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Road right of way must stay for now

At least one county official is urging the city of Troutdale to abandon a section of road right of way that someday could help make it easier to get from Interstate 84 to U.S. Highway 26.

The idea of selling the 8.35 acres of land has been kicked around for several years. And now that Multnomah County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts' legacy project - the East County justice center - is coming up short on funding, the right of way is again on the table as a possible solution to the shortfall.

But for anyone who hopes to see East Multnomah County avoid some of the gridlock so common on the Westside, the idea of giving up this right of way would seem short-sighted. We can think of several good reasons why both the Troutdale City Council and the Multnomah County commissioners should take a very long pause before moving ahead with any deal to sell the right of way to McMenamins Edgefield and the Reynolds School District.

Legal questions could arise

First, these officials should consider that this isn't solely a question of vacating the right of way and voting to sell it. The corridor is part of the city of Troutdale's transportation service plan. It also is part of the county's transportation plan, the Metro regional government's transportation plan and the state of Oregon's transportation plan.

Even if the city and the county go through the legal process of removing the corridor from their transportation plans, they could be challenged by other jurisdictions that want to preserve one of the options for a north-south connector between I-84 and U.S. 26.

Troutdale officials say they will leave it to Multnomah County to research the legal questions surrounding the potential sale of the land. That makes sense, since it is the county that is initiating discussions about the property. But before the county board of commissioners takes this matter to the next level, it also must weigh the political ramifications of selling a transportation asset at the very same time that it is appealing to the wider region for help with its bridges.

County must consider consequences

The region's transportation system is interconnected. The need to provide better access from I-84 to U.S. 26 is a priority for the city of Gresham, which hopes to develop land for jobs in the Springwater community.

An I-84-to-U.S. 26 connector also would benefit freight movement from the Portland area to Central Oregon. Funding for a corridor study - an important first step toward building a connector - could come in 2009, according to Metro Councilor Rod Park.

The Portland metro region has millions upon millions of public dollars invested in rights of way for future roads, and the expectation is that these corridors will be preserved for a time when they are needed. What kind of message would Multnomah County send if it casually gives up a chunk of right of way to solve a short-term budget problem? How can the county ask for the region's help in solving the county's major transportation issue - the bridges over the Willamette River - if it is not willing to respect regional transportation plans?

These are questions that county Chairman Ted Wheeler and his fellow commissioners must consider before signing off on a plan to sell the Troutdale right of way. Commissioners would do better to look for other funding to complete the justice center, or they could consider scaling back that project before selling off a public asset.

We have favored and will continue to favor the justice center being built in Rockwood. We also strongly support McMenamins' plans for expansion in Troutdale, and we recognize the needs of the Reynolds School District.

But it is absolutely no surprise to anyone that this land - which is west of McMenamins - has been set aside as a right of way. It should be left in place at least until a corridor study is completed to determine whether this is indeed the best route for the long-desired north-south connector.