Early freeway proposals
In 1955, the Oregon State Highway Department laid out the freeway development plan for the Portland metropolitan area, proposing the construction of the Mount Hood Freeway and Interstate 505, among others. Citizen protests and two other factors led to the eventual cancellation of both projects. First, an environmental impact study conducted in 1973 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill determined that the Mount Hood Freeway would have reached obsolescence by the time it was completed and would have added more traffic to downtown Portland than the surface streets could handle. Then, on February 4, 1974, U.S. District Judge James M. Burns formally rejected the plan after finding that the corridor selection process failed to follow the correct procedures. Amid mounting anti-freeway sentiment:18 and further delays to the project, the Portland City Council voted 4-to-1 to abandon the plan in July 1974.:20 Meanwhile, Northwest Portland residents fought in opposition to the Interstate 505 spur route, which the city council approved in 1971. Following a suspect environmental impact study, organizers from the Willamette Heights Neighborhood Association filed a class action in U.S. district court to halt the new freeway's construction, who were later joined by the Northwest District Association. Several years of drawn-out litigation ensued, keeping the project on hiatus. In December 1978, the city council withdrew its support for the proposal.
Transitway planning and construction
Redecking work on the Glisan Street ramp of the Steel Bridge
The passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1973 allowed state governments for the first time to transfer federal funds from canceled freeway projects to other transportation options, including mass transit.:20 In May 1973, Governor Tom McCall assembled a task force to determine potential alternative uses for the freeway funds and, in April 1974, the task force released a preliminary draft listing light rail and buses as modes under consideration. With the Mount Hood Freeway plan canceled, around $185 million of federal assistance became available in 1976 and was allocated to other projects across the region, including the Banfield Corridor, which received $60 million.:29 Another $15 million came from the canceled Interstate 505 project. Among five alternatives developed by the Highway Division, including the removal or various extensions of an existing high-occupancy vehicle lane, a busway, as first suggested by the Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG) in 1975, was originally favored for the Banfield transitway. Support for light rail on the corridor grew following the mode's inclusion as a sixth alternative in an environmental impact statement in 1977. In September 1978, TriMet became the first jurisdiction to adopt a resolution supporting a combined light rail and highway expansion plan. Remaining local jurisdictions each announced their support by November,:30 and the State Transportation Commission approved the project a month later.
The Banfield light rail project received federal approval for construction in September 1980.:36:31 Plans for the 27-station, 15.1-mile (24.3 km) line,[a] which ran from Southwest 11th Avenue in downtown Portland to just east of Cleveland Avenue in Gresham, were finalized by Wilbur Smith Associates in November 1981.:66:17 Part of this alignment, from 197th Avenue to the Gresham terminus, assumed acquisition of a 2-mile (3.2 km) section of Portland Traction Company (PTC) right-of-way. PTC agreed in August 1983 to surrender this segment as part of a longer abandonment up to Linnemann Junction, a total of 4.3 miles (6.9 km) of right-of-way, which TriMet bought for $2.9 million in December of that year. Anticipating 42,500 riders by 1990,:11 TriMet purchased 26 light rail vehicles from Bombardier, which started their production in 1982 and began delivering them in 1984. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca designed the stations and overpasses, earning the firm a Progressive Architecture Award in 1984.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place at Ruby Junction Yard in March 1982. Construction of the light rail line commenced in April 1983 on a 2-mile (3.2 km) section between Ruby Junction and downtown Gresham. In order to minimize costs, excavation for the tracks and freeway widening took place simultaneously along the Banfield segment. The Ruby Junction maintenance complex, which included the line's 98,000-square-foot (9,100 m2) maintenance and operations building, opened in July 1983.:33 Utility relocation and track work in downtown Portland, projected to cost $20.7 million, began in April 1984. The alignment crossed the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge and was one factor that necessitated the bridge's $10 million rehabilitation from 1984 to 1986. System testing followed the completion of downtown area construction and the Steel Bridge's reopening, which had been delayed for nine months, in June 1986.
Inauguration and later improvements
Gresham Central station in 1989, when the line section on which it is located was still single-track
On September 5, 1986, the $214 million (equivalent to $660 million in 2018 dollars) light rail line—now called Metropolitan Area Express (MAX)—opened for service. Federal transfer funds provided $178.3 million, 83 percent of the total cost, and the project was completed $10 million under budget. Its new name was selected through a public contest held by The Oregonian and TriMet in June 1986; the winning suggestion was made by TriMet designer Jeff Frane, who attributed inspiration to his son, Alex. Opening celebrations spanned three days and were attended by an estimated 250,000 people. Nine new bus lines were created and six existing bus routes were modified to feed the light rail stations. MAX trains initially operated between approximately 5:00 am and 1:00 am, with headways as short as seven minutes, and rides were free within Fareless Square from opening day until 2012. Projected to carry 12,000 riders per day, the line averaged around 22,000 during its first four days of regular operation and 18,000 by December 1986. Downtown retailers, many of whom had opposed light rail, reported substantial increases in sales following the line's opening.
An eastbound train seen running along Southwest Yamhill Street in downtown Portland in 1991
Since the inauguration of MAX, TriMet has added three infill stations to the original alignment. In March 1990, the opening of the Mall stations coincided with the opening of Pioneer Place in downtown Portland. That September, the Oregon Convention Center opened to the public with MAX service from Convention Center station. Work on the line's newest station, Civic Drive, started in 1997 as part of the Civic neighborhood development, but was delayed for approximately twelve years due to a lack of funding. Construction resumed in May 2010 and the station opened on December 1, 2010.
Most of the line's easternmost two miles (3.2 km), beyond the Ruby Junction maintenance facility, were originally built as bidirectional single-track.:319–320 Trains traveling in opposite directions were unable to pass on these sections, which led to delays when service ran behind schedule. In 1996, a second track was laid and a second platform was constructed at Gresham Central Transit Center, making the section double-track and eliminating the only single-track running on the Eastside MAX. The new track was brought into use in May 1996 after a three-month suspension of all MAX service east of Rockwood/East 188th Avenue station, replaced by shuttle buses, to allow the work to be carried out. In 2015, TriMet began renovations of fourteen of the system's oldest stations between Hollywood/Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center and Cleveland Avenue station. Renovations include the installation of new windscreens, shelter roofs, digital information displays, lighting, and security cameras. Three stations—Gresham City Hall, East 122nd Avenue, and East 162nd Avenue—have been renovated as of February 2019.