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Speaker offers us a roadmap to solutions

A voice of common sense, urgency and leadership offered last week in Beaverton provides an effective roadmap for Oregonians - and Washington County residents - to begin addressing mounting transportation problems, including proposed improvements to Highway 217 which at this point may cost upwards of $525 million and take until 2089 to fund.

The call to action was offered by Stuart Foster, the volunteer chairman of the Oregon Transportation Commission, while talking to a transportation summit meeting held by the Westside Economic Alliance.

Frankly, we cannot find much to disagree with Foster, who said that the state's list of highway projects is large and growing larger and more expensive but that sources of needed funding don't come close to paying the bill.

'We need a lot more hay to feed the horse' to maintain existing roads and also improve and expand highways such as Highway 217 and Interstate 5 or build the Newberg-Dundee bypass and the I-5/99W connector linking Tualatin and Sherwood.

'We need to start aggressively working now - not in 25 years, but now. Waiting for 25 years will absolutely not work.'

Foster's solutions, however, may tweak a few people who feel that simply adding more roads and more lanes of traffic is the total solution. Or for a community that views its project as the most important and the plan needing to be built in the most complete, first class way.

'We cannot afford a Cadillac when we only can afford a Chevy,' Foster said. What does that mean for projects that Washington County folks favor such as improving Highway 217? 'We cannot afford all of the bells and whistles,' Foster said.

Instead, he urges fiscal restraint. Individuals and communities supporting projects need to begin scaling back their plans for new or improved highways and propose more modest solutions. Second, he said bigger highways are only part of the solution. He offered other ideas: ramp metering; freight lanes; removing some freeways ramps or intersections; freight travel lanes; improved alternative routes and better traffic accident responses.

Foster also said tolling is a reasonable idea for some projects and not only because tolls help raise revenue; he said that the price of a toll is directly proportionate to the cost of a project. As such higher tolls may prompt greater frugalness from a community and planners.

We applaud Foster's leadership because it mixes common sense, responsibility and urgency to the discussion of how our local and state highways are built, maintained and funded.

Hopefully, his message will propel others to join him in urgently and realistically moving Oregon forward.