"OHSU is one of the largest employers in Oregon and it needed to expand its campus, either outside the city or off Marquam Hill down to the waterfront," says Jonas M. Allen, spokesman for Portland Aerial Transportation Inc., a civic organization that serves as consultant to the city, which owns the project. "After eight years of study, it was decided to go with the tram and develop the waterfront to keep OHSU."

AGPS Architecture Inc., Los Angeles, was selected unanimously from a field of four in March 2003 to design the tram. Doppelmayr CTEC Inc., Salt Lake City, will supply the cars, engineering and training. The tram stations were designed originally with hewn wooden timber members on the upper and lower terminals and intermediate cable tower but the architect switched to steel because of cost and supply issues.

"Early on in the competition, it was timber with steel connections but once we started detail work, we switched to steel because of technical and cost issues," says Mark K. Motonaga, AGPS associate. "The tolerance for the tram was very stringent, particularly at the upper station, which is about 180 to 200 ft tall, and the tower, which is about 190 ft tall. The primary issues were wind-induced motion and seismic-event design that required a stiffer structure."

The upper station is 5,000 sq ft while the lower station is 4,700 sq ft. Both are open steel and metal mesh clad structures.

Flying High. New 3,400-ft-long aerial tram will link an existing school campus on a hill with riverfront property needed for expansion. (Rendering above and top courtesy of AGPS Architecture)

Two 79-passenger electric-powered cars will be able to shuttle about 900 passengers per hour on the three minute trip, which includes a 498-ft vertical rise. There are four cables, two per car, that operate like railroad tracks. The cars will go between but not around the terminals. A third cable, called a haul rope, provides propulsion when the car clamps onto it.

Transit time was critical. "Connecting the two campuses in a timely manner over a canyon-like terrain was a major criteria," says Motonaga. A $4-million pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 5 and linking an historic district to the new neighborhood also is part of the project but funded separately. I-5 severed the district from the riverfront about 50 years ago.

Kiewit Pacific Co., Vancouver, Wash., was tapped as construction manager/general contractor in May 2005. Excavation now is under way for the terminals even though steel and shoring prices are over budget. "The foundation will include 70 drilled reinforced concrete shafts 50 ft long for the upper station and about 30, 35 to 55-ft-long shafts at the lower station," says Art Pearce, assistant project manager for Portland Office of Transportation. "We have had some items including structural steel and concrete come in over budget and we are seeking solutions including value engineering and additional funding." The project has a September 2006 completion.

The school plans on ultimately building four waterfront structures, says Rachel K. MacKnight, OHSU spokeswoman. "It’s a 20-year plan that will help transform Portland into a national biomedical research center," she says. OHSU is nearing completion of a $216-million hospital expansion project on the hill and initially is building a $145-million multi-purpose medical structure on the waterfront. Both will be near the tram stations.

Several developers already have high-rise condominium projects under way. "The tram will eventually bring in $2 billion in private development to the city," says Allen. "The city and private developers are also reclaiming the waterfront. They built a bioswale to clean storm-water entering the river and to restore fish habitat and are reclaiming a brownfield from an old industrial area. It’s a merger of the old economy with the new economy because a barge firm is still located there."

roundwork has finally started on a $40-million aerial tram that will help Portland develop its riverfront area and keep a major employer in town. The 3,400-ft-long tram will link the Marquam Hill campus of Oregon Health & Science University with a Willamette River 20-block urban renewal area located at the bottom of steep hills. The area will become home to a new campus and neighborhood called South Waterfront.