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I-5/99W connector troubles point to growing problem

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It comes with little surprise that officials in Tualatin and Wilsonville may differ over how to improve connections between Interstate 5 and Highway 99W and relieve traffic congestion through Tualatin and Sherwood.

Local, county, regional and state officials, along with local residents and business people, have been working for more that a year to sort out the needs and the opportunities related to this short bypass. This is but the latest effort to address the connector. Over the past decade and a half, several attempts have been made to consider this limited bypass.

The conclusion?

For many good reasons, there hasn't been one. Connecting I-5 and 99W is no easy task. It would require significant improvements to either the existing North Wilsonville or Tualatin interchanges - or a new interchange altogether. Once the connector leaves the freeway, either existing roads would need to be widened or a new highway through existing business, rural and residential areas would be required.

Any solution would require compromise.

It doesn't help that Wilsonville and Tualatin continue to have difficulty over land use matters or policies that affect both cities - including the I-5/99W connector. Or that Sherwood and Tigard focus on specific needs and community strategies that suit their own communities. It only takes one city to make things difficult. Unfortunately in matters such as these, it is not unusual for the city of Wilsonville to stand alone on matters such as transportation, industrial land or land use and express its own point of view without much consideration of how its own policies play throughout the region.

Any solution also would require an infusion of confidence and trust among local officials. Trust that individual improvements such as the connector are but one step in a comprehensive, ongoing effort to improve traffic flow and land use. But such trust is rare. And there appears to be little confidence that anyone can figure out what the right solution is.

The result is that little gets done when complicated matters like the connector involve as many players as four cities, the county, Metro and the state. This is when 'politics of no' or the politics of special interests take over.

Unfortunately, disagreements such as these take on broader implications that may be very harmful. In this instance, the heavy lifting done by Washington County Chair Tom Brian and others to get the state of Oregon to designate the connector as a project of statewide significance may become at risk. As such, the connector is one of just a handful of big scale projects that have been granted more state interest and a better chance of being built than many other projects. Without progress, when does the state drop the connector from its list?

Brian's efforts are also important because they wisely seek a solution to a matter of congestion that has long stymied Tualatin and Sherwood for years and has contributed to congestion on Pacific Highway through much of Tigard.

What is needed is improved cooperation and direct, honest communication among those involved in this study. That will offer a chance that real transportation solutions may occur and benefit all of the local cities and the region. Without such an effort, another 15 years or more will pass and growth in individual cities will create even less future opportunity to settle matters together.

We don't blame individual cities, nor their mayors, for first representing their own community's needs. However, the I-5/99W connector is at a point where study participants must grow to become regional statesmen and work together to determine together the best ways to improve matters for all.