Washington County board splits difference in bypass debate
A decision Tuesday by Washington County commissioners had the rare result of satisfying everyone — for now.
The commissioners voted unanimously to begin action that would commit the county to study increased road capacity, not just new highways, as a way to meet future transportation needs.
But they also voted to separate the proposed study from an otherwise routine update of the county's transportation system plan, which they approved outright.
The proposed study is couched in language that avoids the terms "westside bypass" and "principal arterials." It will come up in a separate ordinance that will undergo at least one public hearing by the planning commission and the county board in the coming weeks.
The planning staff and county commissioners devised the compromise after the planning commission included the study on a 4-3 vote Aug. 1.
"I actually like the language," said Rich Vial, the planning commission chairman, who has been outspoken for a study.
"We are dealing with a problem that has not been addressed. Does this language do anything? Maybe, or maybe not. But it has generated a conversation that may be worthy of the time we have spent on it.
The compromise also satisfied critics who said there is merit in a study of how roads might fit in with the county's future transportation needs — but there should be adequate notice to the public.
"This was advertised as a routine housekeeping ordinance," said Jeff Petrillo, the planning commission vice chairman.
"I've had real difficulty accepting changing the policy direction of this ordinance by language that is not related… I am more of a stickler for process and procedure."
As a Republican state representative from Scholls, Vial was the chief sponsor of 2017 legislation — which did not advance — that would have allowed public-private partnerships for special districts to create limited-access roads.
Vial said he was trying to find ways to follow up on the Washington County Transportation Futures Study, completed 18 months ago, which called for further consideration of two routes.
One known as the northern connector would link the Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), which skirts the northern parts of Hillsboro and Beaverton, with U.S. 30 to bypass central Portland. The other would link the Sunset Highway at Hillsboro with Interstate 5 to the south. Neither the 2017 study, nor the proposed study, specifies alignments.
"The conclusions were clear there that we need better access, both north-south and east-west," Vial said at Tuesday's meeting.
The study projects 5.5 million personal trips per day by 2035, up from the current 3.8 million. While public transit capacity will increase, Vial said, "that means the rest of it has to happen with roads."
The compromise means no specific alignments will be considered. Even a reference to "principal arterials," as the planning commission had proposed, will be omitted.
"It would be difficult for the region and for us" to have proceeded with a study of "principal arterials," County Commissioner Roy Rogers said. "To prejudge something would not be acceptable under any federal (planning) process."
Rogers represents the county on both the Region 1 Commission on Transportation, which advises the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, which advises Metro, the regional government.
But Rogers said a broader study of traffic congestion might help promote road and transit projects, particularly in the county's southeast corner that he represents.
Commissioners Greg Malinowski and Dick Schouten voted to approve the transportation system plan update and to initiate a new ordinance for the road study. But they also said the latter should not be rushed.
Malinowski said that with at least two new commissioners scheduled to take office in January, the board might want to put off a debate until next year.
But Commissioner Bob Terry, who is vacating his seat in his election bid for board chairman on Nov. 6, disagreed.
"I don't see a need to wait until next year," he said. "This allows us to move forward in a more definitive manner."