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Metro focus on math is flawed

Editorial

With unemployment exceeding 12 percent in Oregon, few people will openly question the need to make room for more jobs in the state's economic center - the Portland region.

But we encourage the Metro regional government to more broadly contemplate how much land will be needed for new jobs in the next 20 years.

Metro is projecting that there will be between 1.25 million and 1.7 million additional jobs in the seven-county region that surrounds Portland by 2030. And true to its bureaucratic form, Metro has used a mathematical formula to determine these new jobs will require up to 82 million square feet of industrial space and between 99 million and 182 million square feet of non-industrial space.

Some Metro officials use these numbers to argue that the region's urban growth boundary already includes enough land to accommodate those jobs.

But such an exclusive focus on the math cannot possibly answer the questions Metro ought to be asking. These include: Is the land in places where employers want to locate and is it available for use when needed? Are local communities willing to accept the types of jobs and employers that might come? Are we focused on jobs that will build on the region's present economic strengths, such as high tech, manufacturing, solar technology and transportation?

Intellectual exercises are fine - as far as they go. But investing in achieving the region's future economic needs will require something more than simply adding up the numbers.

Money for roads: no earmarks required - Passing legislation to take care of Oregon's roads and to stimulate the state's economy must be a top priority of the 2009 Legislature. Yet we agree with Gov. Ted Kulongoski that the $300 million transportation package making its way through the Legislature cannot become Oregon's version of a pork-barrel spending bill.

The governor recently threatened to veto a transportation bill that he initiated. Kulongoski is rightly concerned that some legislators and transportation interests might use the package as a means to fund specific projects. Traditionally, the Oregon Transportation Commission decides which projects will be funded with the state's share of the money, while cities and counties make their own choices. This system has worked well and doesn't allow influential legislators to steer money to their districts at the expense of other regions.

The Legislature should use its power to decide how much money should be raised and specifically prescribe what traffic, congestion relief, safety, economic and environmental results it wants to achieve. And then it should hold state, city and county agencies accountable to get the job done.

I-5 bridge: Making it pretty is just one issue - We also agree with Kulongoski's recent comments regarding replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge between Portland and Vancouver.

The governor two weeks ago said the debate about the design of the Columbia River Crossing was distracting from the project's true value - which is to create jobs in the short term and improve the region's economy and mobility in the longer term.

Kulongoski is correct. The aesthetic appeal of the new bridge is but one decision the region must make regarding this $4 billion project. Of more immediate importance is determining what the project will include besides the bridge itself - such as interchanges leading up to the crossing.

And, of course, the most critical question is whether officials from Oregon and Washington have the tenacity and ability to decide how to pay for it - including the possibility of tolling.