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Portland plans growth along new light-rail line
Jim Redden | Portland Tribune

 

Developers tried to incorporate SouthSide Works into the existing neighborhood when it was built. Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media

Construction of the replacement Lafayette Street pedestrian bridge is focusing attention on a new style of potential light rail-related growth — Employment Transit Oriented Development, or E-TOD, as planners call it.

 

Last Thursday morning, a large crane lifted a 70-ton steel walkway more than 50 feet into the air near Southeast Rhine Street and Southeast 17th Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood. The 184-foot collection of plates and girders hung in the air for 15 minutes as the crane rotated 180 degrees, then gently lowered it onto the top of two 42-foot-high steel towers on either side the Union Pacific railroad line.

 

Workers from Lorenz Bruun Construction rose on smaller lifts to nudge the span into place before fastening the large structures together. Company employees watched and took pictures from the rooftop balcony of their headquarters building, coincidentally located at the east end of the project. A light drizzle began falling as this phase of the job was finished.

 

When completed this coming summer, the new bridge will replace the original pedestrian crossing that was built in the early 1940s over Union Pacific rail lines. It will include features to improve pedestrian and bicycle access, such as elevators with glass cabs, 8-foot-wide stairs, and bike gutters to ease moving them up and down the structure. Public art will feature poetry written by students at Cleveland High School, which is nearby.

 

Thursday’s lift showed how important the crossing is to anyone trying to cross the tracks. TriMet needed the railroad’s permission to swivel and lower the span over the tracks. Numerous trains thundered up and down the tracks as workers waited for the railroad to say there was enough of a break, pushing the estimated start time from 9:30 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.

 

The $3.9 million replacement bridge is part of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project, to be known as the Orange Line, that is scheduled to open Sept. 12, 2014. It will connect the future Southeast Rhine Street/17th Avenue MAX station to the largely commercial neighborhood to the east that includes Bruun Construction and the Fred Meyer headquarters, where hundreds of people work.

 

That is different from most MAX stations, which are designed for residents to take transit from their neighborhoods to employment centers. That has led to the concept of new residential buildings near transit centers in neighborhoods called Transit Oriented Developments. Ground was broken on a new 57-unit one in the Kenton neighborhood just a few weeks ago.

 

But the coming Portland-Milwaukie line will include four stations in Southeast Portland in commercial neighborhoods. That has prompted planners to consider encouraging a different style of development — high-density employment centers at or near the stations. Instead of planning for more residents to use the stations to take transit to work, the planners are studying how to get employers to build new offices and other buildings that can be reached from the stations.

 

In addition to the future station at Southeast Rhine and 17th, the other three are located at OMSI, Southeast Clinton Street and 12th Avenue, and Southeast Holgate Boulevard and 17th Avenue. After these locations emerged in the process of plotting the alignment of the Portland-Milwaukie line, the city Bureau of Planning and Sustainability applied for a $485,000 grant from Metro to help plan how to encourage employment centers to be built or expanded at or near the stations. The grant money was generated by a construction employment tax assessed by Metro against new development. Metro originally created the CET to help fund planning in new areas added to the urban growth boundary, but increased the possible uses to include planning in existing urban areas when it was renewed.

 

Plans developed with the grant funds for the Southeast Rhine/17th Avenue and Holgate/17th Avenue stations are intended to be included in the comprehensive plan update the council is expected to approve next year. Plans developed for the OMSI and Clinton/12th Avenue stations are intended to be included in the Southeast Quadrant Plan that also is headed to the council.

 

Mayor Charlie Hales is asking the council to expand the boundaries of the Central Eastside Industrial Urban Renewal Area to include the Clinton station. That would qualify the area around it for urban renewal-funded improvements that could help attract new employers.

 

One parcel that could benefit is a 3.25-acre tract of land near Southeast Powell Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue that was purchased by Stacy and Witbeck Inc., the construction company building the Portland-Milwaukie line. The alignment of the line was well-known long before the company bought the property.