By Laura Gunderson
The Oregonian (Portland)
BEAVERTON -- For years, a voter-approved road program has
poured millions of dollars into projects too large for cities
to afford by themselves.
Washington County's Major Streets Transportation Improvement
Program originally was sold to voters in 1986 as a way to
fix congestion and safety problems, easing traffic in the
fast-growing county. Voters showed their approval by renewing
the tax in 1989 and 1995.
A couple of county commissioners want to broaden the program,
saying transportation today means more than driving.
Commissioners Dick Schouten and Roy Rogers say $500,000 should
be shaved from an upcoming $65 million round of projects and
be used instead to build a trail across Mount Williams, a
30-acre parcel they hope will be a new Beaverton park. If
the entire board of commissioners approves the plan later
this month, it would be the first time money from the program
would be used for anything other than a road project.
"I can see how a walking path could enhance a school's
neighborhood project or how a bus turnout could keep from
impeding traffic. Those are great projects that improve transportation,"
Rogers said. "To say you should only do street projects
is rather shortsighted on how to move traffic."
It's a debate county leaders plan to have during the next
year as they mull a more flexible transportation improvement
program. In recent months, county planners suggested changing
the new program's name, so as not to limit money to roads.
"Even when we had that discussion, we were still talking
clearly about keeping it in the transportation realm,"
said County Commissioner Andy Duyck, adding that he sees room
to expand the program to pay for larger rural road improvements,
bus turnouts and possibly parking garages.
"But it has to be able to pass the straight-face test
as a transportation project: something that will get cars
off the road."
He and other opponents of using the money for the path say
they're not anti-trail and support such projects when built
in conjunction with a road.
"We made a commitment to use this money for transportation,
and this is completely recreation," Duyck said. "If
we go this direction, it opens a Pandora's box of where this
money could be used."
Commissioners probably will discuss the proposal at their
Jan. 13 board retreat. They plan to vote on the final list
of major streets projects later this month.
In the past, voters approved a specific list of projects
with each tax levy. The county has nearly completed the 1996
projects, but after a change in the tax rules in 1997, it
continues to collect $20 million a year. That money goes to
the general fund but is designated for road work.
With an expected $65 million left at the end of four years,
county officials decided they could manage another short list
of projects. They assigned the Washington County Coordinating
Committee, a group of city and county leaders and planning
officials, the task of choosing. The group narrowed a long
list to 11 projects, keeping in mind available money, safety
concerns and equity throughout the county.
Committee members said they figured the $25 million assigned
to the Beaverton-to-Wilsonville commuter-rail line counted
as improvements to cities within its route. But Schouten,
who represents Beaverton and Aloha, said he thought his district
Creating a park Schouten said he and county planners could
not find a road project that could be completed with $500,000,
which would be taken from a $1.4 million proposal to design
and build an alignment of the Southwest 175th Avenue and Roy
Rogers Road intersection west of Beaverton. That project would
be designed, but construction would wait until the next major
streets round, which county officials plan to put before voters
in a couple of years.
Instead, Schouten began lobbying to use the $500,000 to buy
a ribbon of land across Mount Williams.
The county, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation and Beaverton
have worked with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to buy
the property near Southwest 158th Avenue and Davis Road from
owner Margaret Dernbach, 88.
Trust for Public Land officials recently extended their option
to buy the property through May 2004. They must pay half of
the $5.4 million asking price by that date and the remainder
by May 2005.
So far, the nonprofit's efforts to buy the land have raised
$600,000 from the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District,
$250,000 from Washington County and another $500,000 in grant
money. Beaverton officials have committed $1 million for the
park, where they plan to bury a water storage reservoir.
"With the MSTIP (major streets program), we have talked
about a mixture of different uses -- automobile, bikes and
pedestrians," Schouten said. "Certainly, spending
less than 1 percent for a regional trail system is quite appropriate."
Trails to mass transit Schouten argues the trail would help
link a series of trails, including Beaverton's Powerline Trail
and the Tualatin Hills Nature Park, to transportation routes
such as the MAX station near Merlo Road, the Murray Boulevard/Scholls
Ferry Road area and several bus lines.
"Young adults who are intrepid or really competent bike
riders don't mind riding along major arterials," Schouten
said. "But others, older people or not-so-confident riders,
don't like the noise and fumes. This kind of trail could be
used by folks who would rather not be in a bike lane along
Murray Road or 185th Avenue."
Schouten says the plan fits with transportation program goals
to benefit residents of more than one city.
The coordinating committee, made up of county and city leaders,
tentatively agreed to the trail and probably will pass the
idea along to commissioners with a request for guidelines
on handling similar requests in the future.
Commissioners usually accept and approve the committee's
This recommendation differs, however, because in the past,
the committee reviewed project proposals that residents had
helped compile and voters passed.
"No one has asked for this before," said Kathy
Busse, assistant director of the county's Department of Land
Use & Transportation. "There is the question that
if we'd had this discussion earlier, would there have been
more proposals like this?"