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Metro needs to stop, listen to residents

Key items appear to be missing from draft

Metro officials are traveling a slippery slope as they take initial steps to dramatically alter the region's transportation plan at the same time the Portland metro area updates how it will accommodate more than a million additional residents living here in the next 20 years.

Disturbingly, a draft Metro transportation vision has the definite appearance of being more focused on achieving the regional government's land-use objectives. Missing, we feel, is an equal emphasis on public priorities for enhanced safety, reduced congestion and maintaining existing roads and highways.

Also glaringly absent is an understanding that the region's transportation system serves an entire state economy that is dependent upon effective transportation connections linking Oregon to the rest of the nation and the world.

It's not a contest

While the vision calls for a focus on the entire transportation system, we sense a willingness within Metro to pit different forms of transportation systems against one another.

A recent Metro public opinion survey did as much when it asked respondents whether they would be willing to put 'less money into roads and highways and more money into alternative forms of transportation that encourage community developments with housing, employment and stores in close proximity.'

While 63 percent answered 'yes' to that question, their response cannot be interpreted as a rejection of road investments.

In the same survey, 91 percent of respondents also said they were 'very willing' or 'somewhat willing' to pay for maintaining existing roads, highways and bridges, and 68 percent were 'very willing' or 'somewhat willing' to pay for adding more lanes of traffic on major highways.

The survey also showed support for investments in transit, sidewalks and bike paths.

The public gets it, even if Metro's initial draft vision doesn't. The region needs balanced investments in a variety of transportation systems. These systems should be tied together in ways that enhance safety, preserve the region's infrastructure, serve the economy and reduce congestion.

Instead, Metro's vision calls for a grid of local streets interspersed with major local arterials and a ring of transit service connecting regional centers and town centers.

Such a plan may seem cutting-edge on paper, but can it be built, and at what expense?

People uneasy about vision

Metro's vision initially is not being well-received in some circles. Regional business leaders and Port of Portland officials are concerned with its direction. Several city and county officials in the area have expressed unease with the proposal. And at least one federal highway administration official has said the plan's vision focuses on land use, not transportation outcomes, and neglects to include highway expansion as part of an improved system.

Such concerns should be heard, understood and fairly dealt with by Metro.

Looking forward, the region needs leadership and investment in a balanced transportation system that serves land-use outcomes, but first and foremost is rooted in safety and effectively moves people and commerce in a variety of ways.

A leadership commitment to such a direction and investment must be demonstrated before Metro and city and county officials travel to Washington, D.C., in early March to brief Oregon's congressional delegation and federal officials on the region's transportation needs.

Otherwise, going to Washington may only serve to point how out far apart Metro and its regional partners may be drifting.