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Transportation the key to future growth, jobs, commissioners say

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Clackamas County Commission Chairman John Ludlow, right, speaks as Washington County Commission Chair Andy Duyck watches Aug. 20 at the South Metro Leadership Forum at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn. Transportation leads to jobs.

It’s an economic truism that applies just as much to Clackamas and Washington counties as anywhere else, albeit in quite different ways. The Aug. 20 South Metro Leadership Forum at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn reaffirmed that, as the respective chairmen from each county’s board of commissioners talked at length about these and other challenges facing the metro area.

Clackamas County Commission Chair John Ludlow noted that commerce is closely tied to Interstate 205 and said the need to widen that crucial commercial corridor continues.

“205 needs to be widened,” Ludlow said. “The (Clackamas County) commission voted 5-0 saying no CRC (the now-closed Columbia River Crossing bridge project) until you fix this problem. This is not a Clackamas County problem, it’s not even a regional problem; it is a state problem. It’s not going to be cheap, but we will continue to work on that.”

Ludlow said he would support a small increase in the federal gas tax, perhaps 15 cents as proposed earlier this year by Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

For his part, Duyck outlined a very different set of transportation priorities. Both men agreed, however, that this will be key to future economic development in both counties.

“Transportation is key,” Duyck said. “We’re committed to a substantial investment in SW 124th Avenue, from the Tualatin/Sherwood Road down to Wilsonville, through some of the most significant industrial land in the region.

“We’re going to have to talk about it and figure out how to get investment into that area so we can work collaboratively and get that done.”

Both Duyck and Ludlow lamented a chronic shortage of funds for road maintenance.

“We have the Major Streets and Transportation Improvement Program that has allowed us new facilities to a degree,” Duyck said, referring to a program that has been a part of the county’s fixed tax rate since the 1990s and has pumped more than $500 million into Washington County’s infrastructure since that time.

“But we have a severe shortage of maintenance dollars,” he added. Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Clackamas County Commission Chairman John Ludlow, right, watches Washington County Commission Chair Andy Duyck speak Aug. 20 at the South Metro Leadership Forum at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn. “And the same thing has happened in Clackamas County, and even in Portland, which we see in the conversation over the proposed street fee. Without maintaining it we might as well not even have that infrastructure.”

To address that issue, Duyck and other Washington County officials have backed a proposed $30 annual vehicle registration fee that will go before voters in November. Duyck said he would prefer a vehicle mileage tax to a registration fee, but the outstanding need for maintenance dollars demands immediate action.

For his part, Ludlow said that Clackamas County has seen its road maintenance funding shrink to just $18 million annually in a county with more than 1,400 miles of roads to maintain.

“This all sounds so pale compared to the numbers he (Duyck) is throwing around,” Ludlow said with a chuckle, noting that the county cannot simply transfer money from its general fund or other areas of the budget to pay for streets and roads.

“Ninety-five percent of those programs are restricted when it comes to funding and can’t be switched somewhere else,” he said. “Yet, we are responsible for more miles of roads than any county in the state.”

While Ludlow again emphasized his opposition to ongoing light rail expansion into Clackamas County, Duyck said experience has shown him that mode of transit has a place in the conversation.

“Many years ago I was not a fan of mass transit,” Duyck admitted. “But we have seen rail lines that have actually driven investment by the private sector. And, any time you find yourself building in a very dense environment, you cannot physically move enough vehicles in and out of those areas, so different modes of transportation are needed for those areas. But it’s not appropriate in every case.”

Greatly expanded high-speed bus transit would be a better option in that regard, Ludlow said, perhaps modeled after the South Metro Area Transit agency run by the city of Wilsonville.

“Five mayors came to me and said to me that we need a better model than Tri Met to provide transit,” he said. “Can we emulate SMART? Can we piggyback on your successes?”

Buses are flexible, Duyck countered, but have the drawback of snarling other commercial traffic on local roads.

“What we have to do is go into this with our eyes open and realize light rail doesn’t work for every case,” he said. “But neither do buses. What’s driving the cost of mass transit is right of way acquisition. It doesn’t matter if it’s for roads or light rail.”


By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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