Portland politicians seem to pick fights with other elected officials in the region on a regular basis.

Mayor Sam Adams upset Hillsboro leaders last year when he proposed that a minimum of 20 housing units be built on each acre of new residential land in the urban growth boundary.

Later, Adams also threatened to make TriMet pay $2 million for its existing bus stops in the city limits unless Portland school students be allowed to ride for free — something TriMet doesn’t do anywhere else in its service area.

In July, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the city should reconsider funding social service programs if Multnomah County voters approve a library district at the November general election.

And in August, City Commissioner Randy Leonard failed to consult with any of the jurisdictions that buy water from Portland before news broke of his plan to fluoridate it.

Those sort of things don’t happen in Hillsboro or any other city in Washington County.

One reason might be the Washington County Coordinating Committee, a group led by Washington County and made up of the mayors of Beaverton, Banks, Cornelius, Forest Grove, King City, Hillsboro, North Plains, Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin. It meets each month to discuss and reach consensus on transportation and land-use planning issues in the county and region.

“When you don’t talk to each other, it’s easy to get myopic and think no one exist but you. But when you get together on a regular basis and learn about each other’s needs, then you begin to understand that everything is interconnected and you’re part of a larger whole,” says Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, chairman of the committee.

The spirit of cooperation was evident at the most recent WCCC meeting, which was held over the lunch hour on Monday, Oct. 8, in the conference room of the Beaverton Library. Much of it was taken up with requests from some of the members for county transportation funds to support priority projects. The county has allocated $1.5 million this fiscal year to serve as matching funds for such projects. The requests totaled $3 million, however.

The committee will have to decide which requests to fund at the November meeting.

Despite that, none of the members from the competing jurisdictions was critical of other proposals. In fact, all of the projects — which included a trail extension, a bike lane completion and an intersection realignment — earned praise. Everyone at the table could understand why each project was a priority for the jurisdiction that presented it.

“Everyone can see it’s not just about getting around in your setting, it’s about getting to other cities and getting around in them, too,” Rogers said after the meeting.ROGERS

Supporting each other

The WCCC was originally formed to divide up funds generated by the county’s Major Street Transportation Improvement Program, which is supported by property taxes. It began as a series of serial levies approved by 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.

County commissioners could have started spending the money on other programs. Instead, they voted to continue spending it on transportation projects. No other county in the state has such a dedicated transportation funding source.

By 2013, MSTIP will have built 111 multi-modal transportation projects, totaling $555 million. Major projects completed to date include sections of 170th Avenue, 185th Avenue, Baseline Road, Brookwood Avenue/Parkway, Cornelius Pass Road, Cornelius-Schefflin Road, Cornell Road, Evergreen Parkway/Road, Murray Boulevard, Oleson Road, Roy Rogers Road, Scholls Ferry Road and the Verboort roundabouts.

But Rogers says the process of deciding which projects to support is as important as the projects themselves. Although the commission ultimately decides how to spend the money, it receives recommendations from the WCCC. Jurisdictions that win support from their neighbors one year end up supporting their requests later. In the end, all of the members gain an understanding of transportation needs throughout the entire county.

Similar committees exist in both Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with two important exceptions. First, Portland does not sit on the Multnomah County committee. And Multnomah and Clackamas counties do not have transportation funds they share with their cities, giving them a financial stake in the proceedings.

Spending transportation funds

But WCCC members are involved in more than just individual transportation projects. The monthly meetings are also attended by representatives of TriMet, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Metro.

They brief members on upcoming policy and funding decisions that will ultimately shape the transportation system in the entire region.

WCCC members also sit on two important Metro advisory committees. One is the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation that helps determine how transportation dollars are spent throughout the region. The other is the Metro Policy Advisory Committee that advises on regional land-use planning issues.

During the meeting, members reached consensus on how to spend nearly $38 million in federal transportation dollars that unexpectedly became available when Congress reauthorized the Highway Trust Fund for three more years. The availability of the money had been discussed at an earlier JPACT meeting.

At that time, Portland proposed a spending formula that favors bicycle and pedestrian projects instead of freight projects. The decision was postponed to allow the WCCC and other interested parties to weigh in. At the meeting, WCCC members voted unanimously to expand the criteria to include a range of other projects, including access to undeveloped industrial lands.

They prevailed at JPACT the next morning.

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