August 4, 2008

Closure of Steel Bridge Means Longer Commute but a Better Future Ride

By Corey Paul, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Aug. 4--Logan Winborn, 21, of Northwest Portland, uses the weekend to do his chores. But the closure of the Steel Bridge across the Willamette River meant an hourlong trip Sunday in search of new socks.

Instead of taking the westside Yellow Line toward Fred Meyer in Northeast Portland, the closure sent Winborn on a round-about journey: a Red Line train to the Old Town/Chinatown MAX station; a shuttle across the river to the Convention Center; a Yellow Line north to his destination, followed by a lengthy return.

Confusing? Yes, but worth a better transit system, Winborn said.

And this morning, one man in search of socks symbolizes the challenge of thousands who use the Steel Bridge to get to work.

The bridge was closed over the weekend as TriMet set new tracks that will connect existing rail lines with those of the new downtown MAX line. It will be closed through Aug. 24.

The bottom deck remains open to bikes and pedestrians.

TriMet will still shuttle riders across the river via other bridges. During the workweek, 29 buses will rotate through the Old Town/Chinatown and Convention Center/Rose Quarter stations.

TriMet has publicized the closure for weeks.

Officials hoped that traffic over the weekend -- with people such as Winborn -- would serve as a practice run for challenges of this workweek and beyond.

On Sunday, TriMet staged a parade of more than 30 people to emphasize alternatives to the shuttles. Friends, passers-by and entertainment walked, biked, roller-skated, even unicycled across the bottom deck of the bridge.

TriMet will plant workers at MAX stations to eliminate confusion for those taking the shuttles.

"It's going to be confusing this first day -- this first week really -- of these bus shuttles," said Peggy LaPoint, TriMet spokeswoman.

Though traffic was weekend-light, there was some grumbling at transfer stations Sunday -- the occasional expletive from passers-by or a frustrated shrug from drivers. But the few crowds that built up were quickly relieved by buses that arrive at the stations about every one to four minutes.

Many riders called the closure a minor and manageable inconvenience.

Perhaps the best indicator of how TriMet will handle rush-hour traffic today occurred after the Red Bull Flugtag on Saturday, when many of the roughly 80,000 attendees turned to TriMet for their exits.

Many times, that meant standing-room only, LaPoint said.

"We had maximum loads of people," LaPoint said. "We had people moving, and there wasn't a lot of waiting."

James Hill, 42, and his son traveled on buses to and from the event.

"It was a nuthouse," Hill said. "Like rush hour all day long."

But the buses arrived on time, Hill said.

About a half-dozen guides at the MAX stations Sunday advised riders of alternative routes and directed them to buses, hoping to smooth their adjustment.

For Steve Daily, 38, that adjustment means waking up about 20 minutes earlier than usual in order to drink his morning coffee and make it to work at Columbia Sportswear on time.

Normally, Daily would walk across the Burnside Bridge from his home in Southeast Portland to catch a Yellow Line over the Steel. Now, Daily will walk about twice that distance to the Convention Center Station.

But no worries. All that's definitely worth a beefier downtown transit system, Daily said.

"Three weeks isn't too bad to build over a bridge," Daily said. "It's just going to give me some more exercise."


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