Portland's Aerial Tram: 10 years transforming OHSU and South Waterfront

It rises to a height of 500 feet above Interstate 5 and the Lair Hill neighborhood, and since it opened in January 2007, the OHSU Aerial Tram has transformed healthcare, the landscape of an entire section of Portland and its economy.

Since it opened in January 2007, it has handled 16 million riders, including 2.1 million in 2016. Next week, there are a series of events celebrating the tram's 10-year anniversary.

“In the past 10 years we've invested a billion dollars in new buildings in South Waterfront,” said Brian Newman, vice president of campus development. “And we've got 2,000 employees in South Waterfront -- that number will double over the next three years.”

Newman said that includes 1 million square feet of new buildings, with another 1 million square feet now under construction.

Newman said the tram is an essential part of the hospital and the burgeoning growth at South Waterfront.

“Look at the weather event we had last week,” Newman said. "Because of the ice and snow, a lot of people relied on the Tram, it was their lifeline to get to Marquam Hill. In the past they would have had much more difficulty.”

And without the Tram, Newman says, the rapid growth of South Waterfront might not have happened.

Now many OHSU workers, doctors, nurses and fellows live in apartments or park their bikes at the bottom for the 4-minute ride to the top.

“We've grown and this is our home, but we've really run out of land, which is why the Tram and our growth in South Waterfront is so essential to the future of the university,” Newman said.

The Tram's yearly operating budget is $2.4 million, with 85 percent of that cost paid for by OHSU. The remaining 15 percent is paid for with ticket sales through the city of Portland. The Tram has also become a destination for visitors.

“It's really allowed OHSU to have an extension of its campus at South Waterfront, and that's allowed us to grow in Portland and add jobs,” Newman said.

Next Monday at 6 p.m. at the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center in Portland, Newman along with other OHSU officials and an architect from the firm that won the design competition, will give a talk on the Tram's development.

OHSU will mark the anniversary on Saturday, Jan. 28.

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