MAX Blue Line

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MAX Blue Line
MAX Type 4 cars crossing 185th.JPG
A westbound, two-car train crossing Southwest 185th Avenue in Hillsboro
TypeLight rail
SystemMAX Light Rail
LocalePortland, Oregon, U.S.
TerminiHatfield Government Center in Hillsboro (west)
Cleveland Avenue in Gresham (east)
Daily ridership55,370 (as of September 2018)[1]
WebsiteMAX Blue Line
OpenedSeptember 5, 1986 (1986-09-05)
CharacterAt-grade, elevated, and underground
Line length32.7 mi (52.6 km)
Number of tracks2
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification750 V DC, overhead catenary
Route diagram

Hatfield Government Center
Hillsboro Central/SE 3rd Ave TC
Tuality Hospital/SE 8th Ave
Washington/SE 12th Ave
Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport
Hillsboro Airport Parking
Hawthorn Farm
Willow Creek/SW 185th Ave TC
Elmonica/SW 170th Ave
Merlo Rd/SW 158th Ave
Beaverton Creek
Millikan Way
Beaverton Central
Beaverton TC Terminus
WES Commuter Rail
Sunset TC
Washington Park
Goose Hollow/SW Jefferson St
Kings Hill/SW Salmon St
Providence Park
 B  Loop NS  Line (SW 11th Ave)
 A  Loop NS  Line (SW 10th Ave)
Galleria/SW 10th Ave
Library/SW 9th Ave
Pioneer Square N
Pioneer Square S
to PSU to Milwaukie (SW 5th Ave)
Mall/SW 5th Ave
Mall/SW 4th Ave
Morrison/SW 3rd Ave
Yamhill District
Oak/SW 1st Ave
Skidmore Fountain
Old Town/Chinatown
to PSU
to Union Station
cont. to Milwaukie
Rose Quarter TC
Convention Center
 B  Loop (NE Grand Ave)
 A  Loop (NE 7th Ave)
NE 7th Ave
Lloyd Center/NE 11th Ave
Hollywood/NE 42nd Ave TC
NE 60th Ave
NE 82nd Ave
Gateway/NE 99th Ave TC
to Clackamas to Airport
E 102nd Ave
E 122nd Ave
E 148th Ave
E 162nd Ave
E 172nd Ave
E 181st Ave
Rockwood/E 188th Ave
Ruby Junction/E 197th Ave
Civic Dr
Gresham City Hall
Gresham Central TC
Cleveland Ave

The MAX Blue Line is a light rail service that is part of the MAX Light Rail system in Portland, Oregon, United States. The line, the longest in the system, is owned and operated by TriMet; it travels mainly east–west for 32.7 miles (52.6 km) in the cities of Hillsboro, Beaverton, Portland, and Gresham, serving 51 stations between Hatfield Government Center and Cleveland Avenue. The line is the busiest of the five MAX lines, carrying an average 55,370 riders per day on weekdays in September 2018. It runs for 22½ hours per day from Monday to Thursday, with daily headways of between fifteen minutes off-peak and five minutes during rush hour. Service runs later in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays, and ends earlier on Sundays. The Blue Line shares its route with the Red Line on the west side, between Beaverton Transit Center and Rose Quarter Transit Center. On the east side, it shares tracks with both the Red Line and the Green Line between Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center.

Following the success of local freeway revolts in the early 1970s, which led to the reallocation of federal assistance funds to mass transit, local governments approved the construction of a light rail line in Portland in 1978. Referred to as the Banfield light rail project during its planning and construction, and later, the Eastside MAX, the line's eastern half—between downtown Portland and Gresham—began construction in 1983 and opened on September 5, 1986 as the inaugural line of the MAX system. Its western half to Hillsboro, known as the Westside MAX, broke ground in 1993 and opened in two phases following delays in construction; the first section up to Goose Hollow opened in 1997 and operation commenced across the entire extension on September 12, 1998. In 2000, the two distinct segments were unified under the Blue Line service after TriMet introduced a color coding scheme amid preparations for the opening of the Airport MAX extension to Portland International Airport, which is served by the Red Line.

Eastside history[edit]

Early freeway proposals[edit]

In 1955, the Oregon State Highway Department laid out the freeway development plan for the Portland metropolitan area, proposing the construction of the Mount Hood Freeway and Interstate 505, among others.[2] Citizen protests and two other factors led to the eventual cancellation of both projects. First, an environmental impact study conducted in 1973 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill determined that the Mount Hood Freeway would have reached obsolescence by the time it was completed and would have added more traffic to downtown Portland than the surface streets could handle.[3][4] Then, in February 1974, U.S. District Judge James M. Burns formally rejected the plan after finding that the corridor selection process failed to follow the correct procedures.[5][4] Amid mounting anti-freeway sentiment and further delays to the project, Portland City Council voted 4-to-1 to abandon the plan in July 1974.[6] Meanwhile, Northwest Portland residents fought in opposition to Interstate 505.[7] The city council approved the spur route in 1971.[8] Following a suspect environmental impact study, organizers from the Willamette Heights Neighborhood Association filed a class action in U.S. district court to halt the new freeway's construction, who were later joined by the Northwest District Association.[8][9] Several years of drawn-out litigation ensued, keeping the project on hiatus. In December 1978, the city council withdrew its support for the proposal.[10]

Transitway planning and construction[edit]

Redecking work on the Glisan Street ramp of the Steel Bridge in 1985

The passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1973 allowed state governments for the first time to transfer federal funds from canceled freeway projects to other transportation options, including mass transit.[6] In May 1973, Governor Tom McCall assembled a task force to determine potential alternative uses for the freeway funds, and in April 1974, the task force released a preliminary draft listing light rail and buses as modes under consideration.[11] With the Mount Hood Freeway plan canceled, around $185 million of federal assistance became available in 1976 and were allocated to other projects across the region,[12][13] including the Banfield corridor, which received $60 million.[14][15] Another $15 million came from the failed I-505 project.[10] Among five alternatives developed by the Highway Division,[16] a busway, which was first suggested by the Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG) in 1975, was originally favored for the Banfield transitway.[17] Support for light rail on the corridor grew following the mode's inclusion as a sixth alternative in an environmental impact statement in 1977.[18][19] In September 1978, TriMet became the first jurisdiction to adopt a resolution supporting a combined light rail and highway expansion plan.[20] Remaining local jurisdictions each announced their support by November,[21][22] and the State Transportation Commission approved the project a month later.[23]

The Banfield light rail project received federal approval for construction in September 1980.[24][25] Plans for the 27-station, 15.1-mile (24.3 km) line, which ran from Southwest 11th Avenue in downtown Portland to just east of Cleveland Avenue in Gresham, were finalized by Wilbur Smith Associates in November 1981.[24] Zimmer Gunsul Frasca designed the stations and overpasses, earning the firm a Progressive Architecture Award in 1984.[26] Anticipating 42,500 riders by 1990,[24] TriMet purchased 26 light rail vehicles from Bombardier, which started production in 1983 and began arriving the following year.[27][28] The groundbreaking ceremony took place at Ruby Junction Yard in March 1982.[29] Construction of the light rail line commenced in April 1983 on a two-mile section between Ruby Junction and downtown Gresham.[30][31] In order to minimize costs,[29] excavation for the tracks and freeway widening took place simultaneously along the Banfield segment.[32] The 98,000-square-foot (9,100 m2) Ruby Junction maintenance complex,[33] which housed the line's first light rail maintenance and operations center,[34] opened in July 1983. The Portland Traction Company transferred its 4.6-mile (7.4 km) right-of-way in Gresham to TriMet the following month.[28][35] Utility relocation and track work in downtown Portland, projected to cost $20.7 million, began in April 1984.[36] The alignment crossed the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge and was one factor that necessitated the bridge's $10 million rehabilitation from 1984 to 1986.[37] System testing followed the completion of downtown area construction and the Steel Bridge's reopening, which had been delayed for nine months,[38] in June 1986.[36]

Inauguration and later improvements[edit]

An eastbound train seen running along Southwest Yamhill Street in downtown Portland in 1991

On September 5, 1986, the $214 million (equivalent to $634 million in 2016 dollars) light rail line—now called Metropolitan Area Express (MAX)—opened for service.[18] Federal transfer funds provided $178.3 million, 83 percent of the total cost, and the project was completed $10 million under budget.[18][26] Its new name was selected through a public contest held by The Oregonian and TriMet in June 1986;[39] the winning suggestion was made by TriMet designer Jeff Frane, who attributed inspiration to his son, Alex.[40] Opening celebrations spanned three days and were attended by an estimated 250,000 people.[26] Nine new bus lines were created and six existing bus routes were modified to feed the light rail stations.[41] MAX trains initially operated between approximately 5:00 am and 1:00 am, with headways of up to seven minutes, and rides were free within Fareless Square from opening day until 2012.[42][43] Projected to carry 12,000 riders per day, the line averaged around 22,000 during its first four days of regular operation and 18,000 by December 1986.[44][45] Downtown retailers, many of whom had opposed light rail, reported substantial increases in sales following the line's opening.[45]

Most of the line's easternmost two miles (3.2 km), beyond the Ruby Junction maintenance facility, were originally built as bidirectional single-track.[46] Trains traveling in opposite directions were unable to pass on these sections, which led to delays when service ran behind schedule. In 1996, a second track was laid and a second platform was constructed at Gresham Central Transit Center,[47] making the section double-track and eliminating the only single-track running on the Eastside MAX.[48] The new track was brought into use in May 1996 after a three-month suspension of all MAX service east of Rockwood/East 188th Avenue station,[47] replaced by shuttle buses, to allow the work to be carried out.[48][49] In 2015, TriMet began renovations of fourteen of the system's oldest stations between Hollywood/Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center and Cleveland Avenue station. Three stations—Gresham City Hall, East 122nd Avenue, and East 162nd Avenue—have been renovated as of February 2019.[50]

Westside extension[edit]

Early planning and delays[edit]

The railway crossing on 185th Avenue, seen in 1995 prior to the start of construction

Planning for the restoration of services to the west side, which was formerly served by a branch line of the Oregon Electric Railway between Garden Home and Forest Grove,[51][52] began in 1979 with a proposed route initially terminating at 185th Avenue and Walker Road in Hillsboro.[53][54] In 1983, Metro—the successor to CRAG—and local jurisdictions selected light rail as the preferred mode alternative and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) released $1.3 million in 1985 to begin a preliminary engineering study.[54][55] The project was later suspended by TriMet amid conflict with the UMTA regarding the development of a financing plan and its precedence over engineering work.[55] By the time planning recommenced in 1988,[56] significant changes in the westside corridor, including the conversion of 3,000 acres (1,214 ha) of vacant Washington County land into mixed-use urban areas, prompted a re-evaluation.[54] Newly-appointed Hillsboro Mayor Shirley Huffman began lobbying for the line's extension to downtown Hillsboro in 1985, traveling frequently to Washington, D.C. to persuade Congress and the UMTA.[57] The efforts of Huffman and others led to the preparation of a supplemental study in 1991 and in July 1993,[54][58] TriMet approved an extension of the line 6.2 miles (10 km) farther west, bringing the project's new total distance to 18 miles (29 km).[59]

Funding and construction[edit]

Funding for the Westside MAX proved difficult under the Reagan Administration, which sought to reduce federal expenditures by delaying existing light rail projects and declining approval for future planning.[60] As members of their respective appropriations committees, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and U.S. Representative Les AuCoin secured preliminary engineering and environmental review grants in 1989 after withholding funds for the head of the UMTA's office.[61][62] In 1990, Congress adopted legislation requiring the federal government to cover a 75 percent share of transit projects approved within the fiscal year.[63] Oregon voters subsequently rejected a measure to permit the use of local vehicle registration fees for public transit.[64] With a year-end deadline approaching the 25 percent local-share stipulation, TriMet introduced a $125 million local bond measure in July 1990.[65] Portland area voters approved the ballot measure in November, marking the region's first successful vote approving public transportation. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)—the new name for the UMTA—completed the funding package in 1991, granting $515 million to build the line up to 185th Avenue.[66] It provided another $75 million in 1994 following the approval of the Hillsboro extension, which covered one-third of the segment's $224 million additional cost.[67][68]

The east end of the Robertson Tunnel in 2007

Construction of the Westside MAX began in August 1993 with the excavation of the 21-foot-diameter (6.4 m) Robertson Tunnel.[56][69] Several alternative alignments through the West Hills were studied,[70][71] with TriMet selecting a three-mile (4.8 km) "long tunnel" option in April 1991.[72] Frontier-Traylor, the project's general contractor,[73] used drilling and blasting to dig through the west end while a 278-foot (85 m) tunnel boring machine drilled through the east segment for two miles.[56][74] Highly fragmented rock made machine excavation difficult, delaying the project for nine months.[74] The $166.9 million tunnel was completed in 1997.[75][76] Construction along Oregon Highway 217 started in March 1994.[77] Initially planned to run alongside a freight route through Beaverton and Hillsboro, the alignment was replaced with light rail following TriMet's acquisition of the Burlington Northern Railroad's right-of-way in June.[78] The 600-foot-long (183 m) horseshoe tunnel below Sunset Highway (U.S. 26) was completed in July 1995 and all highway work ceased in December.[79] Track work commenced west of 185th Avenue and the Elmonica Yard, which was built to accommodate part of TriMet's procurement of 39 Siemens cars—the first low-floor light rail vehicles in North America,[80][81] opened in January 1996.[82][83] The final rail spike was driven on Hillsboro's Main Street Bridge in October 1997.[76] System testing started in June 1998.[84]


Owing to delays caused by tunneling work, the line's planned September 1997 opening up to 185th Avenue was postponed by one year.[85] On August 31, 1997, the Westside MAX opened its first section, a two-station extension west to the Civic Stadium and Kings Hill/SW Salmon Street stations,[86] in conjunction with the entry into service of the first low-floor trains.[87] Grand opening celebrations for the entire $963.5 million (equivalent to $1.36 billion in 2016 dollars) line took place on September 12, 1998.[76] Ceremonies were held at various stations and speeches were delivered by local and national dignitaries, including Vice President Al Gore.[88] Twelve TriMet bus routes, which had operated between the west side and downtown Portland, were reduced to five, replaced by light rail.[89] The line immediately drew strong ridership, exceeding projections for 2005 less than two years after it opened.[90] In September 2000, TriMet adopted a color coding scheme to differentiate its trains operating between Hillsboro and Gresham from those that were going to serve the Airport MAX extension, assigning the colors blue and red, respectively.[91] The line-identification system was implemented shortly before the Red Line's opening in 2001.[92]


A section of the light rail tracks next to the Banfield Freeway
A MAX train next to the Sunset Highway, east of Sunset Transit Center

The Blue Line operates along the Eastside and Westside MAX segments, which combined total 32.7 miles (52.6 km) in length.[93][94] Its western terminus is Hatfield Government Center station in Hillsboro, on the corner of West Main Street and Southwest Adams Avenue.[95] The line heads east along the median of Southeast Washington Street and continues east on a former Burlington Northern Railroad—former Oregon Electric Railway—right-of-way between Southeast 10th Avenue and Northwest 185th Avenue,[96][58] traveling mostly at-grade except at grade-separated crossings—notably, the Main Street Bridge and Cornelius Pass Road—until it reaches Beaverton Transit Center.[53] It then turns north, running adjacent to Oregon Highway 217 to Sunset Transit Center, from where it continues eastwards along the north side of the Sunset Highway before entering the Robertson Tunnel for Washington Park station.[56] After leaving the tunnel, the line passes below the Vista Bridge and enters downtown Portland, continuing along Southwest Jefferson Street before turning north onto the median of Southwest 18th Avenue.[97]

Near Providence Park, the tracks diverge eastbound onto Southwest Yamhill Street and westbound onto Southwest Morrison Street,[98] intersecting the Portland Transit Mall near the Pioneer Courthouse and Pioneer Courthouse Square.[99] The tracks reconnect on Southwest 1st Avenue and head north, crossing the Willamette River via the Steel Bridge into the Rose Quarter. The line runs along Holladay Street in the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd District, passing the Moda Center and the Oregon Convention Center.[100] The line leaves the Lloyd District near Exit 1 of Interstate 84 and travels east along the north side of the Banfield Freeway.[101] It then crosses over the intersection of Interstate 84 and Interstate 205 towards Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center.[102] From Gateway Transit Center, the line heads south along the east side of I-205 and turns east, entering the median of East Burnside Street at East 97th Avenue.[103] The intersection at East 99th Avenue marks the start of the former right-of-way of the Mount Hood Railway and Power Company, later Portland Traction Company, now used by the Blue Line through to the latter's terminus.[104] At Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station, the line leaves the street and heads southeastwards until it reaches Cleveland Avenue station, its last stop, near the corner of Northeast Cleveland Avenue and Northeast 8th Street in Gresham.[103]

The Blue Line shares much of its alignment with the Red Line, originally from 11th Avenue loop tracks in downtown Portland then Beaverton Transit Center since 2001 and 2003, respectively, to Gateway Transit Center, where the Red line diverges towards Portland International Airport.[105][106] The Green Line joined a part of the shared alignment in 2009, entering from the Portland Transit Mall just west of the Steel Bridge, diverging at Gateway Transit Center, and continuing south towards Clackamas.[107]

A geographic map of the MAX Blue Line relative to the rest of the network


Stations on the Blue Line
Hatfield Government Center station, the Blue Line's western terminus
The westbound platform of Washington Park station
Civic Drive station, the newest station on the Blue Line, built in 2010
Cleveland Avenue station, the Blue Line's eastern terminus

The Blue Line serves 51 stations. The 27 stations built as part of the inaugural line between Gresham and downtown Portland opened in 1986.[24] The Mall stations on Southwest 4th and 5th avenues were added in conjunction with the opening of Pioneer Place in March 1990,[108] followed by the Convention Center station and the Oregon Convention Center in September.[109] The Westside MAX opened in two stages due to delays in construction.[85] The first two stations, Civic Stadium—now Providence Park—and Kings Hill/Southwest Salmon Street opened in August 1997. The remaining 18 stations opened during the segment's inauguration in September 1998.[76] The newest station is Civic Drive, which was completed in 2010.[110] Transfers to the Yellow Line are available at the Pioneer Square and Mall stations and Rose Quarter Transit Center, while transfers to the Orange Line can be made at the Pioneer Square and Mall stations.[111] Additionally, the Blue Line provides connections to local and intercity bus services at various stops across the line, the Portland Streetcar at four stops in and near downtown Portland,[112] and a transfer to WES Commuter Rail, which runs from Beaverton to Wilsonville during the morning and evening commutes on weekdays, at Beaverton Transit Center.[113]

Eastbound travel only
Westbound travel only
Station Location Commenced Line transfers[111] Connections[111][114] Park
and ride[115]
bike parking[116]
Hatfield Government Center Hillsboro 1998 250 Yes
Hillsboro Central/Southeast 3rd Avenue Transit Center 1998 YCTA[117] Yes
Tuality Hospital/Southeast 8th Avenue 1998 85 Yes
Washington/Southeast 12th Avenue 1998 Yes
Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport 1998 396 Yes
Hawthorn Farm 1998 Yes
Orenco 1998 125 Yes
Quatama 1998 310 Yes
Willow Creek/Southwest 185th Avenue Transit Center 1998 CC Rider 595 Yes
Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue Beaverton 1998 435 Yes
Merlo Road/Southwest 158th Avenue 1998 Yes
Beaverton Creek 1998 417 Yes
Millikan Way 1998 400 Yes
Beaverton Central 1998 Yes
Beaverton Transit Center 1998 WES Commuter Rail Yes
Sunset Transit Center 1998 POINT
622 Yes
Washington Park Portland 1998 Yes
Goose Hollow/Southwest Jefferson Street 1998 No
Kings Hill/Southwest Salmon Street 1997 No
Providence Park 1997 Yes
Library/Southwest 9th Avenue 1986 Portland Streetcar No
Galleria/Southwest 10th Avenue 1986 Portland Streetcar No
Pioneer Square South 1986 Portland Transit Mall No
Pioneer Square North 1986 No
Mall/Southwest 4th Avenue 1990 No
Mall/Southwest 5th Avenue 1990 No
Yamhill District 1986 No
Morrison/Southwest 3rd Avenue 1986 No
Oak Street/Southwest 1st Avenue 1986 No
Skidmore Fountain 1986 No
Old Town/Chinatown 1986 No
Rose Quarter Transit Center 1986 C-Tran Yes
Convention Center 1990 Portland Streetcar No
Northeast 7th Avenue 1986 Portland Streetcar No
Lloyd Center/Northeast 11th Avenue 1986 No
Hollywood/Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center 1986 Yes
Northeast 60th Avenue 1986 Yes
Northeast 82nd Avenue 1986 Yes
Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center 1986 Columbia Area Transit[118] 690 Yes
East 102nd Avenue 1986 No
East 122nd Avenue 1986 612 Yes
East 148th Avenue 1986 No
East 162nd Avenue 1986 No
East 172nd Avenue Gresham 1986 No
East 181st Avenue 1986 247 No
Rockwood/East 188th Avenue 1986 No
Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue 1986 No
Civic Drive 2010 Yes
Gresham City Hall 1986 417 Yes
Gresham Central Transit Center 1986 Sandy Area Metro 540 Yes
Cleveland Avenue 1986 392 Yes


From Monday to Thursday, the Blue Line runs for 22½ hours per day. Beginning service goes westbound from Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue station at 3:31 am and the last trip goes eastbound from Rose Quarter Transit Center to Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station at 1:29 am the following day. Additional late-night trips are provided on Fridays, with the last trip going eastbound from Hatfield Government Center station to Elmonica/Southwest 170th Avenue station at 2:01 am. Except for additional late-night trips on Saturdays, weekend service runs on a slightly reduced schedule. The first trains run westbound from Ruby Junction/East 197th Avenue station at 3:35 am and the last trains run eastbound from Hatfield Government Center station at 1:51 am and Rose Quarter Transit Center at 1:33 am, respectively. Select early morning trains operate as through services of the Red Line and the Yellow Line. End-to-end travel time is approximately 105 minutes.[119] TriMet designates the Blue Line as a Frequent Service route along with the rest of the light rail system, ensuring service runs on a 15-minute headway for most of each day.[120] Blue Line trains run most frequently during weekday rush hours, operating on headways as short as five minutes.[119]


The Blue Line is the busiest line in the MAX system, carrying 18.9 million passengers in 2015.[18] It averaged 55,370 riders on weekdays in September 2018,[1] up from 55,330 for the same month in 2017.[121] Amid crowding in Blue Line trains operating along the Westside MAX, TriMet extended the Red Line further west to Beaverton Transit Center in 2003.[106] From 2004 to 2007, TriMet recorded 18 percent and 27 percent increases in utilization between Hatfield Government Center station and Beaverton Transit Center during morning and evening rush hours, respectively, prompting the agency to introduce three Red Line services in each direction between Hatfield Government Center station and Portland International Airport in 2008.[122] In the first three months of 2017, the Blue Line recorded an average 55,233 rides per weekday, a drop of 2.9 percent from the same period in 2016.[123] TriMet attributes the drop to lower-income riders being forced out of the inner city by rising housing prices.[124]

Future plans[edit]

In February 2006, local government officials proposed an extension of the Westside MAX from its Hatfield Government Center terminus to Forest Grove. City leaders approached a former TriMet engineer to conduct a feasibility study and develop a plan to get the project included on Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation list of priority projects.[125] The six-month study, completed in October, estimated the line would cost about $200 million to build. The study identified a state-owned right-of-way between Southwest Adams Avenue in Hillsboro and Douglas Street in Forest Grove, formerly occupied by the Oregon Electric Railway but whose tracks' operating rights are currently owned by the Portland and Western Railroad, as the best option for the line.[126]


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Work cited[edit]

External links[edit]