GreenWorks and the new Light Rail Route to SW Portland

Jennifer D’Avanzo in front of SW Corridor plans that take up an entire wall at GreenWorks HQ

Jennifer D’Avanzo in front of SW Corridor plans that take up an entire wall at GreenWorks HQ

You’ve probably heard planners are considering a new Trimet MAX line to Southwest Portland. The new line, right now known as the Southwest Corridor (SWC) Plan, is in the planning stage. Here’s how TriMet describes the project:

“The Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project will bring high-capacity transit to one of the most congested travel corridors in our region. The new light rail line will create a 30-minute travel time between Downtown Portland and Tualatin, connecting regional centers including West Portland Town Center, Tigard Triangle, Downtown Tigard and Bridgeport Village. It is expected to carry 43,000 riders on an average weekday by 2035, including 20 percent of commuters going southbound from Downtown Portland during afternoon rush hours.”

There’s no sure bet the line will happen, as there are many hurdles it’ll need to clear before the project can be completed, but there are lots of people working hard on the design in hopes it will go to construction. GreenWorks Senior Project Manager Jennifer D’Avanzo, as part of the Urban Design Team, has been involved with the project since mid-last year.

GW: How is GreenWorks involved in the planning effort on Southwest Corridor? What exactly is our role?

JD: As the lead for environmental and stormwater for the Urban Design team, our expertise is informing design decisions in two areas: reducing impacts to the environment and helping to filter pollutants out of rainwater along the route.

Art and light on a greenworks design. It’s part of TriMet’s Orange line.

Art and light on a greenworks design. It’s part of TriMet’s Orange line.

On the environmental side, we are helping define the locations of sensitive habitats like wetlands and streams, and what impact the SWC’s development will have on these systems. We are also thinking about how to mitigate for these impacts and how to make connections between the urban realm, habitat, and water by integrating the natural with built environment

Once the alignment—the route—is set, we’ll work with the entire team to come up with mitigation projects to offset impacts to sensitive habitats. For areas where the SWC is built in greenspaces, areas that have never been built on, streams, wetlands, and trees may be impacted. GreenWorks is coming to the table as the expert on what’s out there and making suggestions and defining approaches to habitat corridor enhancements.

We’re looking at mitigation opportunities from a watershed and habitat level. We’re asking: How can we connect large forested swaths of lands and bring more nature into the city through mitigation opportunities? We’re thinking about the larger context of the project and connecting these opportunities with the plans and strategies of the surrounding communities. An interesting question that comes up is: How can we design a station area while connecting with nature?

GreenWorks designed stormwater planter along the TriMet Orange line

GreenWorks designed stormwater planter along the TriMet Orange line

On the stormwater side we are helping the teams decide where to put the required water storage and filtration features, in an aesthetically pleasing, and cohesive way. Our job is to say, “Here’s an opportunity for putting stormwater into a planting strip along the tracks or in places where other, transit-oriented development can’t be placed.” We also help the group make decisions with long-term maintenance costs in mind.

GreenWorks and engineers on the project are working together on an integrated approach to locating these facilities within the project footprint in a way that leaves space for transit-oriented development, affordable housing, or other urban features.

GW: What do you enjoy most about working on the project?

JD: Our Urban Design team has 21 firms on it. It’s great collaborating with other landscape architects, Trimet, the transit design team, and the other various agencies, all working on challenging issues like stormwater and habitat enhancements. I really enjoy talking to other technical experts, seeing how these big decisions are made. Being at the beginning of the project is exciting.

A big challenge is the changing stormwater regulations. The new requirements mean a lot more stormwater will need to be stored as part of the project. That means bigger facilities and that means we’ll have challenges finding space. It’ll be fascinating to see how we solve it and integrate stormwater with development.

GW: What is something special GreenWorks is contributing to the project?

We celebrated stormwater by bringing it into the common areas at Reed’s Crossing, a new community in South Hillsboro, Oregon

We celebrated stormwater by bringing it into the common areas at Reed’s Crossing, a new community in South Hillsboro, Oregon

JD: GreenWorks brings a lot of thought to the process of deciding where stormwater facilities will be located and what the aesthetic value will be. We’re thinking about it not only for the riders of the train, but also for those that live in those communities. Stormwater along the transit line will bring an educational component to help people understand how stormwater works. At GreenWorks, we like to celebrate stormwater. We want it to be an amenity of the project.

GW: What’s an interesting part of the project you think people don’t know about, but should?

JD: We are working on the pre-planning stages (not construction) for Marquam Hill Connector. There will be a stop along the line at the proposed Gibbs Station, below OHSU, where we will have to get huge numbers of people up the hill to the hospital. We’ve been studying the environmental impacts of the various design options. Is it going to be an elevator and bridges? Is it going to be a funicular? Is it a tunnel? We’re studying the environmental impacts of each connector type and supplying decision makers with important information.

We prepared an Environmental Baseline Report in conjunction with Pacific Habitat Services, where we quantified vegetation, determined constraints and opportunities at the site, and looked at potential mitigation options. One mitigation option proposed is the removal of invasive weed species to create more native Oak habitat, in coordination with Portland Parks & Recreation’s existing management plans. Many groups are involved in the process, including Trimet, Metro, City of Portland Bureaus of Environmental Services, Transportation, and Parks & Recreation; the Friends of Terwilliger; The Department of Veterans Affairs; and Oregon Health & Science University.