It’s a good time to be a transportation geek in Portland right now. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed the completion of two landmark pieces of transportation infrastructure: the OHSU tram, and the Three Bridges project.
The OHSU tram is a sort of urban ski lift, a giant gondola built expressly to create a transit link from a new Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) building on the south waterfront, and the existing medi-campus located way up at the top of the hill. It’s a pretty neat idea. The new building, located on the flats of the waterfront, is accessible easily by bike or bus, and the streetcar route has been extended to meet it as well. (There’s also lots of automobile parking and it’s presumably less of a traffic nightmare than driving to the top of the hill.) From there you board the sleek tramcar and are swept to the top of the hill. The only thing missing is the moguls.
We were a bit late to the conversation about this particular piece of public transit. Apparently, like most things nowadays, the tram project greatly exceeded its budget, and has caused much consternation in certain circles. Originally estimated at $15 million, it ended up costing around $57 million. Even so, that seems like a pretty good deal, considering that the current cost of building highways is around $15-50 million per mile. Meanwhile, new roads actually increase traffic congestion, where innovative public transit projects can help reduce traffic congestion and offer travelers other ways to go from place to place. And yeah, our tax dollars pay for transit projects like this. But they also pay for automobile fuel subsidies, the propping up of a collapsing automobile-manufacturing industry, expensive deadly wars to maintain control over oil-rich regions of the world, and industrial corn production, just to name a few. Me? I’ll gladly pitch in for something like this tram. Compared to some of the other “boondoggles” our tax dollars support, innovative public transit projects are a positive and reasonable use of our tax dollars.
I can’t wait to ride it.
Three Bridges is, as you might imagine, a series of three bridges. It is part of the Springwater Corridor Trail, a very long and useful roadway that accomodates all modes of travel except the motorized kind. The new bridges extend the westernmost terminus of the trail into Sellwood proper.
Previously, the trail ended at the railroad tracks, and to connect to the Springwater-OMSI section of the trail, or simply to get into Sellwood, involved some tricky maneuvering over some confusing and unpleasant traffic sewers. Similarly, accessing the trail eastbound required the same maneuvers, or a different route through Eastmoreland.
With the new bridges, the connection is seamless and pleasant. The westbound traveller proceeds over the railroad tracks on one bridge:
and then over the Pacific Highway on the central, most dramatically-designed bridge:
and then over Johnson Creek on this unassuming little bridge:
From there it’s a simple matter to follow a well-marked bike route through Sellwood to the Springwater-OMSI trail, which provides access to the Hawthorne Bridge, and the Eastbank Esplanade.