|MAX Blue Line|
A westbound, two-car train crossing Southwest 185th Avenue, entering Hillsboro
|System||MAX Light Rail|
|Locale||Portland, Oregon, U.S.|
|Termini||Hatfield Government Center in Hillsboro (west)|
Cleveland Avenue in Gresham (east)
|Daily ridership||55,370 (as of September 2018[update])|
|Website||MAX Blue Line|
|Opened||September 5, 1986|
|Character||At-grade, elevated, and underground|
|Line length||33 mi (53 km)[a]|
|Number of tracks||2|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Electrification||750 V DC, overhead catenary|
The MAX Blue Line is a light rail service in Portland, Oregon, United States, operated by TriMet as part of the MAX Light Rail system. The longest line in the network, it travels mainly east–west for approximately 33 miles (53 km) in the cities of Hillsboro, Beaverton, Portland, and Gresham, serving 51 stations between Hatfield Government Center and Cleveland Avenue. The line is the busiest of the five MAX lines, carrying an average 55,370 riders per day on weekdays in September 2018. It runs for 221⁄2 hours per day from Monday to Thursday, with headways of between fifteen minutes off-peak and five minutes during rush hour. Service runs later in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays, and ends earlier on Sundays.
Following the success of local freeway revolts in the early 1970s, which led to the reallocation of federal assistance funds from the proposed Mount Hood Freeway and Interstate 505 projects to mass transit, local governments approved the construction of a light rail line in Portland in 1978. Referred to as the Banfield light rail project during its planning and construction due to its proximity to the Banfield Expressway, and later, the Eastside MAX, the line's eastern half—between downtown Portland and Gresham—began construction in 1983 and opened on September 5, 1986, as the inaugural line of the MAX system.
Planning for the line's subsequent extension to the west side, known as the Westside MAX, started as early as 1979. This second segment, delayed by nearly a decade due to funding disagreements, had initially been slated to terminate on 185th Avenue, near the border between Hillsboro and Beaverton. Proponents for a longer line achieved a supplemental extension to downtown Hillsboro just before the line's groundbreaking in 1993. It opened in two phases following delays in tunnel construction; the first section up to Goose Hollow opened in 1997 and the entire extension began operating on September 12, 1998.
In 2000, the two distinct segments, already operating as a single through route between Gresham and Hillsboro, were further unified in passenger information as the Blue Line, after TriMet introduced a color coding scheme amid preparations for the opening of a second service: the Red Line to Portland International Airport. The Blue Line currently shares its route with the Red Line on the west side, between Beaverton Transit Center and Rose Quarter Transit Center. On the east side, it shares tracks with both the Red Line and the Green Line, between Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center.
In 1955, the Oregon State Highway Department laid out the freeway development plan for the Portland metropolitan area, proposing the construction of the Mount Hood Freeway and Interstate 505, among others. Citizen protests and two other factors led to the eventual cancellation of both projects. First, an environmental impact study conducted in 1973 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill determined that the Mount Hood Freeway would have reached obsolescence by the time it was completed and would have added more traffic to downtown Portland than the surface streets could handle. Then, on February 4, 1974, U.S. District Judge James M. Burns formally rejected the plan after finding that the corridor selection process failed to follow the correct procedures. Amid mounting anti-freeway sentiment:18 and further delays to the project, the Portland City Council voted 4-to-1 to abandon the plan in July 1974.:20 Meanwhile, Northwest Portland residents fought in opposition to the Interstate 505 spur route, which the city council approved in 1971. Following a suspect environmental impact study, organizers from the Willamette Heights Neighborhood Association filed a class action in U.S. district court to halt the new freeway's construction, who were later joined by the Northwest District Association. Several years of drawn-out litigation ensued, keeping the project on hiatus. In December 1978, the city council withdrew its support for the proposal.
The passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1973 allowed state governments for the first time to transfer federal funds from canceled freeway projects to other transportation options, including mass transit.:20 In May 1973, Governor Tom McCall assembled a task force to determine potential alternative uses for the freeway funds and, in April 1974, the task force released a preliminary draft listing light rail and buses as modes under consideration. With the Mount Hood Freeway plan canceled, around $185 million of federal assistance became available in 1976 and was allocated to other projects across the region, including the Banfield Corridor, which received $60 million.:29 Another $15 million came from the canceled Interstate 505 project. Among five alternatives developed by the Highway Division, including the removal or various extensions of an existing high-occupancy vehicle lane, a busway, as first suggested by the Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG) in 1975, was originally favored for the Banfield transitway. Support for light rail on the corridor grew following the mode's inclusion as a sixth alternative in an environmental impact statement in 1977. In September 1978, TriMet became the first jurisdiction to adopt a resolution supporting a combined light rail and highway expansion plan. Remaining local jurisdictions each announced their support by November,:30 and the State Transportation Commission approved the project a month later.
The Banfield light rail project received federal approval for construction in September 1980.:36:31 Plans for the 27-station, 15.1-mile (24.3 km) line,[a] which ran from Southwest 11th Avenue in downtown Portland to just east of Cleveland Avenue in Gresham, were finalized by Wilbur Smith Associates in November 1981.:66:17 Part of this alignment, from 197th Avenue to the Gresham terminus, assumed acquisition of a 2-mile (3.2 km) section of Portland Traction Company (PTC) right-of-way. PTC agreed in August 1983 to surrender this segment as part of a longer abandonment up to Linnemann Junction, a total of 4.3 miles (6.9 km) of right-of-way, which TriMet bought for $2.9 million in December of that year. Anticipating 42,500 riders by 1990,:11 TriMet purchased 26 light rail vehicles from Bombardier, which started their production in 1982 and began delivering them in 1984. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca designed the stations and overpasses, earning the firm a Progressive Architecture Award in 1984.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place at Ruby Junction Yard in March 1982. Construction of the light rail line commenced in April 1983 on a 2-mile (3.2 km) section between Ruby Junction and downtown Gresham. In order to minimize costs, excavation for the tracks and freeway widening took place simultaneously along the Banfield segment. The Ruby Junction maintenance complex, which included the line's 98,000-square-foot (9,100 m2) maintenance and operations building, opened in July 1983.:33 Utility relocation and track work in downtown Portland, projected to cost $20.7 million, began in April 1984. The alignment crossed the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge and was one factor that necessitated the bridge's $10 million rehabilitation from 1984 to 1986. System testing followed the completion of downtown area construction and the Steel Bridge's reopening, which had been delayed for nine months, in June 1986.
On September 5, 1986, the $214 million (equivalent to $660 million in 2018 dollars) light rail line—now called Metropolitan Area Express (MAX)—opened for service. Federal transfer funds provided $178.3 million, 83 percent of the total cost, and the project was completed $10 million under budget. Its new name was selected through a public contest held by The Oregonian and TriMet in June 1986; the winning suggestion was made by TriMet designer Jeff Frane, who attributed inspiration to his son, Alex. Opening celebrations spanned three days and were attended by an estimated 250,000 people. Nine new bus lines were created and six existing bus routes were modified to feed the light rail stations. MAX trains initially operated between approximately 5:00 am and 1:00 am, with headways as short as seven minutes, and rides were free within Fareless Square from opening day until 2012. Projected to carry 12,000 riders per day, the line averaged around 22,000 during its first four days of regular operation and 18,000 by December 1986. Downtown retailers, many of whom had opposed light rail, reported substantial increases in sales following the line's opening.
Since the inauguration of MAX, TriMet has added three infill stations to the original alignment. In March 1990, the opening of the Mall stations coincided with the opening of Pioneer Place in downtown Portland. That September, the Oregon Convention Center opened to the public with MAX service from Convention Center station. Work on the line's newest station, Civic Drive, started in 1997 as part of the Civic neighborhood development, but was delayed for approximately twelve years due to a lack of funding. Construction resumed in May 2010 and the station opened on December 1, 2010.
Most of the line's easternmost two miles (3.2 km), beyond the Ruby Junction maintenance facility, were originally built as bidirectional single-track.:319–320 Trains traveling in opposite directions were unable to pass on these sections, which led to delays when service ran behind schedule. In 1996, a second track was laid and a second platform was constructed at Gresham Central Transit Center, making the section double-track and eliminating the only single-track running on the Eastside MAX. The new track was brought into use in May 1996 after a three-month suspension of all MAX service east of Rockwood/East 188th Avenue station, replaced by shuttle buses, to allow the work to be carried out. In 2015, TriMet began renovations of fourteen of the system's oldest stations between Hollywood/Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center and Cleveland Avenue station. Renovations include the installation of new windscreens, shelter roofs, digital information displays, lighting, and security cameras. Three stations—Gresham City Hall, East 122nd Avenue, and East 162nd Avenue—have been renovated as of February 2019.
The west side was once served by the Oregon Electric Railway starting in 1908, when the company built a branch line from its Garden Home depot to Forest Grove. The Great Depression and the rise of the automobile in the 1920s led to the end of passenger rail service in 1933. Planning for the restoration of services to the west side began in 1979 with a proposed route initially terminating at 185th Avenue and Walker Road in Hillsboro.:2 In 1983, Metro—the successor to CRAG—and local jurisdictions selected light rail as the preferred mode alternative and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) released $1.3 million in 1985 to begin a preliminary engineering study. That same year, newly appointed Hillsboro Mayor Shirley Huffman began lobbying for the line's extension to downtown Hillsboro, traveling frequently to Washington, D.C. to persuade Congress and UMTA. The project was later suspended by TriMet amid conflict with UMTA regarding the development of a financing plan and its precedence over engineering work. By the time planning recommenced in January 1988, significant changes in the westside corridor, including the conversion of 3,000 acres (1,214 ha) of vacant Washington County land into mixed-use urban areas, prompted a re-evaluation that was completed in May 1991.
As planning continued on the route between Portland and 185th Avenue, alternative routes for the line through Beaverton included alignments along the Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), a Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) right-of-way, and Tualatin Valley Highway; a consultant recommended the BN alternative to TriMet in December 1988, and the agency's board ultimately adopted that recommmendation. The terminus station would be along the BN right-of-way near 185th Avenue and Baseline Road.:R2 Meanwhile, the efforts of Huffman and others regarding the proposed extension to Hillsboro led to the preparation of a supplemental study in April 1993, which studied two options to extend light rail to the Washington County Fairplex and downtown Hillsboro, an improved bus service option, and a no-build option. The following July, TriMet approved an extension of the initial 11.5-mile (19 km) line, 6.2 miles (10 km) farther west to downtown Hillsboro,[a] bringing the project's new total distance to 17.7 miles (28.5 km) (some sources say 17.5 km).[a] At that time, the line was scheduled to open as far as 185th Avenue in September 1997,:R2 and the Hillsboro extension by the end of 1998.
Funding for the westside extension proved difficult under the Reagan Administration, which sought to reduce federal expenditures by delaying existing light rail projects and declining approval for future planning.:69 As members of their respective appropriations committees, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and U.S. Representative Les AuCoin secured preliminary engineering and environmental review grants in 1989 after withholding funds for the head of UMTA's office.:69–70 In 1990, Congress adopted legislation requiring the federal government to cover a 75 percent share of transit projects approved within the fiscal year. Oregon voters subsequently rejected a measure to permit the use of local vehicle registration fees for public transit, defeating it 52 percent to 48 percent. With a year-end deadline approaching the 25 percent local-share stipulation, TriMet introduced a $125 million local bond measure in July 1990. Portland area voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure in November, earning 74 percent average approval and marking the region's first successful vote approving public transportation.:70 The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)—the new name for UMTA—completed the funding package in 1991, granting $515 million to build the line up to 185th Avenue. It provided another $75 million in 1994 following the approval of the Hillsboro extension, which covered one-third of the segment's $224 million additional cost.:70
Construction of the Westside MAX began in August 1993 with the excavation of the 21-foot-diameter (6.4 m) Robertson Tunnel. Several alternative alignments through the West Hills were studied, including an all-surface option along the Sunset Highway, an option with a half-mile-long (0.8 km) "short tunnel", and an option with a 3-mile (4.8 km) "long tunnel". TriMet chose the "long tunnel" in April 1991. Frontier-Traylor, the project's general contractor, used drilling and blasting to dig through the west end while a 278-foot (85 m) tunnel boring machine drilled through the east segment for two miles.:74 Highly fragmented rock made machine excavation difficult, delaying the project for nine months.:74 The $166.9 million tunnel was completed in 1997.
Work along Oregon Highway 217 started in March 1994. Initially planned to run alongside freight trains through Beaverton and Hillsboro, the alignment was replaced with light rail following TriMet's acquisition of the BN's right-of-way in June. The 600-foot-long (183 m) horseshoe tunnel below Sunset Highway was completed in July 1995 and all highway work ceased in December. Track work commenced west of 185th Avenue around the time the Elmonica Yard, which was built to accommodate part of TriMet's procurement of 39 Siemens cars—the first low-floor light rail vehicles in North America—opened in January 1996. The final rail spike was driven on Hillsboro's Main Street Bridge in October 1997. System testing started in June 1998.
Owing to delays caused by tunneling work, the line's planned September 1997 opening up to 185th Avenue was postponed by one year. On August 31, 1997, the Westside MAX opened its first section, a two-station extension west to the Civic Stadium and Kings Hill/SW Salmon Street stations, in conjunction with the entry into service of the first low-floor cars.:76 Grand opening celebrations for the entire $963.5 million (equivalent to $1.41 billion in 2018 dollars) line took place on September 12, 1998. Ceremonies were held at various stations and speeches were delivered by local and national dignitaries, including Vice President Al Gore. Twelve TriMet bus routes, which had operated between the west side and downtown Portland, were reduced to five, replaced by light rail. The line immediately drew strong ridership, exceeding projections for 2005 less than two years after it opened. In September 2000, TriMet adopted a color coding scheme to differentiate its trains operating between Hillsboro and Gresham from those that were going to serve the Airport MAX extension, assigning the colors blue and red, respectively. The line-identification system was implemented shortly before the Red Line's opening on September 10, 2001.
The Blue Line operates along the Eastside and Westside MAX segments, which combined total 32.6 miles (52.5 km)[a] to 32.7 miles (52.6 km).[a] Its western terminus is Hatfield Government Center station in Hillsboro, on the corner of West Main Street and Southwest Adams Avenue. From here, the line heads east along the median of Southeast Washington Street and continues east on a former Burlington Northern Railroad—former Oregon Electric Railway—right-of-way between Southeast 10th Avenue and Northwest 185th Avenue, traveling mostly at-grade except at grade-separated crossings—notably, the Main Street Bridge and Cornelius Pass Road—until it reaches Beaverton Transit Center.:11 It then turns north, running adjacent to Oregon Highway 217 to Sunset Transit Center, from where it continues eastwards along the north side of the Sunset Highway before entering the Robertson Tunnel for Washington Park station. After leaving the tunnel, the line passes below the Vista Bridge and enters downtown Portland, continuing along Southwest Jefferson Street before turning north onto the median of Southwest 18th Avenue.
Near Providence Park, the tracks diverge onto Southwest Yamhill Street and westbound onto Southwest Morrison Street, crossing the Portland Transit Mall near the Pioneer Courthouse and Pioneer Courthouse Square. The tracks reconnect on Southwest 1st Avenue and head north, traversing the Willamette River via the Steel Bridge into the Rose Quarter. The line runs along Holladay Street in the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd District, passing the Moda Center and the Oregon Convention Center. It leaves the Lloyd District near Exit 1 of Interstate 84 and continues east along the north side of the Banfield Freeway. The line then travels over the Interstate 84 and Interstate 205 interchange towards Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center. From Gateway Transit Center, tracks head south along the east side of I-205. A single-track junction south of Gateway Transit Center marks the start of the Airport MAX segment while a double junction south of Southeast Glisan Street splits into the I-205 MAX. The Blue Line turns east and enters the median of East Burnside Street at East 97th Avenue. At Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station, the line leaves the street and heads southeastwards until it reaches Cleveland Avenue station, its last stop, near the corner of Northeast Cleveland Avenue and Northeast 8th Street in Gresham.
The Blue Line shares much of its alignment with the Red Line. Between 2001 and 2003, they used the same tracks from the 11th Avenue loop tracks in downtown Portland to Gateway Transit Center, where Red Line trains diverge towards Portland International Airport. Since 2003, they have shared the same route between Beaverton Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center. The Green Line joined a part of this shared alignment in 2009, entering from the Portland Transit Mall just west of the Steel Bridge, diverging at Gateway Transit Center, and continuing south towards Clackamas.
The Blue Line serves 51 stations. The 27 stations built as part of the inaugural line between Gresham and downtown Portland opened on September 5, 1986.:37 The Mall stations on Southwest 4th and 5th avenues were added in conjunction with the opening of Pioneer Place in March 1990, followed by the Convention Center station and the Oregon Convention Center in September. The Westside MAX opened in two stages due to delays in construction. The first two stations, Civic Stadium—now Providence Park—and Kings Hill/Southwest Salmon Street opened on August 31, 1997. The remaining 18 stations opened during the segment's inauguration on September 12, 1998. The newest station is Civic Drive, which was opened on December 1, 2010.
Transfers to the Yellow Line are available at the Pioneer Square and Mall stations and Rose Quarter Transit Center, while transfers to the Green Line and the Orange Line can be made at the Pioneer Square and Mall stations. Additionally, the Blue Line provides connections to local and intercity bus services at various stops across the line, the Portland Streetcar at four stops in and near downtown Portland, and a transfer to WES Commuter Rail, which runs from Beaverton to Wilsonville during the morning and evening commutes on weekdays, at Beaverton Transit Center.
|→||Eastbound travel only|
|←||Westbound travel only|
|Park and ride|
|Secure bike parking|
|Station||Location||Commenced||Line transfers||Other connections and notes|
(excludes TriMet bus connections)
|Hatfield Government Center†||Hillsboro||1998||—||: 250 spaces;|
|Hillsboro Central/Southeast 3rd Avenue Transit Center||1998||—||: YCTA|
|Tuality Hospital/Southeast 8th Avenue||1998||—||: 85 spaces;|
|Washington/Southeast 12th Avenue||1998||—|
|Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport||1998||—||: 396 spaces;|
|Orenco||1998||—||: 125 spaces;|
|Quatama||1998||—||: 310 spaces;|
|Willow Creek/Southwest 185th Avenue Transit Center||1998||—||: CC Rider|
: 595 spaces;
|Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue||Beaverton||1998||—||: 435 spaces;|
|Merlo Road/Southwest 158th Avenue||1998||—|
|Beaverton Creek||1998||—||: 417 spaces;|
|Millikan Way||1998||—||: 400 spaces;|
|Beaverton Transit Center||1998||: WES Commuter Rail|
|Sunset Transit Center||1998||: POINT, TCTD|
: 622 spaces;
|Goose Hollow/Southwest Jefferson Street||1998|
|Kings Hill/Southwest Salmon Street||1997||—|
|Library/Southwest 9th Avenue→||1986||: Portland Streetcar|
|Galleria/Southwest 10th Avenue←||1986||: Portland Streetcar|
|Pioneer Square South→||1986||Portland Transit Mall|
|Pioneer Square North←||1986|
|Mall/Southwest 4th Avenue→||1990|
|Mall/Southwest 5th Avenue←||1990|
|Morrison/Southwest 3rd Avenue←||1986||—|
|Oak Street/Southwest 1st Avenue||1986||—|
|Rose Quarter Transit Center||1986||: C-Tran|
|Convention Center||1990||Portland Streetcar|
|Northeast 7th Avenue||1986||Portland Streetcar|
|Lloyd Center/Northeast 11th Avenue||1986||—|
|Hollywood/Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center||1986|
|Northeast 60th Avenue||1986|
|Northeast 82nd Avenue||1986|
|Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center||1986||: Columbia Area Transit|
: 690 spaces;
|East 102nd Avenue||1986||—||—|
|East 122nd Avenue||1986||—||: 612 spaces;|
|East 148th Avenue||1986||—||—|
|East 162nd Avenue||1986||—||—|
|East 172nd Avenue||Gresham||1986||—||—|
|East 181st Avenue||1986||—||: 247 spaces|
|Rockwood/East 188th Avenue||1986||—||—|
|Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue||1986||—||—|
|Gresham City Hall||1986||—||: 417 spaces;|
|Gresham Central Transit Center||1986||—||: Sandy Area Metro|
: 540 spaces;
|Cleveland Avenue†||1986||—||: 392 spaces;|
In an Institute for Transportation and Development Policy study conducted in September 2013, the Blue Line was cred with generating $6.6 billion in transit-oriented development investment.
From Monday to Thursday, the Blue Line runs for 221⁄2 hours per day. The first train goes westbound from Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue station at 3:31 am and the last trip goes eastbound from Rose Quarter Transit Center to Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station at 1:29 am the following day. Additional late-night trips are provided on Fridays, with the last trip going eastbound from Hatfield Government Center station to Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue station at 2:01 am. Except for additional late-night trips on Saturdays, weekend service runs on a slightly reduced schedule. The first trains run westbound from Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station at 3:35 am and the last trains run eastbound from Hatfield Government Center station at 1:51 am and Rose Quarter Transit Center at 1:33 am, respectively. Select early morning trains operate as through services of the Red Line and the Yellow Line. End-to-end travel time is approximately 105 minutes. TriMet designates the Blue Line as a Frequent Service route along with the rest of the light rail system, ensuring service runs on a 15-minute headway for most of each day. Blue Line trains run most frequently during weekday rush hours, operating on headways as short as five minutes.
The Blue Line is the busiest line in the MAX system, carrying 18.9 million passengers in 2015. It averaged 55,370 riders on weekdays in September 2018, up from 55,330 for the same month in 2017. Due to crowding in Blue Line trains operating along the Westside MAX, TriMet extended the Red Line further west to Beaverton Transit Center on August 31, 2003. From 2004 to 2007, TriMet recorded 18 percent and 27 percent increases in utilization between Hatfield Government Center station and Beaverton Transit Center during morning and evening rush hours, respectively, prompting the agency to introduce three Red Line services in each direction between the Hatfield Government Center and Portland International Airport stations on March 2, 2008. In the first three months of 2017, the Blue Line recorded an average 55,233 rides per weekday, a drop of 2.9 percent from the same period in 2016. TriMet attributes the drop to lower-income riders being forced out of the inner city by rising housing prices.
In February 2006, local government officials proposed an extension of the Westside MAX from its Hatfield Government Center terminus to Forest Grove. City leaders approached a former TriMet engineer to conduct a feasibility study and develop a plan to get the project included on Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation list of priority projects. The six-month study, completed in October, estimated the line would cost about $200 million to build. The study identified a state-owned right-of-way between Southwest Adams Avenue in Hillsboro and Douglas Street in Forest Grove, formerly occupied by the Oregon Electric Railway but whose tracks' operating rights are currently owned by the Portland and Western Railroad, as the best option for the line. Metro proposes a high-capacity transit extension to Forest Grove as part of its 2018 Regional Transportation Plan for 2040, but does not specify the type of high-capacity transit, which could be a bus or rail option.
The agency [Tri-Met] says digging the tunnel for westside light rail will cause a year's delay in completing the entire project.
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