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Westside Bypass debate bubbles under the surface in Hillsboro

Steve Larrance doesn’t give up easily.

Fifteen years after regional officials killed the “Westside Bypass” project, Larrance continues to argue that western Washington County still needs a major new north/south thoroughfare through Hillsboro. He even favors the most controversial of the original proposed alignments — lengthening and widening Cornelius Pass Road to Beaverton.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Are city officials underestimating the traffic needs of South Hillsboro, which is south of this busy intersection of Tualatin Valley Highway and Cornelius Pass Road?

“Cornelius Pass Road lines up right,” Larrance said.

Originally approved by Metro and included in its regional transportation plan, the bypass was intended to be a west side version of Interstate 205, allowing access to western Washington County directly from I-5. But the idea was abandoned in the 1990s after fierce opposition from environmentalists and others who said it would destroy farmland and encourage sprawl. They successfully argued that transit and land use policies encouraging compact, mixed-use development would eliminate the need for the bypass.

Although Larrance is not a traffic engineer, he has decades of local transportation planning experience. A longtime Aloha-Reedville resident, he has represented that community on numerous planning committees, and served two terms on the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Larrance has been urging the Hillsboro City Council to suspend work on South Hillsboro until state, county and local governments can agree on the new thoroughfare. The proposed 1,400-unit development between Hillsboro and Aloha-Reedville will eventually house up to 30,000 new residents, and Larrance pointed out that the additional traffic the new residents generate will overwhelm the existing road network, including the Tualatin Valley Highway, which is already heavily congested during rush hours.

Larrance is also worried about traffic from the South Cooper Mountain development, currently being planned on 2,300 acres in Beaverton just north of the intersection of Southwest Scholls Ferry and Roy Rogers Road. It is expected to eventually include around 4,500 new housing units. Larrance expects that many of the new residents will work in Hillsboro, where employers such as Intel offer good-paying jobs.

So far, the city council has ignored Larrance’s pleas. Despite Larrance’s testimony, council members unanimously approved the “transportation system plan” for South Hillsboro on Oct. 1. The plan creates a new street grid that includes extending Cornelius Pass Road south of TV Highway into the development area.

Larrance protested the approval after the vote.

“The South Hillsboro plan as now envisioned will adversely impact the city’s future ability to provide a new north/south corridor to serve trucks, service vehicles, transit vehicles and employees needing to access the industrial area in North Hillsboro,” he said.

But Mayor Jerry Willey wasn’t having any of it. After listening with growing impatience for several minutes, Willey told Larrance: “The train has left the station.”

In addition to the transportation plan approved last week, Willey and the council are counting on three current studies to propose solutions to present and future congestion problems in the area. One is the “TV Highway transportation plan,” which is being funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The other is the “Aloha-Reedville study,” being funded by Hillsboro and Washington County. The third is the “westside transportation solutions study,” which was funded by the 2013 Oregon Legislature.

The three studies will be completed in the next few years, but Larrance warned that state and local governments have not yet committed to funding any of their proposed solutions.

Citizen activist

In many ways, Larrance is a typical citizen activist who has latched onto an issue. So far, however, he is something of a Don Quixote character, making the same point at numerous public meetings without attracting much public support.

But Larrance differs from some of his brethren in that he is not simply opposed to South Hillsboro or any other proposed development. As a Washington County Commissioner from 1987 to 1993, he supported some of the early land use decisions that led to South Hillsboro being included in the urban growth boundary by Metro for residential development.

Metro and the council envision it as a “complete community” with a range of housing choices that will even appeal to top executives at Intel and the other high tech employers in North Hillsboro.

To hear Larrance tell it, he only wants South Hillsboro to succeed without overburdening the existing road system, especially in Aloha-Reedville, where he has spent his entire life. Larrance, a 64-year-old contractor, currently lives on property his grandfather bought in 1900 near 209th Avenue.

Over the years, congestion has increased so much in Aloha-Reedville that many residential streets are now jammed with traffic in rush hours.

Yet even those elected officials who believe Washington County has severe transportation problems are reluctant to bring back the Westside Bypass plan.

Larrance believes the decision to abandon the bypass was a mistake, especially considering the planning now under way in South Hillsboro and South Cooper Mountain. He said the alternatives embraced in the 1990s haven’t kept pace with the county’s population growth.

“At the time, it was like the movie, ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you build it, they will come. The argument was, if you build new roads, people will use them. Well, they killed the Westside Bypass and people came anyway,” said Larrance.



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