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World's happiest county?

Disneyland is no longer the happiest place on Earth.

Washington County is.

At least, that’s the way it looks from a recent scientific survey of 400 county residents, in which 99 percent of them said the county was awn excellent or good place to live. Only 1 percent described it as a very poor place to live.

“Those are very high approval ratings,” said James Kandell, an associate with DHM Research, which conducted the survey. “Those are the kinds of figures we expect to see in a lifestyle community like Bend, where people move because they enjoy the outdoors.”

According to the survey, Washington County was rated an “excellent place to live” by 37 percent of respondents, and a “good place to live” by 62 percent. No one rated it a “poor place to live” or said they “don’t know.”

Kandell said the high satisfaction levels are consistent across all “demographic subgroups,” meaning there were no significant differences by gender, age, education or income level.

The survey was conducted for the county as part of the effort to update its Transportation System Plan. Kandell presented the results to the Washington County Coordinating Committee at its July 8 meeting. The committee includes representatives of all governments in the county and coordinates transportation spending.

The survey did not ask the respondents why they were so satisfied to live in Washington County. But it found that most of them were not embarrassed to say they live in the suburbs. Asked to self-identify their surroundings, 74 percent chose suburban, 13 percent chose rural and 12 percent chose urban.

The overwhelming satisfaction of living in the suburbs runs counter to much political commentary these days. Many pundits argue that people want to live in cities now. They claim that economic uncertainty and rising fuel prices have conspired to reduce the lure of suburban living. The survey results suggests that most Washington County residents don’t agree.

The telephone survey was conducted between April 4 and 7 and had a margin or error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Not all perfect

But not everything is perfect in paradise. Despite the high level of satisfaction, the survey found residents still have concerns about many issues.

Asked to respond to a list of issues facing the county, 60 percent of respondents said they were concerned about public education, including its quality and funding.

That response seems to validate the Washington County Commission’s recent decision to share economic development-related money it receives from the state with the schools. The commission has promised to give $10 million to school districts within the county over the next two years. The commitment was made to help preserve the revenue-sharing program at the 2013 Oregon Legislature.

Fifty-five percent of respondents also said they were concerned about jobs and the economy, and 46 percent said they were concerned about transportation-related issues — including congestion, public transportation and the cost of gas.

Congestion surfaced as a concern in other survey questions, too. Seventy-three percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed with the following statement: “I’d like to see the county widen roads and build new roads to reduce traffic congestion.”

In addition, about one-third of respondents — 32 percent — strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement: “I often stay close to my home because the roadways in my area are too congested.”

Offered a range of transportation management options, the largest block of respondents — 40 percent — agreed with the statement, “A mixed approach with improving roads and highways, improving public transportation and encouraging telecommuting and flexible work schedules is needed.”

Approaches focused on expanding roads or public transportation and bike lanes received less — but still significant — support.

“There’s no clear answer which one is preferred,” said Kandell.

Finally, when choosing issues of concern, 34 percent of respondents picked the environment, include climate change, natural resources and wildlife habitat.

Washington County is in the midsts of updating its Transportation System Plan, and the commission will consider proposed changes at its Aug. 6 meeting. If approved, the updated plan will take effect in December 2014.




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