Mt. Hood transit system beefs up

The Mt. Hood Express, Timberline Lodge

The public-private partnership aims to improve mobility on the increasingly congested Highway 26 corridor.

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The Federal Land Access Program has approved new funding for the Mt. Hood Express, a public bus service that runs from the city of Sandy to Timberline Lodge. 

The Express will receive $899,000 over the next three years, said Teresa Christopherson, administrator of the Clackamas County Social Services Division.

The County administers the Express, which serves several communities along Highway 26. The service was initially approved in 2013 with funds from the FLAP program.

The new funding, approved in December, extends the service for an additional three years.

The money will also help support weekend service for the city of Sandy SAM bus on Saturdays and Sundays, Christopherson says.

Three private partners, Timberline, Ski Bowl and Resort at the Mountain, will kick in matching funds for the bus service, which costs $2 for a one-way ticket. In the previous funding cycle, the resorts contributed a total of $55,000, Christopherson says.

“We’re very excited about the new funding,” says John Burton, marketing manager for Timberline Lodge. On average 2 million people a year head to Timberline, he says.

“There has been a ton of growth in the last few years,” says Burton, who credits Portland’s population boom for the increase in visitors.  “We can’t hire enough ski instructors or get enough rentals for our rental shops.”

They can’t build more parking lots either. 

Depending on the weather, Timberline has about 1,000 to 1,100 parking spaces. “When those are full, the road closes,” Burton says.

He says the Mt. Hood Express, which stops at Timberline seven times per day, is “always full.”Screen Shot 2017 01 26 at 9.52.17 AM

About 11,000 cars travel Highway 26 between Sandy and Mt. Hood. During peak season in July, that number increases to 11,795.

The Express provided 10,000 rides in December, 2016. Ridership for the entire year was around 52,000, up from 41,000 the year before. “This has been an exciting winter,” Christopherson says. “The demand for service continues to grow and grow.”

Forty percent of Express riders are workers and people who live in the area. “We continue to meet a core service in community,” Christopherson says. “People use it to get to work, doctor’s appointments, other things.”

The balance of riders are recreational users: skiers, hikers, mountain bikers. The Express comes with bike trailers and ski boxes for riders to use.

Clackamas County is now partnering with ODOT and Columbia Area Transit (Hood River’s transit district) to complete a study analyzing the potential for service between Hood River and Government Camp, Christopherson says.

“This would provide a continuous loop around Mt. Hood.”

The County also received state funding to expand the Village Shuttle, which runs from Sandy to Rhododendron and offers more stops than the Express.

The Mt. Hood area is in dire need of transportation solutions, Burton says. “We need more federal funding, more regional and local grant opportunities. People realize we need something.”

This article is the second in a series about growth on Mt. Hood.