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The city of Hillsboro has set a new course for its downtown business district, and it’s a course that will lead the city “back to the future.”

Although members of the Hillsboro City Council were equally split on the move — three of the council’s six members voted for the change while three voted against it — Mayor Jerry Willey’s tie-breaking vote Tuesday evening means the city will go forward with an elaborate and expensive plan to convert the downtown streets from one-way to two-way.

“I firmly believe this is a very significant step forward in making our downtown a more vibrant area,” said Willey after casting his “aye” vote. “The focus is to make a difference in the downtown area.”

As was the case in a preliminary vote on the issue May 6, council members Aron Carleson, Steve Callaway and Olga Acuña voted in support of the change, with Megan Braze, Fred Nachtigal and Darell Lumaco opposing it.

“It’s admirable we have council members who feel free to vote their hearts,” Willey said. “It’s a testament to open government. But once we make a decision, we move forward together.”

The final decision will take the city in a direction it has not followed since 1968, when the city went to the one-way street grid currently in place.

The move is designed to revitalize the downtown area, and is something many downtown merchants believe will provide a boost for their businesses.

Opponents of the plan were concerned the switch could make parking more difficult, increase traffic congestion, increase the number of traffic accidents, degrade nearby neighborhoods, impede freight deliveries and alienate those who like to visit the downtown area.

Supporters contend the downtown area needs to be a destination rather than a “pass-through” and believe the change will bring more people downtown, reduce driver confusion and make businesses more accessible.

Willey acknowledged those who spoke out against the plan to return to a two-way street network.

“I appreciate those who have reached out, often passionately, to voice opinions in this regard,” Willey said. “There are still concerns everyone has, and we’ll do our level best to address them.”

Consideration of altering the downtown street network began in 2009, when experts at a Portland forum on city design recommended that Hillsboro alter the orientation of its downtown streets as a way to inject new life into the city’s business district.

The reconfiguration of the downtown streets will cost approximately $2.5 million, and won’t be completed until at least 2016. Once all the reconstruction, signage, and traffic signal work is finished, Main Street and Lincoln Street from First Avenue to Sixth Avenue, will once again become two-way streets. In addition, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues between Lincoln Street and Walnut Street will also be geared to two-way traffic.

According to Karla Antonini, project manager for the city’s Economic Development Department, much of the switch-over’s $2.5 million price tag is because of the need to place traffic lights where there not any currently, and in particular at the light rail crossings downtown.

Planners said it will take several months to plan the transition and as much as two years to implement all the changes.

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