Agreement between Wilsonville and Tualatin lays out priorities for 775-acre area

by: JOSH KULLA - The intersection of Tonquin and Grahams Ferry roads is slated for major improvement under the transportation refinement plan adopted Aug. 5 by the Wilsonville City Council. A big part of the future for both Wilsonville and Tualatin can be found in an undeveloped parcel of land that lies between the two cities.

Known as the Basalt Creek Industrial Area, the area consists of roughly 775 acres of land that were brought inside Metro’s urban growth boundary back in 2004. The property runs roughly from Day Road in the south to Tualatin city limits in the north, and from Interstate 5 on the eastern edge to Grahams Ferry Road in the west.

Today, the two cities are in the final stages of collaborative planning for the development of that land. And despite an extensive planning process going back years, both cities have very different intentions for the Basalt Creek area.

The framework for how infrastructure is to be developed in the area is already in place. A total of 18 major transportation projects worth an estimated $230 million in today’s dollars already have been identified and prioritized. What’s left now is essentially filling in the blank spaces.

“It’ll be a mix of land uses,” Planning Director Chris Neamtzu said at an Aug. 5 Wilsonville City Council meeting. “Part of the process is determining jurisdictional boundaries; that’s a critical part of the process.”

The question of zoning and what uses will be allowed also promises to be “very interesting,” he added.

“It’s my understanding that Metro designated it as industrial when they brought it in (to th e urban growth boundary),” he said. “It’s an interesting nuance, because the land was added to meet industrial and jobs needs. It was always recognized, though, that there would be some residential development. To what extent, though, is a question.”

The backbone of current planning includes a 2011 intergovernmental agreement (IGA) calling on Wilsonville and Tualatin to jointly plan for the development of Basalt Creek. On Aug. 5, the Wilsonville City Council unanimously approved a second IGA that adopts the findings of the Basalt Creek Transportation Refinement Plan jointly developed by the two cities and completed in December of last year.

The Tualatin City Council approved the same IGA at its Aug. 12 meeting, setting the stage for further progress.

At the core of the latest IGA are the 18 identified transportation projects contained in the Basalt Creek Transportation Refinement Plan. With an estimated total construction cost of between $228 million and $238 million, the projects would be phased in between now and 2035.

The plan draws on earlier work, notably that done by the earlier I-5/99W Connector Study and the Regional Transportation Plan adopted by both cities, Washington County and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Among the key projects included in the refined plan is a five-lane, east-west limited-access arterial facility from the Southwest 124th Avenue Extension toward I-5. This project is envisioned as leaving Tonquin Road to develop as a parallel three-lane road for property access.

It also plans for a future overcrossing of I-5 to connect the Basalt Creek area with urban reserves to the east and incorporates recommendations from Wilsonville and Tualatin’s respective transportation systems and comprehensive plans.

The plan further touches on developing a funding strategy for various projects, access management, right of way protection and dedication plans.

Nine of the 18 identified projects are labeled as “short term.” They include the widening of Boones Ferry and Grahams Ferry roads, the extension of Southwest 124th Avenue from Tualatin-Sherwood Road south to Tonquin Road and several other related projects.

“It would appear that in the short term, every single one of these is designed to pull traffic into the Elligsen exit?” Councilor Scott Starr said as he thumbed through the 18 proposed projects included in the plan.

“Absolutely,” responded Neamtzu. “With the widening of Grahams and Boones Ferry roads, all of them are intended to serve the Elligsen exit (at Interstate 5).”

Mayor Tim Knapp, a veteran of regional transportation planning efforts since before becoming mayor in 2008, noted that this has been the center of debate all along.

“I think your observation is correct,” Neamtzu said. “It’s easier to widen country roads than it is to build a five-lane arterial; improving existing roadways is considered the low-hanging fruit.”

The other major aspect of the refined transportation plan is the future five-lane arterial that will link Interstate 5 with Southwest 124th Avenue and add another freeway crossing north of the Elligsen exit at milepost 286. At the council’s insistence, the IGA as approved states explicitly that Wilsonville does not formally “endorse” the concept of a “southern arterial,” which city officials have long opposed.

The southern arterial was at the center of debate during the I-5/99W Connector process several years ago. As such, the latest transportation refinements, noted Knapp, probably do leave all involved parties wanting more.

“This was the agreement that was kind of hammered out,” Knapp said. “It probably is a compromise from many different participants’ viewpoints. But it would be appropriate for us to fold in the protections we were talking about and continue to support that partnering process by saying yes, we’re willing to go forward with the other entities.”

From here, Neamtzu said, Wilsonville will hire a consultant to help lead upcoming conceptual planning over the next two years that will help nail down exactly what uses each city plans to implement in Basalt Creek. This will determine jurisdictional boundaries for each city — both will be expanding to bring the area inside their own urban growth boundaries.

“It’s a very large area,” Neamtzu told the council. “We hope to embark on that concept planning in the next several months, and we hope to complete that work in the next 20 to 24 months.”

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