Portland’s MAX Light Rail: Where’s it going in 2020?

portland trimet max line tigard

The MAX (short for Metropolitan Area Express) is the only light rail system in Oregon and the fourth-busiest in the country, after systems in LA, Boston and San Fransisco. The service, run by TriMet, hopes to gain funding to expand MAX service into Tigard and Tualatin in 2020. This year also brings fresh challenges in maintaining ridership and safety. We’ll look at some 2020 updates for the MAX, but first, a little background on the trains that are ubiquitous across Portland.

MAX Quick Facts

  • 60 miles of rails run the MAX light rail from Hillsboro to Gresham; Portland Airport to Milwaukie and just about everywhere in between.
  • It has five color-coded lines (blue, green, orange, red, yellow) and 94 stations
  • The MAX system uses tunnels, elevated rails and a dedicated transit/pedestrian-only bridge across the Willamette (Tilikum Crossing) to quickly get riders where they need to go.
  • In 2019, 120,900 riders used the MAX each weekday, but ridership has been declining overall since 2013.
  • Trimet is the public agency that runs the MAX and other modes of mass transit throughout the Portland metro region.

MAX Expansion to Portland’s Southwest Corridor

The big news for the MAX in 2020 is that its most ambitious expansion in 20 years is going to vote. The ballot measure, deemed Get Moving 2020, seeks to invest $5 billion in regional infrastructure, making it the largest-ever investment in Portland’s transportation system. It includes funding for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project, as well as improvements to roads, transit routes, bridges and pedestrian amenities like sidewalks and crosswalks. It also would create a regional rapid bus network and expand Safe Routes to Schools to more neighborhoods. 

Metro, the regional governing agency that oversees Trimet, expects that Get Moving 2020 will create 37,000 jobs, and that new new MAX line will relieve congestion by 20% in the rapidly growing areas around Tigard and Tualatin. The SW Corridor project is also expected to have impacts on housing and real estate prices, as the project includes funding for up to 2,300 affordable homes to be built along the new transit corridor. Metro clearly states that their intention is to get ahead of speculation and the sharp increase in home prices that usually happens when a new light rail line is put in. 

Effect of a New MAX Line on the Portland Real Estate Market

That was the situation in Milwaukie five years ago, when home prices rose 12.2% after the completion of the MAX Orange line, connecting this formerly affordable suburb to Portland. Growth has since leveled off, with an average 3% annual price increase in 2020, according to Zillow, and the Milwaukie median home price is still below that of Portland proper.

MAX and COVID

Public transit systems everywhere have been suffering in 2020 due to COVID-19, and Trimet reports that they have experienced a 70% drop in riders since the start of the pandemic. To respond, they cut service on some routes. Unfortunately, cutting service will only mean long-term hits to ridership, which is usually what transit providers need to prove that they have in high numbers in order to receive ongoing funding from state and federal grants.

As of April 5, all MAX trains are still in operation and running every 15 minutes. Masks are social distancing are required. Trimet is doing their part by increasing cleaning – they are wiping down high-touch surfaces on all stations and trains with disinfectant every day. They have a 3-foot distance requirement in the trains and even have masks available to anyone that needs them. 

The Future of Portland Light Rail

With Portland’s continued growth, traffic, and an increased demand for reduced-carbon transportation options, Trimet expects that light rail will continue to be a necessary part of life. Post-pandemic, we may see a safer, cleaner transportation system in Portland. Whether or not voters approve Get Moving 2020, light rail is here to stay. 

Curious how light rail and infrastructure changes affect your home value? Have you had a Comparative Market Analysis done recently? Give our top real estate agents a call today. 

August 28, 2020
AUTHOR

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

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