Steady yourself, Portland. The downtown transit mall goes under the jackhammer Jan. 14, as part of a $557.4 million project to add light rail between Union Station and Portland State University, as well as between Clackamas Town Center and Gateway Transit Center.

With the I-205/Portland Mall Project slated to rip up Portland's downtown for two years, moving bus lines off 5th and 6th avenues until spring 2009, we set out to answer three basic questions.

How will this affect commuters?

Many of the affected 65,000 daily commuters will be on bus lines now forced onto the already traffic-choked lanes of 3rd and 4th.

"I ride a skateboard, so I could almost use the extra skate sometimes," says bus commuter William Kohse. "I think it's going to slow a lot of people down, especially senior citizens, who will have to walk that little extra way."

One elderly woman who wouldn't give her name adds, "The buses are already hard enough for senior citizens—why do they have to make it more complicated?"

How will this affect businesses on 5th and 6th as well as 3rd and 4th?

If you're on 5th and 6th, you're obviously unhappy about the tear-up crippling foot and commuter traffic. "It is going to hurt us a lot," says Sahira Jabbary, manager at Michelle's convenience store on Southwest 5th.

TriMet says sidewalks will remain open, and it will hold promotions to help businesses affected by construction.

But if you're on 3rd or 4th, you're just as obviously ecstatic by the newly forced foot traffic in front of your business. What's bad for Jabarry is good for her brother, Yousif.

"[It's] excellent, actually,'' says Yousif Jabbary, owner of the 4th Ave. Smoke Shop downtown. "I love it. Double traffic means double business."

And why are we going through all this?

The project's website ( tells us the project will "transform Portland's aging transit mall into a vibrant and inviting place for residents, commuters and shoppers." Neat. But what about the complications now?

TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the transit agency has been communicating with riders for months, and will have staff on the streets all this month to explain the changes.

And she notes that Naito [Parkway] will be completely reopened by Jan. 14 to absorb new traffic from 5th and 6th.

Want to learn more and/or sound off? TriMet is holding an open house in the old Powell's travel bookstore at Pioneer Square on the project Thursday, Jan. 4, from 7 am to 7 pm.