By Midge Pierce

Love or curse it, growth has come to Southeast Portland. And with growth, new transportation projects follow.

Most notably, the Portland-Milwaukie high capacity light rail line is readying for its September inauguration and the opening of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge of the People, the largest car-free transit bridge in the nation.

The so-called Orange Line is Trimet’s fifth max line. It will run 7.3 miles from Portland State University downtown, across the bridge, along McLoughlin and down 99 E to Milwaukie and Oak Grove in northern Clackamas County. The eight SE stations include stops at OMSI, Clinton and 12th, two stops along SE 17th in Brooklyn and a stop at SE Bybee Blvd. The Bybee location features a pilot program that restricts station access to fare-paid passengers only.

With a mission of connecting people to their jobs, the new line is projected to carry more than 22,000 riders per weekday.

Known as Catch the Orange, the $1.5 billion project has provided more than 6800 jobs to Portanders. “The project is on time and under budget,” according to TriMet Capital Projects Community Affairs Director Jennifer Koozer.

The project has a slew of pre-opening activities this summer including two project history seminars this month. Environmental permits coordinator Joseph Recker says 18 archaeological sites were excavated along the route. The most common discovery was household items dating from settlements along the waterfront during the late 1800s. “We didn’t anticipate the sheer number of artifacts. But the project was so large in scope that if we had to interrupt construction in one place, we could move to the next without slowing down construction.”

Activities later this summer include the August 9 bridge pedal in the morning followed by an afternoon walk called people’s preview. A fireworks “spectacular” will be held August 22. The Grand Opening is scheduled for Sept. 12 preceded by the official lighting of the bridge two nights prior.

Deciphering the lightshow on Tilikum Crossing separates true Portlanders from geeky wannabe’s. Spoiler alert: Specialized software captures the speed, height and temperature of the Willamette River, turning water movement into a gradually changing light display.

As the opening nears and disruptions to neighborhoods like Brooklyn subside, TriMet officials indicate they have learned much from citizen concerns. Specifically, to offset anxiety about increased crime along rail lines, TriMet says Orange Line stops will include maximized sight lines, closed circuit security TVs and ticketing machines positioned off the platform to better monitor fare collections.

Powell-Division Transit and Development Project

How the Orange Line will tie in with other transit lines is part of the visioning process for the Powell-Division rapid transit project targeted for completion in 2020. The system will serve lines #4 and #9 through one of the region’s busiest corridors. The design phase of the project is just beginning with construction slated to start by 2018.

A transit steering committee has so far decided that the line should use buses as the mode of transportation rather than light rail.  To improve efficiency, longer vehicles, dedicated “busways”, greater spacing between stops and preferential speed allowances for buses carrying more passengers are among innovations being considered.

Plans are also in the works to develop branding – such as a distinct color – for the line which will connect Gresham and Mt. Hood Community College with Portland Community College, the Jade District and inner Southeast.

The preferred route for crossing from Powell to the meta-morphing Division St. is at 82nd Ave. But 50th and 52nd are options that remain on the drawing boards. With Franklin High in the transit crosshairs, neighbors at a recent Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association meeting expressed outrage that the route is under consideration.

Citizens pointed out school crossings and a new bikeway are reason enough to nix 50 and 52nd. City planner Radcliffe Dacanay said the main reason the 50s were on the table was to provide route comparisons.

Citizens also questioned how the rapid transit project might impact the heavily utilized #15 along Belmont. In particular, residents expressed concern about overcrowding of the bus during rush hour. Dacanay said all the SE lines were being evaluated to ensure the smooth, timely flow of people to their destinations.