Featured Success Story: Light Rail in Portland, Oregon

After the highway revolts of the 1970s, Portland Oregon transportation leaders made a decision that changed the city’s transportation landscape. Turning down $500 Million to expand freeways, the city instead invested in the first leg of its now widely expanded light rail system. This is the same type of long-term strategic decision Portland, Maine can make today (without the complication of turning down highway funds, and for far less of an investment).

The map below shows what might have been, if the freeway system had been built as planned (red lines indicate existing freeways, and green lines indicate planned ones that were halted):

Instead, Portland, Oregon’s first light rail leg, the Eastside MAX Blue Line, opened on September 5, 1986, connecting Gresham to Downtown Portland. It was one of the first light rail systems in the nation, and also one of the first federally funded light rail projects, using money initially earmarked to build freeways.

Portland, Oregon’s Blue Line, by the Numbers:

Length: 15 miles
Stations: 30
Construction: March 1982–September 1986 (on time)
Cost: $214 million (within budget)
Funding allocation: Federal Transit Administration (83%) / state transportation funds (12%) / local funds (5%)
ROI: Catalyzed more than $4.7 billion in development and revitalization

Since then, the MAX rail system has expanded to six total lines, along which $13.2 billion in development has occurred since the decision to build in 1978.


For further reading, check out the site Light Rail Now!, where you’ll find more commentary on the MAX rail project:

Instead of a city sliced by freeways, Portland Oregon opted for a more livable development pattern centered on light rail and other good mass transit, pedestrian amenities, and cycling facilities. The result is people-oriented neighborhoods like this with small shops and open-air cafes. Read more about what is, and what might have been without future-focused visionary development, at Light Rail Now!