Friday, March 12, 2010

A Long Distance Fight

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently writing emails. Many, many emails. Just as I left the Portland area for Sarajevo, Bosnia – 5,800 miles away – the planning process is beginning on a road project I have been watching for 21 years.

When we first moved to Oak Hills in 1989, we lived in a house that backed up to a narrow two-lane road. The road was about 1 mile long; it ended at a T at both it’s north and south ends. What we hadn’t known was that the county had already decided that this little road would one day become a major arterial for north/south traffic and was slated to be 5 lanes wide.

As soon as I found this out I got on the phone. I talked to engineers, county planners and elected officials. They were polite but firm. The decision had been made. They advised me not to worry – there was currently no money allocated for this project and it could be 20 years before it was likely to come up. Well, it’s 21 years later, and now the Bethany Boulevard project is funded and the county is ready to build five lanes of roadway in addition to bike lanes and sidewalks.  

When I first started talking to transportation officials, they seemed to be well aware that the Oak Hills neighborhood had been built before the county transportation plan was adopted and that there was insufficient set-back of those properties to allow enough space for the proposed 5 lanes. Over the years, however, that information was lost and I have insisted to unbelieving officials that the county did not own sufficient right of way for the project. I expect they dismissed me as just another crank who didn’t know what she was talking about.

The first Open House on the project is scheduled for March 30. You might say I’m frustrated.

Bethany Boulevard needs improvement. The existing lanes are too narrow, longer turn lanes are needed, there is no shoulder at the sides, no bike lanes, and sidewalks are on the one side and not continuous at that. It is unsafe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. An improved three lane road along with the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks would benefit all users and would not require that some homeowners (16 in Oak Hills alone) would lose a significant part of their property  - or possibly their homes - to make room for a five lane road.

Earlier this month at the County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board was presented with an agenda item for the purchase of a home bordering Bethany Boulevard in a neighborhood adjoining Oak Hills. The stated purpose of the purchase was for demolition in preparation for the widening of Bethany Boulevard.

The loss of property and family homes is not the only reason I oppose a five lane project. I think that a five lane highway does not belong in the middle of a residential area. There are no businesses, schools or even apartment complexes along this stretch of road; it is entirely single family homes. A five lane project will physically divide a tight knit elementary school community making it difficult for children, parents and school busses to cross from one side of the neighborhood to the other, dividing friends. What will the effects of five lanes of traffic be on the air quality and noise and light pollution for nearby families?

But here’s the punchline: the proposed five lane road will do absolutely nothing to improve congestion and improve traffic flow! At it’s north end, the two new northbound lanes will merge into a single lane north of West Union. At it’s south end, two new southbound lanes will merge into a single lane on the hwy 26 overpass. The county has no firm plans to widen the stretch of Bethany Boulevard north of West Union. The state would be responsible for funding any improvements to the overpass. As we all know the State of Oregon is broke and cannot afford to replace bridges that are nearly falling down. 

Realistically, I doubt they will replace the hwy 26 overpass for 50 years or more – possibly much more. A five lane road will needlessly cause many homeowners to lose their property and  others to see their property values plummet.

A three lane road will be less expensive to build and won’t involve the costly purchase of right of way and the likely legal challenges that will be the result. The money saved can be spent on one of the many other pressing transportation projects the county has on its list. Taxpayers’ money should not be squandered on an unnecessarily expensive project when a less expensive project will serve just as well.
I have been making my case by email to the Washington County Commissioners, the Senior Planner assigned to the Bethany Boulevard project, candidates for county commissioner, and CPO 7, a citizens volunteer group that monitors development and county issues. I’ve been emailing everyone I can think of. My goal is to shake people out of their complacency before it’s too late. I’m afraid that many people won’t pay attention until the bulldozers show up. The time to act is now – right now -  just as the planning process is starting.

For local readers of my blog, here is contact information you might want to have. Matthew Costigan, Senior Planner, Wash. Co DLUT,; Tom Brian, Wash. Co Board chairman, and Desari Strader, District 2 Co. Commissioner must be contacted from the county website; candidates for county commissioner (primary election, May 18 ) Greg Malinowski,; Mike Niehuser,; Mike Matousek,; Jason Yurgel,; Doak Schulte,; Andy Duyck,; Dick Schouten,