Portland, Oregon/Interstate MAX LRT Extension

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Interstate MAX LRT Extension

Portland, Oregon

(November 1999)

(Interstate MAX Map)


The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-Met) is proposing a 5.6-mile extension of its Light Rail Transit (LRT) system known locally as the Metropolitan Area Express. The proposed Interstate Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) line will extend existing LRT service northward from the Rose Quarter Arena and the Oregon Convention Center, to North Portland neighborhoods, medical facilities, the Portland International Raceway, and the Metropolitan Exposition Center. Goals of the alignment include complementing regional land use plans by connecting established residential, commercial, entertainment, and other major activity centers, and providing a key transportation link in the region’s welfare to work programs. The LRT extension is estimated to cost $350 million (escalated dollars) and carry 18,100 average weekday boaridngs (8,400 new riders) by 2020.

Interstate MAX Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line;
5.6 miles, 10 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $350.0 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $257.5 million
Annual Operating Cost ($2005) $7.2 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 18,100 average weekly boardings
8,400 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: High
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: High
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The Highly Recommended rating is based on the project’s strong estimated cost effectiveness, transit supportive land use, and demonstrated local financial commitment to build and operate the project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the initiation of preliminary engineering on the 12-mile South-North LRT project in April 1996. In February 1998, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was completed for the project.

In November 1998, voters rejected an affirmation of a $475 million General Obligation bond measure previously approved to fund construction of the South-North LRT. Consequently, Tri-Met re-evaluated alternative alignments and funding strategies to implement the system. A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the north alignment of the proposed South-North LRT was completed in April 1999. In June 1999, Tri-Met passed a resolution endorsing capital funding for the Interstate MAX project and the City of Portland approved a resolution committing $30 million dollars to the project. The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Interstate MAX project was completed in October 1999 and a Record of Decision is anticipated in December 1999. The project is anticipated to be ready to advance into final design in early 2000.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(66) authorizes the Portland South-North Corridor LRT (Interstate MAX) project for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $8.96 million in Section 5309 New Start funds for the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. N/A indicates that data are unavailable for this specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. FTA will re-evaluate the project when it is ready to advance into final design and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The High project justification rating reflects strong transit supportive land use, mobility improvements, and cost effectiveness, and the adequacy of all other justification criteria.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: High

The 5.6-mile extension is expected to serve 18,100 average weekday boardings and 8,400 daily new riders by 2020. Metro, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Portland area, estimates the following travel time savings for the LRT project, compared to the No-Build and TSM alternatives.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings decrease of 17.4 million hours decrease of 0.8 million hours

Based on 1990 US Census data, there are an estimated 3,226 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed 10 stations, representing 25 percent of all households within the corridor.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

The Portland, OR / Vancouver, WA metropolitan region is currently in attainment for both ozone and carbon monoxide. The Interstate MAX and related land use densities are a major component of the region’s air quality maintenance plan.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 1,402 annual tons decrease of 144 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 251 annual tons decrease of 251 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 176 annual tons decrease of 19 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 33,873 annual tons decrease of 3,553 annual tons

Metro estimates that the North Corridor-Interstate MAX would result in the following changes in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units -- BTU). Note that a decrease is reported in the comparison between the New Start and No-Build, and an increase reported between the New Start and TSM.

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 433,413 million annual BTU increase of 13,808 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

Metro estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.42 $0.38 $0.38

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium-High

Metro estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $3.10 $9.70

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The High land use rating reflects the number of major trip generators and the strong transit supportive policies, both in the corridor and throughout the region.

Existing Conditions: The alignment parallels Interstate 5 in northern Portland. The corridor includes three distinct segments. Travelling from south to north, the three areas are Albina, Upper Interstate, and the Expo Center. Albina contains the Rose Garden Arena, a major medical facility, industrial land, and parkspace. Upper Interstate has single and multi-family residential with commercial development directly adjacent to the corridor. The Expo Center area consists of a regional exposition and convention facility, a commercial raceway, parkspace, and some commercial uses. The extension will link north Portland to the Downtown by connecting to the existing East/West Line. Moderate block sizes and required street level store fronts contribute to a pedestrian friendly Downtown. Population within the corridor is expected to increase 51 percent. From 1994 to 2020, employment is expected to rise 48 percent. The population density is expected to rise from 0.94 persons per acre in 1994 to 1.41 in 2020 and employment density is expected to rise from 1.01 to 1.49 persons per acre. Major trip generators in the corridor include the Portland Central Business District, Portland State University, the Civic Stadium, the Rose Quarter (professional sports arena), the Memorial Coliseum, the Oregon Convention Center, the Edgar Kaiser Medical Facilities, and the Expo Center.

Current zoning in the corridor supports high residential and commercial densities. Zoning regulations encourage street use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users by establishing street spacing, building orientation, and street geometrics standards.

Future Plans and Policies: The Region 2040 Growth Concept and the Regional Framework Plan (the Growth Concept’s implementing document) establish the pattern and densities for development within the region. The Regional Framework Plan guides the organization of land into clusters of residential development and employment centers. Other focuses of development efforts include "Station Communities," "Transit Corridors," and "Main Streets." Portland conducts station area planning to analyze station area characteristics and create appropriate development plans. For all areas around the station sites, the City is developing Urban Renewal Districts. The Albina Community Plan calls for a required increase in densities in the area upon commitment of the North Corridor LRT.

The Urban Growth Management Functional Plan and Portland’s Central City Transportation Management Plan limits the amount of parking throughout the region. The Central City Transportation Management Plan outlines various ways in which parking will be limited along the alignment in order to encourage increased transit usage.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 27%

The Tri-Met financial plan proposes $257.5 million (73 percent) in Section 5309 New Start funds and $92.5 million (27 percent) in State, local, and Federal flexible funds for the project. Tri-Met notes that it is not requesting any Section 5309 New Starts funding for two simultaneous projects currently under development: the Airport Max Light Rail project and the Portland Streetcar. Local and private sources will cover $246.5 million of these project costs.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the solid financial condition of Tri-Met, the local lead transit agency, and the other local partners – Metro and the City of Portland. Unlike the previous South-North corridor proposal, this project does not require a referendum to approve a funding source.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: Tri-Met is in good financial condition. Short-term bonds will be issued under the agency’s existing bond indenture. The bond trust indenture has a rating of AA+ by Standard & Poor’s and Aa3 by Moody’s.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates have decreased by 70 percent from last year because the scope of the project has been reduced from the 12-mile South/North proposal to the current 5.6 mile Interstate MAX. Present cost estimates are reasonable for the scope of the project and inflation assumptions are in-line with regional trends. The agency has a logical contingency plan to modify the construction schedule to minimize additional interim borrowing if federal funding authorizations are insufficient.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-New Starts funding for the project is committed and programmed. Non-federal financing alternatives appear strong and well-considered. Financing strategies such as an interim local borrowing program (i.e., letters of credit, commercial paper, vendor financing, and a line of credit) and "flexing" Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds to the project are in place. Tri-Met and the City of Portland recently signed a detailed intergovernmental agreement that defines financing responsibilities, payment of project funds, administration of the project account, and other terms and conditions. The City will use tax increment financing, its General Fund, or its Transportation Fund to support its $30 million contribution.

New and Proposed Sources: Tri-Met’s contribution of short-term bonds is a new funding source, but will be issued under the agency’s existing bond indenture and constitute 20 percent of non-Federal funding. This service is committed and programmed.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the stability of operating funds, sufficient projected revenue growth, and adequate cash reserves.

Agency Operating Condition: Tri-Met’s operating condition is very strong. The agency’s expense growth rate remains in balance with revenue growth rates, and Tri-Met has substantial working capital reserves on hand to cover any variations in a given year.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating costs for Interstate MAX are estimated at $7.2 million in 2005 dollars. Operating cost estimates appear reasonable Tri-Met maintains from 2 to 3 months working capital across the life of the cash flow – a substantial reserve for covering unanticipated cash flow or cost issues.

Existing and Committed Funding: Over 68 percent of all Tri-Met’s ongoing operating revenues are projected to come from its dedicated regional employer/municipal payroll tax revenue, which is assumed to increase at an average annual rate of 7.4 percent. This projected growth is conservative compared to the historical increase of 9.6 percent. The projected farebox recovery ratio is 29 percent.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenues currently exist.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $257.5 $8.96 million appropriated through FY 2000
STP Funds $24.0


City of Portland $30.0


Tri-Met Revenue Bonds $38.5


Total: $350.0

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

North Corridor-Interstate MAX Map. The project is a 5.6-mile extension of its Light Rail Transit (LRT) system known locally as the Metropolitan Area Express. The proposed Interstate Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) line will extend existing LRT service northward from the Rose Quarter Arena and the Oregon Convention Center, to North Portland neighborhoods, medical facilities, the Portland International Raceway, and the Metropolitan Exposition Center.