ODOT officials say the agency is not alone in addressing traffic congestion problems
by: Jaime Valdez, A CITY DIVIDED – Congestion at the intersection of Pacific Highway and Greenberg Road in Tigard, seen here, is hoped to ease following improvements to the intersection planned to begin this summer.

TIGARD - City officials are hoping a campaign intended to pressure the Oregon Department of Transportation will push the state agency to move Pacific Highway improvements near the top of its project priority list.

'It is the most heavily trafficked surface highway in the entire state, and yet ODOT, to our way of thinking, has not addressed it,' said City Manager Craig Prosser. 'We're going to start pressing real hard to make this a priority.'

But whether the state or the city should bear the burden of untangling the four-mile stretch of congested pavement that slices straight through the city's heart is open for debate.

Dave Thompson, a spokesman for ODOT, said the city has the lead responsibility to lobby for priority projects through the Area Commission on Transportation.

In ODOT's Region 1, which includes the Portland metropolitan area, the Metro-housed Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation leads the charge on vetting projects for priority. From those meetings, the final list is passed on to the Oregon Transportation Commission, a governor-appointed body, for funding approval and work commitment.

'ODOT certainly helps administer a lot of those meetings, but by no means is ODOT making the decision all by themselves,' Thompson said.

In the past, Tigard officials have been slow to step up and make its voice heard through that process, something Prosser readily admits.

'We do have a responsibility to bring up the issues regionally here, and quite honestly, in the past, we have not done as good of a job of that as we could have,' Prosser said.

Pacific Highway through Tigard has peak traffic levels around 53,800 vehicles at the city's north end, with a drop off to 44,700 vehicles on the south end, according to ODOT data. With so much commuter traffic, it has created a headache, to say the least, for the people living here.

Thompson said that Tigard is immersed in a not-uncommon scenario when it comes to its relationship with Pacific Highway.

'It's a classic issue that you're seeing all over the state, and in fact all over the nation,' Thompson said. What once served as a farmer's highway into a neighboring city has spawned its own rapidly growing community. By the time traffic has hit a critical threshold, the root problems - overstock of access points, poor pedestrian routes, bottleneck intersections - are already cemented in place.

Last July, a $200,000 ODOT-funded improvement and management plan put together by a citizen's advisory group on the section of Pacific Highway through Tigard identified possible traffic solutions. After a first viewing, the City Council suggested additions to the plan, which is expected to make its way back in front of the council in the near future, Prosser said.

The council has to adopt the plan before any of its proposed solutions will become an ODOT priority, Thompson said.

A second ODOT sponsored action on the state project list through 2011 involves filling in gaps in sidewalks along Pacific Highway for safety purposes, an $850,000 project.

Some immediate efforts to ease the traffic woes along Pacific Highway include the city's intersection improvement at Greenberg Road and the county-planned project at Hall Boulevard. Prosser said those two projects, both expected to undergo design work this summer, should unplug a major bottleneck within the city.

Because of a projected revenue shortfall from gas-tax collections, Prosser said the city intends to leave the 3-cents-per-gallon tax in effect beyond its original five-year sunset date to ensure the $5 million is collected to improve the Greenberg Road intersection. A city-sponsored survey released in November found that 36 percent of residents polled favor extending the tax. Another 21 percent said to increase the tax to cover the cost of the project, while 31 percent said to reduce the scope of the project. Only 3 percent called for terminating the tax.

The city is expected to finance the improvement based on projected revenue from the gas tax.

The survey data hasn't stopped complaints at many of the city's 14 service stations that charge for the tax revenue, however.

'I blame it (the tax), when people ask me why (our gas prices) are so high,' said Steve Collins, a worker at the 76 Station on the corner of Walnut Street and Pacific Highway.

In the 20- or 30-year planning range, Prosser said some solutions to ease Pacific Highway's traffic woes and its antagonistic relationship with pedestrians includes scaling back access points to businesses along the highway, instead focusing on communal driveways into shared islands of commercial, and concentrating on high-density housing.

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