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Transportation key to business, but funding short

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Commissioner Paul Savas, right, says the Sunrise Corridor linking the metro area with rural Clackamas County and its industrial base is one of his top economic issues.A recent Wilsonville town hall held by the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners might have raised the ire of some residents opposed to the board’s land use decisions.

But for much of the evening’s talk actually centered on business and how the commission intends to further job creation in both its rural and urban communities.

A key part of job creation jobs involves provision of an efficient transportation infrastructure for businesses to utilize. In Clackamas County, the situation has long been less than ideal in this regard. It is a geographically large county stretching from Wilsonville in the west to Mount Hood in the east, which greatly complicates any sort of comprehensive solution.

Commissioner Chairman John Ludlow said that while county residents consistently identify public safety as a top priority, transportation is not usually far behind.

“Every time we poll the public, it’s roads,” Ludlow said. “Fifty-eight percent of our roads are in poor or fair condition and we need to take care of that. It’s the lifeline of commerce and transportation.”

Ludlow noted that growing nontraditional industries like bike tourism, as well as wine and other agri-tourism, demand an efficient network of roads, while Commissioner Paul Savas addressed one of the county’s biggest transportation challenges: the Sunrise Corridor from Clackamas through Happy Valley.

“For 30 plus years we’ve been trying to get funding for the Sunrise Corridor,” Savas said, referring to the five-lane stretch of Highway 212 that forms the county’s industrial backbone.

“Fortunately, we’ve got some state money now that allowed work to start in July,” he said. “And we were able to nail down another $20 million to build a road that provided linkages for businesses.”

It’s important for the county to work to maximize transportation options, Savas added, especially as local cities like Happy Valley continue to expand and annex additional lands. By creating the infrastructure linking those communities, he said, the county can help ensure continued economic growth.

“We as a county have to be partners to provide economic linkage,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that stimulate the area, and as my colleagues have mentioned, we have a lot of underutilized land out in Canby that’s deprived of a good linkage to Interstate 5. In Estacada there’s some new industrial development there, and they’ve got some nibbles on that, but the road to Estacada, it’s a little challenging.”

The same is true of Molalla and Sandy, he added.

“We have a lot of opportunity, but it’s a matter of getting those transportation dollars to some of those areas,” he said. “Having regional credibility and having a plan in place and being good partners is something that will allow us to garner those funds to get those things done.”

As always, money is a concern. Savas noted in response to a question from the audience that the county only has funding for roughly 5 percent of projects identified on a countywide transportation systems plan. The plan identifies the county’s top future transportation priorities.

“We have always said that, pretty basically, if we can’t take care of what we’ve got, we have no business building anything else,” said Ludlow. “We have 1,400 miles of roads we’re responsible for, and we haven’t touched a lot of those roads in many decades.”

He added he does not approve of matching state or federal grant funding to fill key needs just because the opportunity exists.

“Whenever the state or feds come forward ... we just don’t have the matching funds,” he said. “I say, personally, until we can take care of what we’ve got we can’t go to the public and ask for more money.”

Commissioner Jim Bernard added the county faces a $15 million transportation funding shortfall overall.

“I think we’re in the process of finding out what the citizens will support,” Bernard said. “A ballot measure could be the ultimate answer.”

He added the county intends to conduct public surveys to gauge support for a potential bond measure for transportation. Without that kind of a solution, he added, the county can’t simply throw money it does not have at the problem.

“I agree with the chair, we need to fix what we have before we build new roads,” Bernard said. “We can’t depend on the state and federal government anymore. The next time they offer we’ll be lucky to get a match at all.”



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