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Dream big – make the bypass longer

Regarding the article last Saturday, 'County Looks To Sell Land' and the desire of some of our elected officials to sell the right-of-way land set aside for a potential Highway 26 connector in Troutdale: This is a very short-sighted decision and one that will come back to haunt us years from now when it is determined that it is a needed arterial but the price is 20 times higher to get the land back.

I understand the concerns about the cost of the connector and the use of our tax dollars. As a Troutdale resident I understand the concerns of our City Council in wondering how exactly this bypass will benefit the citizens of Troutdale. That is where I think our elected leaders are thinking too small, however.

I would propose a crazy idea that goes in the exact opposite direction - I think the bypass should be longer. I believe there is a way that this bypass can become a major economic boon for this entire region, including Troutdale. And that is this - to extend the bypass a mere 2 miles farther to the north. Then, rather than a Highway 26/Interstate 84 bypass, make it a Highway 26 to Highway 14 bypass, taking it across the Columbia River and hooking up with Highway 14 running next to the Columbia River in Washington.

I'm sure that at first this sounds outrageous, knowing we aren't overflowing in available funds and seeing the enormous price tags for the I-5 bridge and the Sellwood Bridge. But I don't think it is something that can just be discounted at this time either. As a matter of fact I think this is the exact time to at least examine it before development takes over the area in that corridor and the opportunity as it currently exists is lost forever.

At the current time there is almost no development to compete with on the Oregon side between I-84 and the Columbia River, and none at all on the Washington side between the Columbia and Route 14. Therefore I cannot imagine it would cost anywhere close to what is being quoted for those other bridges, especially for a simple bridge without all the frills. And can you imagine the positive economic impact to East County in tying us together with the rapidly growing and prosperous Camas and Vancouver areas? The additional customers for Gresham Station or Wood Village Town Center or the new Troutdale Urban renewal area. Or how this would benefit the new Fed Ex complex in Troutdale or the other new Port of Portland facilities hoped for there or the new manufacturing growth taking place along Sandy Boulevard? I think those are just the beginnings of the economic expansion this opportunity could lead to.

It would also have a positive regional impact in taking a lot of pressure off the I-205 bridge and cut down on driving for those who need to go west on 14 to 205 and then east back down I-84 to the gorge or vice versa. And it would help with traffic going from downtown into East Clark County by moving some traffic, which constantly backs up trying to get onto 205 and push some of that eastward to the new bridge. If there is any road right now that can handle more capacity it is I-84 east from I-205 to the Sandy River.

Yes a bridge might be nice, but is it necessary? As a comparison let me use the Tri-Cities in Washington. With a population base almost exactly equal to that of Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village, Camas and Washougal, the Tri Cities has three bridges across the Columbia River - more than the entire Portland-Vancouver metro area has. No wonder ours are always so crowded.

And if the bypass crosses into Washington state, I would believe that far more would be available in federal funds for this project. East County is traditionally getting shorted and this is one area where I believe we should be working together towards something big that would benefit the entire region.

I cannot think of anything that would have a greater positive region-wide economic impact for our area than this. It is a major project, requiring long-term thinking. Do we have the leaders and the political will to bring it about? I don't know. But I do not apologize for dreaming a little bigger. I think that is something East Multnomah County has done too little of for far too long. And been worse off for it.

Jeffrey Erwin is a Troutdale resident.