Regional officials are recognizing what Washington and Clackamas county residents already know: Their cities are not just Portland bedroom communities, but employment, retail and recreation centers, TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Traffic builds up at rush hours along the busy Tualatin-Sherwood Road. TriMet is working to improve transit connections in that part of Washnigton County.

The most recent recognition came from the steering committee directing the “Southwest Corridor Study” being undertaken by Metro, the regional elected government. Most of the press coverage of the study has focused on the possibility of building a new light rail or bus rapid transit line through the corridor, which runs from the southern edge of downtown Portland to Sherwood.

But the committee has also directed TriMet to develop a southwest service enhancement plan that includes better transit connections between cities in Washington and Clackamas counties, including Beaverton, Durham, Hillsboro, King City, Lake Oswego, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn and Wilsonville.

TriMet is currently gathering information on how many people travel within and between these cities without going into Portland for work, shopping and entertainment. One goal is for TriMet to determine and fund service improvements to provide better transit connections for residents before the new line opens. They could include new bus lines between cities with service that does not currently go through the transit mall in downtown Portland.

TriMet senior planner Tom Mills spent much of last week discussing proposals in Tualatin and Sherwood.

“We want people to know what we’re doing and to hear what service improvements they would like to see,” said Mills.

The first community meeting for the plan will be held in Tigard on Nov. 6.

Mills previously worked on the westside enhancement plan TriMet recently completed to improve service in and around Hillsboro. It has already resulted in more frequent bus service between Intel’s Ronler Acres Campus in Hillsboro and the growing Bethany neighborhood north of town.

“The improvements will be incremental as the economy improves, but the goal is to be responsive to the needs of the communities,” Mills explained.

The steering committee is pushing TriMet to complete a southwest enhancement plan in large part because it includes the mayors of the Washington County cities in and near the corridor. They and their predecessors have worked hard in previous years to expand employment, shopping and recreational opportunities in their communities.

The growth of Intel and other high tech companies in Hillsboro has created a regional employment center that competes with downtown Portland. It even draws workers from Portland, contributing to the “reverse commute” on the Sunset Highway every morning and afternoon.

The Southwest Corridor was chosen as the next potential high-capacity transit corridor by Metro in 2010 after a study process that also included potential alignments into east Multnomah County. The corridor is roughly bordered by Scholls Ferry Road on the west, the Willamette River on the east, the beginning of the I-5/I-405 split on the north and the urban growth boundary administered by Metro on the south, which includes Sherwood and Wilsonville.

This study area includes 11 percent of the regional population and 26 percent of jobs in the tri-county area. Both are projected to grow significantly over the next two decades.

As a result of this growth, congestion is expected to increase significantly within the corridor. Highway 99W, a major connection between Portland and the cities to the south, is already seriously overcrowded on rush hours. But so are the few roads that connect the cities in Washington and Clackamas counties directly, including some — such as Roy Rogers Road between Tualatin and Beaverton — that have been improved in recent years.

In July, the steering committee recommended transit alternatives for further study, along with roadway, bicycle, pedestrian, park, trails and natural area project. The transit alternatives included both the west side enhancement plan TriMet is undertaking and a new light rail or bus rapid transit line between Portland and Tualatin. The new rail or bus line was chosen in the belief that Highway 99W cannot be widened enough to ease congestion in the future. The new line is also intended to encourage redevelopment along its alignment, which has happened to the MAX line from Gresham through Portland to Hillsboro.

The possible new line is not without controversy. Opponents in Tigard have qualified a measure for the March 2014 ballot to require a public vote on whether to allow either a new light rail or bus rapid transit line through their city.

Even without the opposition, the steering committee understands such a line can’t be completed for many years. But it does believe TriMet can improve service throughout the corridor before then. That is a goal the regional transit agency will be pursuing at the upcoming public forums.

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