The Westside Bypass, the planned road that was to mirror I-205 on the west side of I-5 and bypass Portland traffic, was dropped in the 1990s. The influential 1992 “LUTRAQ” study, sponsored by 1000 Friends of Oregon, convinced Metro that with better regional planning, more people would abandon their cars, use mass transit, bike and walk. This reduction in demand on roads would make the bypass unnecessary.

Here we are nearly 25 years later and the abandonment did not occur. Car use is up and congestion is worse than ever in spite of the fact that many of the LUTRAQ planning goals, such as the enormous development of new housing adjacent to light rail, were realized.

Because of the worsening congestion, Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey requested in 2012 that the Westside Bypass be reconsidered. Eventually this request triggered the current Washington County Transportation Futures Study to help determine county transportation needs during the next 50 years.

Recently I sat down with leaders of the new study who were generous enough to give me an hour of their time to discuss the status of the Westside Bypass from their perspective. These leaders were Andrew Singelakis, Director of the Washington County Department Land Use and Transportation; Chris Deffebach, Department Policy Analyst; and Don Odermott, Transportation Planning Engineer for the city of Hillsboro.

I learned that the study is projecting possible new road improvements to meet traffic demands. While nothing has been ruled out, the original West Side Bypass interstate type model is not in any of the scenarios I saw.

What has been penciled in is the possibility of a four or five lane limited access road between the Sherwood area and the new South Hillsboro development with traffic lights at major intersections. To determine whether even this new reduced capacity option has a future it is important to understand how this current study works.

The study is designed not to make recommendations, but to use various growth and travel behavior assumptions to see how much added demand there will be on the road system under the different scenarios. At some point, however, assumptions have to be either accepted or rejected and this will have enormous consequences. If it’s projected, for example, that a 35 percent increase in public transit usage will occur, a new bypass would less likely be needed.

Current planning emphasizes encouragement of mass transit and “multi-modal transportation” (including walking and biking) to minimize car usage. The new study puts much energy in that direction. For example, it was mentioned at my meeting that increasing population and density will drive housing into Yamhill and Columbia counties and that workers from there could come to Hillsboro by integrated transit. Express busses and toll roads are being considered to encourage people not to drive.

The danger here is that the LUTRAQ wishful thinking error will be repeated in underestimating future road demand. Back in the ’90s the decision-makers over-estimated reduction in car use when housing development was placed near transit. It turns out, for example, that even in Orenco Station, built right next to a light rail station, residents drive just as much as everyone else.

The idea that increased congestion and cost (like toll roads) will force people to public transit is also questionable. Given our funding limitations and widespread area, we are not likely to have the degree of public transit that is adequate for most people. Avoiding tolls will more likely just force people onto local roads, increasing congestion in neighborhoods.

Of course we should encourage the use of public transportation and other options. But the LUTRAQ model erred in overestimating the degree to which people would abandon cars in favor of other transit modes. This error is a major reason we have so much congestion today. We would have been better off if the Westside Bypass had been built in the nineties. Will the same wishful thinking error once again doom this needed infrastructure 25 years later?

Walt Hellman is a retired Hillsboro High School physics teacher and longtime member of the Hillsboro Planning and Zoning Hearings Board. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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