When a federal stimulus program offered grants for transportation projects that create jobs and provide a long-term boost for the economy, Portland had a team ready. Called the Innovation Quadrant, it included the area's biggest players in higher education as well as public agencies, private companies and nonprofits.
The Innovation Quadrant plan would link three main project sites by improving the rail and roadway systems between the southern end of downtown Portland and the inner eastside. One of those sites, Moody Avenue in the South Waterfront, received a $23 million federal grant.
The other two sites got nothing from the federal program. That left planners scrambling for a way to keep the projects alive.
"We're redoubling our efforts to figure out how to get both of those projects to still move forward," said Art Pearce, senior project manager with the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
One project would shift streetcar tracks from Southwest Montgomery Street and Fourth Avenue through the site of the future Oregon Sustainability Center. Although the $2 million in stimulus money didn't come through, Pearce said, there's a pending state Connect Oregon grant that could replace that portion of the project's $4 million cost.
Although the Oregon Sustainability Center site doesn't benefit directly from the stimulus grant, everyone involved in the quadrant benefits from the Moody grant, said Mark Gregory, associate vice president for Portland State University. "We kind of got halfway there," he said.
The total grant request had been $45.5 million.
"The real vision is: You've got the educational institutions, OMSI and a part of town with a lot of development capacity," he said. "How do you turn that into an economic engine?
"Every project that happens in this area has to be put through that lens," Gregory said. "We're large institutions. It only makes sense for us to be thinking of ways to work together."
Another project site, Southeast Water Avenue, plays heavily into the future of the area's rail systems. Riders would board light-rail trains and streetcars there before crossing the river on a new transit bridge.
Rerouting Water Avenue would make connections easier for commuters, and move traffic around an area where both the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Portland Opera plan to expand.
The project would cost around $7 million. There aren't any obvious grant sources that could replace hoped-for federal stimulus money, Pearce said.
Transit agency TriMet plans to build its transit bridge over the Willamette River near OMSI. That bridge ties in with both the Water Avenue and Moody Avenue sites.
Ideally, streetcar tracks would be built at the same time, said Rob Barnard, TriMet project director. For that to happen, money for extending the streetcar system will have to come soon: TriMet this fall plans to issue a notice to proceed for a design-build team for the bridge.
All sides are working to figure out how to include the streetcar system in the project despite the tight budget, Barnard said. "We wouldn't want to build portions of the bridge and, if funding came after the bridge opened, close it to work on those," he said.
Despite money being sought independently for each of the project sites, Innovation Quadrant partners see that they all benefit from improvements, Pearce said. Better transportation will turn Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University and Portland Community College into a seamless campus to produce the ideas and workforce for sustainable jobs.
"The goal is still to see those catalytic projects happening simultaneously," Pearce said. "People see that it does bolster the work of each of the institutions."