Portland, Ore., floats idea of light-rail tunnel under downtown

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland-area officials are beginning to explore the possibility of building a light-rail tunnel under downtown to address the bottleneck at the center of the city’s rail system.

The Oregon Metro website says the idea, still in its early stages, was first floated two years ago as transit agency TriMet looked at ways to address congestion on the Steel Bridge, the double-deck lift bridge across the Willamette River that is used by all four light-rail lines and some bus routes to reach downtown. Only one train can use the bridge at a time, and must operate at reduced speed. And once in downtown, light-rail travel is slowed by traffic on shared roadways, and a point where two sets of lines cross.

A preliminary study by TriMet showed that a tunnel under the river and into downtown could shave almost 15 minutes off travel time through the central city.

“This can be a game changer for transit,” Metro planner Matt Bihn told the website. “A tunnel can really be the backbone of an improved regional transit system because you would speed things so much through downtown, where so many east-west and north-south transit routes converge.”

TriMet and other agencies are now looking to determine what is required for a formal federal study of the proposal, and are seeking public comment.
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