It's time for West Coast leaders to talk traffic
The 2017 session of the Oregon State Legislature witnessed a near-miracle as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle risked their reputations by coming together to pass a $5.3 billion transportation package.
Midway through the process, two key members of the Joint Committee on Transportation suffered major health challenges, one receiving cancer treatment and the other suffering a heart attack. Nevertheless, both members quickly returned to ensure that we didn't adjourn without making some progress toward addressing the state's transportation challenges, which have become increasingly dire in the face of unprecedented population growth and lagging maintenance.
But the work has just begun. With many decisions ahead regarding the use of tolls and how to prioritize congestion-relief and maintenance efforts, the committee will be busy for years to come.
However, there remains a significant missing piece to the puzzle. Without a process for regular coordination with Washington state, we will never effectively address the congestion that plagues our transportation system.
While the movement of people and goods within a region can be coordinated by local jurisdictions through organizations such as Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, movement between major population centers also makes up a large part of the traffic that urban areas must accommodate.
For example, it's not only true that many people from Vancouver commute into Portland, but also that Portland lies along the primary freight route between Los Angeles and Seattle. Given anticipated population and economic growth, failing to address the nearly derelict Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River and the undersized Boone Bridge over the Willamette River would be unthinkable.
The concept of a new freeway west of Interstate 5 also demands a conversation with Washington state. For Washington County — particularly Hillsboro, where the population is expected to leapfrog Gresham's by 2040 — developing a route that connects Westside communities to the industrial areas of North Portland is critical.
Time and again, I have heard that the Columbia River Crossing, the Westside Bypass and other mega-projects are too much of a "heavy lift" to expect any meaningful progress in the near future. The truth is that we would be doing ourselves and our children a serious disservice by kicking the can down the road once again, as we have done for more than 30 years. By throwing up our hands and concluding it's "just too hard," we lock in serious long-term transportation decay.
That line of thinking needs to stop now.
It's time we resumed conversations with our neighbors to the north. I am heartened, for example, by the inclusion of representatives from Washington on the Portland Region Value Pricing Advisory Committee. We must start considering what we can do to improve the situation instead of complaining about what we cannot.
I call upon my colleagues in both states to start talking and listening to one another and, most of all, to stop believing that the work which is most needed simply can't be done.
Richard Vial serves as state representative for House District 26, including parts of Hillsboro, Aloha and central Washington County. He lives in Scholls.