Featured Stories

Connector study says no mega highway needed

Existing street grid will only need modifications to enhance traffic flow

An independent study to determine the best way to funnel motorists from Interstate 84 to Highway 26 is in, and the results may come as a surprise to East Multnomah County residents.

Instead of recommending one single connector or parkway along four proposed routes - 181st and 257th avenues, 238th/242nd Drive and Fairview Parkway - the study says no such mega road is needed.

The study, also known as the East Metro Connections Plan, determines that money will be better spent improving major thoroughfares across East Multnomah County.

This approach is more cost effective but also spreads the 'burdens and benefits' of growth across cities and jurisdictions, said Shirley Craddick, who represents East Multnomah County on the Metro Council.

Talk of a major highway linking I-84 and Highway 26 dates back decades and is based on a long-held assumption that the region needed one single connection to meet growing traffic demand, both from motorists and 18-wheelers hauling freight.

But the cities that make up East County - Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview - couldn't agree on the best place for such a major connector. Wood Village officials also balked when 238th/242nd stood out as the preferred route.

Meanwhile, possible funding for such a project was routed elsewhere in Oregon.

After the cities joined forces to request a regional study for the corridor concept, Metro Regional Government agreed in 2009 to fund the $1 million study.

All jurisdictions that are part of the plan area - Multnomah County, Metro, and the four cities - contributed to pay for the study.

The steering committee tasked with conducting the study held its final meeting Wednesday, June 6, and approved sending its recommendations to local city councils, Multnomah County commissioners and the Metro Council.

Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview city councils, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and the Metro Council are scheduled to consider endorsing the plan at various meetings throughout the summer.

If approved by local jurisdictions, the East Metro Connections Plan will complement already existing local and regional transportation plans and capital improvement programs.

Study focus

The study focuses on projects needed to meet projected traffic demand through 2035 and includes 120 projects within 16 areas across East Multnomah County. Projects are intended to support economic and community development, provide better access to employment areas and improve overall access, mobility and safety.

'Is there going to be construction tomorrow?' Craddick posed. 'No.'

That is partly due to the study's broad 25-year time frame and the fact that recommended improvements are not funded.

But the hope is the plan's new collaborative approach puts East County on firmer footing to apply for increasingly scarce federal transportation dollars earmarked for regional transportation investments, all while supporting local land use plans and preserving natural resources, said Dave Shields, who represents Mt. Hood Community College on the steering committee.

Funding is now limited to transportation projects with regional significance, Craddick said. 'The pet project in Gresham or the pet project in Troutdale don't count any more,' she said.

In terms of connecting I-84/Highway 26, the study recommends focusing on the existing grid system across East County to make it more efficient through better signal timing and transit service, such as a rapid transit bus to Mt. Hood Community College.

The steering committee found that traffic was already very well distributed throughout the area and that only 4 percent of traffic is freight-traffic passing through East County.

It recommends investing $5 million to $9 million to widening 238th/242nd Drive, which would further distribute traffic from semi trucks and freight now driving on other East County roads. Now, the street's curves and steep grade make it too dangerous for trucks longer than 40 feet to use.

The study considered an option to create a straight road beginning at the southern curve to the left of Cherry Park Safeway that would connect to Northeast Halsey Street.

But because of the hillside's steep grade, such a road would require a 1,200-foot-long elevated structure - think huge overpass - costing upward of $40 million.

Instead, the committee recommended widening the existing lanes of traffic, adding sidewalks and bike lanes and creating better drainage.

Recommended improvements to 238th/242nd Drive are not limited to the area just south of I-84. They are proposed to extend all the way south to better link Clackamas County, and include plans to widen Hogan Road/242nd Drive.

Not only would an improved grid system allow for better motorist mobility and product transportation, it would provide better access to current and future employment areas - the Columbia Cascade River District north of I-84, the new and still-under-construction Gresham Vista Business Park at the old LSI site and the yet-to-be developed Springwater area, which is envisioned as a green industry hub south of Gresham.

Areas affected by the plan - such as Damascus, Happy Valley and Clackamas County - also were taken into consideration, and make up the plan's 'impact area.'

Other partners include the Oregon Department of Transportation, TriMet, Metro, Port of Portland and groups representing business interests, neighborhoods, the community and environment.