Monday, January 29, 2007

Rocket man: On Saturday, the Portland Aerial Tram opened for business, running from South Waterfront to Oregon Health Sciences University. It was a source of much contention six years ago, when they first announced the project, but in the intervening time a lot of the controversy has gone away. Now it's winning over riders with its incredible view of downtown, the East Side and the mountains on the way down from Marquam Hill, even at $4 a round-trip ticket. In a city with an unusual and sometimes uneven mix of mass transit -- buses, trains, a streetcar, and a fareless zone encompassing downtown, the Pearl District and the Convention Center -- this is just one more smart innovation, a way of turning a 15-minute zig-zag drive or bus ride up a hill into the triangle's hypotenuse. From the Oregonian:

People started talking openly about a $3 million tram as far as back as 1998. One neighborhood activist considered it crazy talk. As in, you'd be crazy to build a car hanging from wires to leap over Interstate 5 so it could connect a rusted industrial yard to OHSU's main campus.

Yet the idea kept climbing.


The silver, bubblelike tram cars, still wrapped in clear plastic, made their first flight on an unusually sunny November afternoon. The new transit option opened for OHSU employees in mid-December. [Saturday, January 27 was] the public opening, but when Portland got hit [in early January] by a snowstorm, the tram opened early to ferry people up and off the hill.

For the white-collar set, the tram is a sign of progress with billions of dollars spent on OHSU's expansion and the 130-acre South Waterfront revival.

For the skeptical, the tram is a reminder of lax government management. Quoted at $15.5 million in 2002, the tram today will land at $57 million. (The city says this time that it's not a penny more.)

For nonbelievers, the tram is a symbol of the growing separation between the wealth of downtown and the poverty of far North and East Portland.

[Link, and to the Times' coverage]

No comments: