Milwaukie Basks In MAX Orange Lines Economic Glow

Milwaukie Basks In MAX Orange Lines Economic Glow

One year in, and Milwaukie is already feeling the Orange Line's economic glow.


City officials say home sales and property values have seen double-digit growth, in no small part to the $1.4 billion TriMet light-rail line connecting Portland to Milwaukie.


The city was named the nation's ninth-hottest real estate market for 2016 by Realtor.com, which City Manager Bill Monahan chalked up in part to the opening of the Orange Line during a briefing to the city council this week.


Even compared to the greater Portland area's fast-moving real estate market, the real-estate website said Milwaukie is seeing homes sell in 24 days, almost twice as fast as elsewhere in the metro area.


The city surely benefited from being a close-in suburb with lower housing costs than within Portland's city limits. But Assistant City Manager Mitch Nieman said the biggest appreciation was near the light-rail line.


"We're finding residents moving here because they're being priced out of Portland," he said, "and they're starting businesses because their businesses are being priced out of Portland," he said. 


The demand has driven listed home prices 12.2 percent higher, according to Realtor.com, but the median home price, at $309,000, remains about 25 percent lower than the metro area as a whole.


The city, meanwhile, has also seen its downtown retail corridor fill up. There are "virtually zero vacancies" in downtown retail storefronts, Nieman said.


And, he said, the Orange Line also has renewed interest in an industrial corridor located next to the alignment.


Sock It to Me, a maker of whimsical socks and other apparel, moved from Southeast Portland to the North Milwaukie Industrial Area in April in part because of the Orange Line.


"I'm one of probably 10 to 15 percent of employees who rely on public transit exclusively," said Sarah Jean Charniak, the company's marketing manager. "Finding a location in general that met our office and warehouse needs and also had access to public transit was a really big challenge."


Meanwhile, Monahan told the City Council on Tuesday, an uptick in crime predicted by the city's former police chief hasn't come to pass.


The first year, however, has had its share of challenges: Ridership numbers are lower than projected, and TriMet is trying to shore up poor reliability on the MAX system as a whole — in part through weekslong disruptions for repairs. Some who once had a one-seat bus ride into downtown Portland now have to transfer.


Overcrowding at the Orange Line's Park & Ride facilities has been a persistent problem. Both the garage at the Southeast Park Avenue terminus in Oak Grove and the lot at the Southeast Tacoma/Johnson Creek station usually fill to capacity on weekdays.


The project originally called for more parking at both locations, but TriMet pared back parking when the Federal Transit Administration only agreed to fund 50 percent of the project rather than 60 percent.


That's led to commuters parking in residential side streets. TriMet has leased 150 parking spaces from the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge, located next to the 402-space Park Avenue Garage. The transit agency is paying $97,200 over three years.


TriMet also asked the federal government for permission to use some leftover funds for the project, which came in about $48 million under budget, to add parking, but the request was denied, said David Unsworth, TriMet's project development and permitting director.


It is using some of the leftover funds to install more shelters at stations along the line. Whatever goes unused for that and other last-minute additions will be returned to the various contributing agencies, likely in 2018.


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Dated: November 10th 2016
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