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Hillsboro should play hard-to-get on the bypass

The Portland area’s regional government, Metro, is tasked with coordinating growth within the tri-county area. This puts Metro in the cross-hairs of local and county governments which compete for residents, jobs and open spaces for industry and recreational use. 

The concept of regional government makes sense especially in the context of Oregon’s land-use planning tradition that began in the era for former Gov. Tom McCall. But often there are unintended consequences to visionary planning which makes one wonder: Was it all worth it? 

We have gone through a massive, complex and litigious urban and rural reserve battle in the past two years and the courts will have the final say. The system in place could be reaffirmed or, God forbid, thrown back to elected officials for a do-over. 

One area designated as an urban reserve is a swath of largely rural farmland in unincorporated Clackamas County south of Damascus. 

Why this area was targeted for future development by the pointy-heads at Metro was always beyond me. Forest Grove and Cornelius seemed to me a more logical area for development.

But such was not to happen. Now residents of Damascus are in the first stages of disincorporation. The combination of the bad economy and increasing resistance to Metro in Clackamas County has killed the planners’ dream but not without millions of dollars wasted. 

Now another idea long-dormant has resurfaced. Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey wants state and local officials to reconsider a Westside Transportation Corridor that could potentially run from I-5 near Wilsonville to U.S. 30 near the Columbia River.

A bypass would cut through timber stands, farmland and wetlands. It would require a tunnel boring through the Cornelius Pass corridor. This would necessitate a huge federal investment at a time of rising deficits and shrinking federal will to support such projects.

The idea of a bypass that would skirt Portland’s city center was studied more than 20 years ago. Metro instead adopted a regional transportation plan that gave priority to road improvement projects on U.S. 26, Oregon 217 and various surface streets. 

Wiser heads prevailed back in the day and the idea makes even less sense today. Is Willey serious, trying to make a name for himself, or is he sucking up to the high-tech industry that dominates his city? 

Granted, all that the proponents are asking for now are federal and state funds to do a “study.” The residents of Damascus have been there and done that. Years later they’ve got nothing to show for it.

In the face of the “fiscal cliff” do we need another politician’s pipe dream funded by taxpayer dollars? The Damascus debacle says “no.” 

At a time when Governor Kitzhaber is trying “do more with less” in education, human services, health care and PERS a westside bypass is utopian. With local communities facing decompression because of Measure 5 and 50 this is a bad time to pile on the taxpayer! 

I know residents of Portlandia can’t resist saying “yes” to any new idea that comes down the pike from their elected officials. This liberal who lives in Washington County not far from where the bypass would be built says it’s time to “just say no.” 

Mayor Willey is not the czar of Western Washington County. I suggest he spend his time cleaning up the most unplanned city in the state whose street grid belies rational thought. It’s a developer’s dream but a driver’s nightmare. 

We have an east side bypass already, I-205. We don’t need Willey’s folly. Instead as Senate Bill 100 designates we need to protect prime timber and farmland, create smart through urban infill and move to the new paradigm of a green economy.

I suggest anyone who believes a westside bypass will solve transportation issues on the west side drive to Seattle. One more freeway just creates more bumper-to-bumper congestion, more CO2 pollution and pressure to turn rural areas into suburban sprawl. 

Sometimes the siren call of progress leads to a dead end not nirvana. Brent Walth’s book, Fire at Eden’s Gate, recounts how Tom McCall framed the issue, as he was dying of cancer in 1982.

“Oregon is demure and lovely, and... ought to play a little hard to get.... You’ll all be just as sick as I am if you find it nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that’s offered.”

Russ Dondero is professor emeritus, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University. Read his blogs at russdondero.squarespace.com. 




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