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I-5/99W connector hits some bumps

The connector project's steering committee will be working again on the Purpose and Needs Statement

TUALATIN - A road meant to alleviate problems existing in the southwest metro communities seems to be creating some divisive problems of its own.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden admits that, even to him, actions and statements made by residents and officials of Tualatin and Wilsonville show a definite difference in opinion on how the Interstate 5/99W connector project should progress.

In Wilsonville, the chamber of commerce adopted a policy position that opposes any design for the I-5/99W connector project that connects to the Wilsonville exit 286 interchange.

A month earlier, Tualatin City Council members were irritated that the city of Wilsonville is moving forward on concept planning north of Day Road. Some councilors took that first stage of planning as a thinly veiled attempt to push away possible alignments for the I-5/99W connector route from being positioned between the two cities.

But Ogden believes that the two cities actually have some common ground on the connector project.

The I-5/99W connector - a road that would connect motorists directly from Interstate 5 to Highway 99W - is close to being recognized as an urban legend by local residents. The concept has been on the city of Tualatin's Comprehensive Plan since 1979, and most longtime residents remember the first attempt at the connector, which was abandoned more than 20 years ago because of the large price tag associated with it.

But when the Oregon Transportation Commission designated the connector road as 'a project of statewide importance' in 2005, funding seemed to be a possible goal. However, now the issue seems to be just agreeing on what problem a connector road should solve and how.

'We're not interested in a solution that makes Tualatin better and Wilsonville worse,' Ogden said, referring to Wilsonville's concern about a connector that would usher traffic to I-5 at its exit 286 interchange.

Less than two weeks ago, Ray Phelps, who represents the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce on the project's Stakeholder Working Group, wasn't so sure that the project favors Wilsonville's interest.

Going into the connector project, project group members were told that the connector project would be started afresh with a clean slate. But to Phelps and several other members of the Wilsonville community, the slate still had one clear image.

'You look at the material and the project map, and you're left with one conclusion,' Phelps said. 'The Wilsonville 286 interchange (at I-5).'

So from the beginning, Phelps said he was skeptical of a fair and open public process where all alternatives would be given equal weight.

Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan believes that the connector project has gotten ahead of the data, noting that traffic count studies detailing the type of traffic traveling east to west and west to east between the two main highways, was not complete. Lehan's concern centered on what problem a connector project would address: local or regional traffic?

The project's purpose and needs statement has been kicked back to the project's steering committee. Members of the Metro council reportedly had questions on it.

Tualatin City Engineer Mike McKillip noted that the group would again consider just what problem the connector road would be expected to correct and just how broad or narrow the focus should be.

'Until we know which problem to focus on, we can't decide whether to build or where to build the road,' Lehan said referring again to the yet-to-be-reported-on traffic studies. 'It makes the process frustrating for everyone.'

And the policy position issued by the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce created even more frustration. Officials in Tualatin viewed it as sign that the Wilsonville community is completely against a connector road.

'The chamber's position is not 'no,'' Phelps said. 'It's a concern about an interchange and not about a connector.'

Two weeks ago Ogden and Phelps had a long discussion about the connector project in which Phelps conveyed his concern that the process for the project was not being completely open and trustworthy.

Ogden said he was surprised by Phelps' comments. Ogden pledged to Phelps that the cities would work together in an atmosphere of trust for the project.

Phelps said he believes that the process will now be more honest since his talk with Ogden.

'Yeah,' Phelps added. 'I expect the process to be more positive.'