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Intel growth fuels county road projects

As Hillsboro booms, Portland strains for transportation funds


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: CHASE ALLGOOD - Intel will pay millions of dollars to expand this busy stretch of Northwest Cornelius Pass Road to six lanes in the next few years. As he struggles to find money for street maintenance and sidewalks, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales must look in wonder at Hillsboro. The largest city in Washington County currently has 44 major street projects slated during the next few years, including rebuilding major thoroughfares and intersections.

A recent audit has faulted the Portland City Council for not spending enough money on road repairs. Hillsboro is arguably doing better for two reasons outside the council’s control, however. First, it is able to tap funding sources not available in Portland. And second, it is able to take advantage of the tremendous growth of big employers like Intel.

In a few years, many Hillsboro residents and commuters will get to their homes and jobs a little bit quicker. Northwest Cornelius Pass Road from the Sunset Highway to Ronler Drive will be widened from four to six lanes. The intersection at Northwest Evergreen Parkway will be improved for bike lanes. And the ramps to and from U.S. 26 will be improved, including the addition of a second southbound off-ramp.

Most of the work will not be funded or done by the city. It will be paid for and overseen by Intel, the semiconductor manufacturer with around 17,000 workers in Washington County. The company will hire and pay a contractor to do the work according to city standards.

The improvements will help many Intel workers get to their jobs at the company’s Ronler Acres campus. But it also will help others who use the road. They will include hundreds of new Salesforce.com employees who will be moving into the former Synopsys Inc. software company offices to the south, and the 130 additional employees that Oracle Corp. has promised to hire at its nearby high-tech manufacturing plant.

The city is requiring Intel to do the improvements as part of its construction permit to build a second D1X manufacturing facility and office building at the Ronler Acres campus. Washington County is also assessing Intel’s approximately $6.7 million in Transportation Development Taxes for the project. The amount will be credited against the money Intel spends on the improvements, which is likely to be much more.

Intel is not complaining, however. The company knows that its growth in Hillsboro is unprecedented in Oregon.

“This is new territory and everyone is trying to figure out how to manage it correctly,” says Jill Eiland, the company’s Northwest regional corporate affairs manager.

Conditions put on projects

This is not the first time the city has required Intel to do street improvements as a condition of a building permit. For example, Intel was required to build Ronler Drive from Northwest Cornelius Pass Road to the campus as a condition of its permit for the first D1X facility. Intel officials say the project cost around $3.5 million. The company then deeded the finished road to the city. Intel also is installing a traffic circle and making other improvements at the Southwest Butler Street and 65th Avenue entrance to its campus. The estimated cost for that work is more than $2 million.

Residential developers also pay for transportation improvements related to their projects. For example, the Holland Partners development company is paying for a traffic signal and other upgrades on the streets around its new housing and retail complex at Northeast 231st and Cherry Avenue. And the developers who built the more traditional, suburban-style neighborhoods near Orenco Station paid for the residential streets, which were then deeded to Hillsboro.

Many cities charge new developments to help offset additional infrastructure costs. But Hillsboro is going much further than most by requiring specific projects for the biggest ones. The practice helps explain how Hillsboro has mitigated some of the problems normally associated with fast growth — and how it plans to keep pace with its increasing population and employment base. By some estimates, Hillsboro is expected to grow from around 92,000 to about 150,000 people by 2035.

Designated transportation funds

Only eight of the 44 projects scheduled in Hillsboro will be financed by developers. The rest rely on federal, state, county and city sources.

Washington County is the only county in the state that dedicates a fixed portion of its property tax revenues to transportation projects. The Major Street Transportation Improvement Program began as a series of serial levies approved by county voters in 1986, 1989 and 1995. But when Oregon voters approved the state’s complicated property tax limitation system in the late 1990s, the current levy became part of the county’s tax base.

All of the spending must be approved by the Washington County Coordinating Committee, which is composed of representatives from the commission and cities in the county. It receives and considers funding requests from the various governments.

By the end of this year, 2013, MSTIP will have helped fund 111 multimodal transportation projects, totaling $555 million. Major projects completed to date in Hillsboro include sections of 170th Avenue, 185th Avenue, Baseline Road, Brookwood Avenue/Parkway, Cornelius Pass Road, Cornell Road, and Evergreen Parkway/Road.

Like other cities in the county, Hillsboro also assesses a fee on residents and businesses to help maintain its streets. The citywide Transportation Utility Fee was approved by the City Council three years ago. The fees appear on the monthly utility bills that also include water and sewer charges. The fee for single-family homes currently is $3.18 a month, while the business fees range from $2.87 to around $1,300 a month. The TUF is projected to generate $1.75 million this fiscal year.

Washington County also has a 1 cent-per gallon gas tax to help maintain its roads. Hillsboro receives some of this revenue, too.

Big changes in store for road

In the middle of the day, Northwest Cornelius Pass Road from U.S. 26 to Ronler Drive does not look like it needs much work. Traffic flows smoothly along its four lanes, helped by turn lanes at major intersections, like Northwest Evergreen Parkway.

But during the morning and evening rush hours, the situation is different. It clogs with traffic from Highway 26, Northwest Evergreen Parkway and Imbrie Drive. When Intel officials started talking about expanding the Ronler Acres campus again, city planners knew it was time for a major upgrade. Intel agreed and committed to four projects related to the road. The city agreed to take responsibility for a fifth one.

The projects Intel agreed to fund and undertake will completely transform the function and appearance of the road. They will add additional northbound and southbound lanes, construct an eastbound turn lane from Butler, construct a westbound turn lane at Evergreen, and add pedestrian islands to the median at key intersections. Intel also will add a second westbound to southbound off-ramp from the Sunset Highway. And it will add bicycle lanes on both Cornelius Pass Road and some connecting streets.

Intel officials do not yet know how much all this work will cost. They suspect it will be more than the $6.7 million in TDTs charged to their most recent expansion project. The company will look to partner with the city and county on some of the work if possible, but is ultimately responsible for completing it.

As part of the deal, Hillsboro has agreed to build a new right-turn lane from Cornelius to the Sunset Highway.

But that is not the end of Intel’s investment in Hillsboro as part of its most recent expansion permit. The company also will build an additional eastbound lane to Ronler Driver. And it will modify signals and make further improvements on Northwest 229th Avenue, just north of its campus.