Focusing on Washington County's transportation challenges
Anyone who lives or works in Washington County knows our transportation challenges.
Increased congestion is a consequence of being one of the fastest growing, most economically vibrant areas in the state. People and employers want to be here — which is great for job creation, but can present challenges to getting people to work and freight to market.
The congestion challenge is not going to get any easier. I participated in an advisory committee for the Washington County Transportation Futures Study recently. This study shows traffic congestion will more than double, and truck delay will quadruple in the county in the coming decades. The study also projects that many arterials will be over capacity as growth continues. Our freeways are expected to see the worst congestion. Improving these facilities will be both important and challenging. Finally, the study forecasts that demand for transit will triple, obviously increasing the demand for MAX frequency and more bus and shuttle-type services.
While that sounds daunting, important progress is happening. Two developments worth noting are the past legislative session in Salem and planning work for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project.
This month, Governor Kate Brown signed the largest transportation package Oregon has seen in decades. Westside Economic Alliance advocated strongly for the passage of this bill. It includes new funding for city and county road maintenance and moves forward some long-needed highway improvements. Highway 217 will see a significant investment, and the Legislature made a down payment on fixing the infamous I-5 Rose Quarter interchange. However, as important as this package is, there is more to be done to address the major congestion bottlenecks in the region.
The Southwest Corridor Project is equally important to the future of transportation and economic development for the area stretching from Portland to Tigard, Tualatin, and Sherwood. This project will be critical in helping get people to jobs and educational opportunities.
With more than 10 percent of the region's population, the corridor is expected to grow by 70,000 residents and 65,000 jobs by 2035. Employment in the area already numbers over 240,000, which is more than the population of Eugene. About 46,000 students attend universities and colleges in this corridor including PCC, OHSU, PSU, George Fox University, and the National University of Natural Medicine.
The corridor is also geographically challenged. With the Willamette River on one side and the West Hills on the other, there is little room to fit more auto lanes into the landscape. It is also the last major travel corridor in the region without a light rail line.
The Southwest Corridor Project is looking at the feasibility of locating a new light rail line in the area, roughly following I-5 and Southwest Barbur Boulevard from PSU to Tigard and Tualatin. The project steering committee includes elected WEA members such as mayors John Cook of Tigard, Denny Doyle of Beaverton, and Lou Ogden of Tualatin, and Metro Councilor and JPACT Chair Craig Dirksen. A community advisory committee is also looking at the project and includes local business leaders such as WEA's Chad Hastings from CenterCal Properties, Debi Mollahan of the Tigard Chamber, and Linda Moholt from the Tualatin Chamber.
Plans are still in the early stages, but a light rail line in the corridor could carry up to 40,000 riders per day and about 25 percent of current I-5 commuters leaving downtown Portland in the afternoon peak commute period. Approximately 14 stations and 3,000 park and ride spaces would allow easy access and fast commutes. New connections to the Tigard Triangle would increase development opportunity in this key employment center too.
Fixing highway bottlenecks, creating and improving opportunities for cyclists, making improvements in arterials, and extending light rail are all important for our current and future economic regional success. While the recent transportation bill was an important step, we are still well short of the investment levels needed to stave off worsening congestion. Cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver have adopted significant local funding measures to address their congestion challenges. It may be that the Portland region needs to examine these efforts and see if they provide an example for us to follow.
Throughout WEA's Transportation Month — and during the rest of the year — WEA looks forward to playing an important role, as the region grapples with our critical transportation challenges.
Pamela Treece is the executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. Her column appears monthly, addressing issues that are critical to the economic health of the Westside. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org