Board candidates disagree on roads, housing
Kathryn Harrington and Bob Terry agree that traffic congestion and a lack of housing alternatives are major problems in Washington County.
But they disagree on how to resolve those issues, other than agreeing on the Southwest Corridor light-rail line proposed to connect downtown Portland with Tigard and Tualatin.
The finalists for Washington County board chair made their differences clear at a Westside Economic Alliance breakfast forum Sept. 27 at Tualatin Country Club, and afterward at a brief meeting with The Times editorial board.
Harrington has been a Metro Council member from Beaverton for 12 years. Terry, who lives outside Hillsboro, has been a county commissioner from District 4 (west) for eight years. Whoever is elected Nov. 6 will succeed Andy Duyck, who is retiring after 24 years on the board, the past eight years as board chairman elected countywide.
Terry, who has been on the county budget committee since 1996, supports the record of county government. Harrington is a critic who has called for change.
"Washington County manages its traffic and roads better than anybody else in this state," Terry said.
"The bottom line is that in order to make improvements, we have to be committed as elected officials to pursue funds to implement those projects," Harrington said.
They are scheduled to appear together several more times, though the main forums are Oct. 9 and 11, both in Hillsboro. The Washington County Committee for Citizen Involvement sponsors the first; Washington County Public Affairs Forum the other.
They disagree on the "westside bypass," a series of highways that has been on the drawing boards, but has been dormant until recently because of the high cost and multiple land-use approvals.
Terry supports it, although his priority is for an alternate "northern connector" route linking the Sunset Highway — U.S. 26, which skirts the northern fringes of Hillsboro and Beaverton — with U.S. 30 and across the Columbia River to Interstate 5. This route would divert truck traffic from downtown Portland.
"We would like to see a change so that we can go through rural reserves. We are not talking about opening up rural reserves for construction of buildings. But we need to put roads through," Terry said.
"That does not mean adding lanes to Highway 217," the state highway that links I-5 with the Sunset Highway through Tigard and Beaverton. A $100 million state project, scheduled to start in 2020, will add auxiliary lanes and a frontage road — but not additional capacity.
Funding for the Highway 217 project was part of the $5.3 billion transportation plan passed by the 2017 Legislature.
Harrington said more such efforts are needed, including a pending regional bond measure in 2020 to raise money for the Southwest Corridor and other projects yet to be determined.
The Washington County board has endorsed the corridor route. The Metro Council is scheduled to take it up in November as part of the regional transportation plan.
Although Harrington didn't specify it during the forum, she said funding efforts should focus on already-identified projects, not new highways such as the bypass, which likely will require tolls.
"I am committed to doing the hard work to seek the additional funding we need," she said.
"We have a lot more that needs to be done. The reality is that it's not going to get better unless we work together and get more transportation funding."
Terry supports the approach of the current board for public-private partnerships to build lower-cost housing. The county has donated land, but leaves it to nonprofit agencies to work with developers on the actual projects.
"We have done it with no cash from Washington County," he said of the 118 units completed in the past two years.
But Harrington said the county must do more. She has endorsed Measure 26-199, which the Metro Council has proposed on the Nov. 6 ballot to raise $652.8 million for housing. Washington County's projected share is $188 million.
Harrington said the lack of housing alternatives, coupled with slow growth in wages, compels people to spend much of their incomes on housing — or to live outside the county and commute to their jobs.
"I want to make sure we are not a victim of our own success," she said. "It will make a big dent in the problem. It will help improve living conditions in Washington County."
Terry opposes the bond. He said it would give Metro a role in something already done by housing authorities in the three counties and Portland. (Beaverton, Gresham and Hillsboro also would be eligible because they administer their own federal block grants for housing and community development.)
Terry said the Metro Council should be more willing to expand the regional urban growth boundary to allow for more housing.
"We are getting some more land now, but we need more. When you have 28 people per day moving into your county, housing is going to be a problem," he said.
"I know one thing for sure: If we stop growing, and start reversing ourselves, we can very quickly look like Chicago or Detroit. But that does not mean we have to destroy our farmland in how we manage our expansion."
The Metro Council has already moved to proceed with an expansion of 2,181 acres in separate requests by Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City and Wilsonville. Final approval is set for Dec. 13 for the expansion, which could accommodate 9,200 more homes.
Harrington said the next re-examination of the urban growth boundary will take place in 2021. (The current expansion comes halfway through the normal six-year cycle because Metro chose not to act in 2015.)
"It's easy to say we don't have enough (land) and we need more. But we have to base those plans on facts," she said.
"We get smarter every six years. I do not think we are getting it wrong. But can we make improvements? You bet."