Moving the state forward through transportation improvements
With summer upon us, all Oregonians look forward to the season known as "Why does all the road construction have to happen now?" While the Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) shares this frustration, we also look at the projects being built and completed as a sign that our economy is strong. These are steps being taken to provide the improvements we need in continuing to move the region and state forward. As chairman of the WEA Transportation Committee, I have been involved in numerous local, regional, and state initiatives that resulted in road, transit, and freight improvements. These improvements have supported our land use planning objectives and enhanced economic development opportunities. Most, if not all, of these initiatives came from strong partnerships between government, business, and community stakeholders.
The Oregon Legislature's passage of House Bill 2017 (Keep Oregon Moving) established the foundation for new transportation funding for needed highway improvements, new statewide funding for public transportation services, and safer routes for pedestrians, bicycles, and students (Safe Routes to School Program). Implemented over the next four years, the investments made by this program will provide good jobs, promote quality communities, and support local land use, economic, and environmental objectives.
The WEA supported Keep Oregon Moving because it took a multi-modal approach to a statewide transportation problem. We will continue to work with state and local governments on all aspects of the program. We are particularly excited to work with Tri-Met and local governments as they begin to identify projects for the public transportation portion of Keep Oregon Moving. This section of the House Bill (Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund) established a new dedicated source of funding for expanding public transportation service throughout Oregon. WEA was represented on the statewide committee that established the rules and procedures for identifying projects and allocating the estimated $115 million annually throughout Oregon.
At the same time, WEA, businesses, and Westside residents are looking forward to the improvements arriving on Highway 217 thanks to Keep Oregon Moving. ODOT recently held a public open house, unveiling the plans for the $98 million improvements to Highway 217 — one of the worst bottlenecks on the west side of the region. The project, scheduled for construction between 2020 and 2022, will widen the freeway southbound from Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway to Oregon 99W, and northbound it will be from OR 99W to Scholls Ferry Road. The new auxiliary lanes in these sections will help vehicles get on and off Highway 217 safely and efficiently, reducing recurring bottlenecks and helping traffic flow more reliably. This project has always been one of the WEA's top priority projects, and we're eager to see it become a reality.
I mentioned partnerships earlier. WEA has enjoyed a close partnership with the Westside Transportation Alliance (WTA). The WTA has worked closely with Washington County employers since 1997 to help employees commute to work without having to drive alone. Both organizations support education and engagement around transportation options and expanding transportation choices available to residents and businesses on the Westside. We have partnered on multiple projects, including joint WTA and WEA meetings that highlighted future multi-modal commute options in Washington County, Metro's Regional Transportation Plan process, planning for the annual WEA Economic Development Bike Tour, and a recent Transportation Conference.
Finally, this fall WEA is developing an event called "The Intersection of Housing and Transportation Summit," which will examine how housing and transportation are dependent upon each other. This event will bring discussion on how to take steps to better integrate decisions related to both critical planning issues. We recognize that housing choices, availability, and affordability is tied to transportation services and mobility. We're looking forward to what is expected to be a day-long summit, bringing new and innovative ideas to this topic. If you're interested in attending, please visit WEA's website later this summer for information, or you can also join the email list for its news and events.
Stay safe as you enjoy your travels this summer.
Frank Angelo is the chair of the WEA Transportation Committee and serves on the Board of Directors. Angelo is also a principal of Angelo Planning Group. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org