City News

Transit advocates again push for commuter rail between Beaverton and Salem

For years, Salem transit advocates have hoped to connect Salem to Wilsonville, Beaverton and Portland by commuter rail.

They’re hoping the project will prevail with more support in the 2024 legislature.

A bill in the state legislature seeks a $500,000 study by the Oregon Department of Transportation on how to expand TriMet’s Westside Express Service rail that goes from Beaverton through Tigard to Wilsonville.

If passed, it could add stops in Donald, Woodburn, Keizer and Salem. The study, due this December, would consider the feasibility of using existing tracks on the route, including the former Oregon Electric Railway line, and building new ones.

The rail stops would give commuters along Interstate 5 more options besides sitting in the car in traffic.

“Cherriots is all about multi-mobility,” said Maria Hinojos Pressey, Cherriots board president. The transit agency is lobbying for the bill. “We specifically placed the Keizer transit center next to rail lines with the idea that we could have a platform there and we could connect folks from the train into our bus service and the rest of the city at large,” she said.

The center was built in 2013. “This is something that’s been on Cherriots’ mind for a while,” she said.

Similar bills hoping to expand the rail line in 2019 and last year, died in committees without getting the money. This year, Cherriots leaders say there’s more widespread support for the bill than previously. 

Hinojos Pressey, said that support was shown during a public hearing on Feb. 13, which drew comments in favor of the project from cities along the proposed route, transit advocates and commuters.

“I think that’s the first time in a long time I’ve been in a room where everybody is like, ‘Yes, please do this thing,’ and everyone’s in agreement,” she said. Of around 80 pieces of written testimony submitted for the hearing, just nine were in opposition.

The bill’s six chief sponsors include Rep. Kevin Mannix of north Salem, Rep. Tom Andersen of south Salem. Senators Deb Patterson, D-Salem, and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, have also signed on as sponsors.

The cities of Salem, Keizer, Woodburn, Wilsonville, Hubbard and Donald wrote letters in support of the bill, along with the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments who would manage the advisory committee if it’s passed.

In his letter of support, Mayor Chris Hoy said that the rail service would help the city meet its environmental goals.

“The possible extension provides a reliable car-free option for the Willamette Valley and an alternative to traveling by car on I-5, reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he wrote.

Last year, Cherriots said establishing who would run the rail service was one of the largest hurdles the project faced. Hinojos Pressey said the hope is to create another transit entity to run it. She said that TriMet testified that they’re neutral on the bill but don’t have the capacity to run the whole thing.

The bill is currently in the Joint Committee on Transportation, and will be referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Last year’s similar bill, HB 2662, passed the transportation committee unanimously, but never made it to a vote in the Ways and Means Committee.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.