. It seems like the trade off might be to use the freeway ROW, but to bring the rail line into the city fabric at strategic locations. That way you still significantly reduce ROW acquisition costs, but bring transit within a reasonable walking distance to population centers.

PS. Why are cost projections for our 10-13 mile east west line $2.5 billion – parts of which are within an existing ROW – while Portland spent half a billion for 8.3 miles?? I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t add up. Is technology really that big of a factor or is it the result of a corrupt, bloated bureaucracy? I say lets let MDX take a stab at mass transit – not BRT, but light rail or metorail. My guess is that they will build it within budget, and maintain/operate it cheaper than MDT.

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3 Responses to Lessons Learned:Portland’s New Green Line

  1. Rog in Miami Gardens says:

    That’s a good question about the cost difference. I was blown away, as well, by the $2.5 billion for the Orange Line. I think a lot of that “bloated” costs has to do with land acquisition, no?

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  2. tomas says:

    Looking at the map of Portland, I think the author has some points, but there’s some context missing. The green line runs through a good section of Portland’s working class neighborhoods. While it does utilize a freeway, it essentially opens up a section of the city (and a neighboring working class suburb) that took hours to access otherwise. Workers in those areas had to take multiple buses to get to work in the urban core anyway, so it would greatly simplify this commute.

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  3. Richard R-P says:

    Regarding the cost discrepancies between Portland’s project and Miami’s, it’s important to remember that Portland’s system is light rail while ours uses elevated tracks. I’ve read before that it’s much more expensive to build elevated rail than light rail, which is at street level (no pillars to build, etc.). That’s at least part of the reason for the difference in cost, I’d think.

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