Fast: Have your say on equitable transportation in Aloha
Washington County residents who bike and walk to transit along Tualatin Valley Highway, 185th Avenue and Blanton Street between Southwest 160th and 198th avenues could see funding for some safety improvements, thanks in part to Metro.
But it all depends on a vote by elected officials who sit on the Washington County Coordinating Committee, or WCCC.
Voting members of the WCCC are responsible for prioritizing the county's many possible transportation projects and transit routes. After choosing projects they want to move forward, the WCCC recommends them to the Board of County Commissioners for final selection. County board vice-chair Roy Rogers, commissioner of District 3, also chairs the WCCC.
But projects seeking funding from Metro's Regional Flexible Funds Allocation (RFFA) program, which is federal money distributed by Metro, have a slightly different path. As a way to fairly compete for the 2022-24 round of RFFA funding, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington county agencies all submitted transportation project applications in June.
At their October meeting, the WCCC reviewed Metro's rankings of 23 projects across the region.
The high-scoring projects demonstrably support Metro's four investment priorities:
• Advancing equity
• Improving safety
• Implementing the region's Climate Smart strategy
• Managing congestion
One of two projects in Washington County's jurisdiction, called Aloha Safe Access to Transit, scored in the middle of the pack — not quite high enough to ensure its funding request of $5,193,684 without a county-wide referral.
The application for the Aloha Safe Access to Transit project, submitted by Washington County senior planner Dyami Valentine, says the project's purpose is to design and implement pedestrian, bicycle and enhanced crossing improvements in Aloha, an unincorporated part of Washington County.
The project also aims to reduce trips by single-occupant vehicles _ a term meaning cars with one person inside, as opposed to one-person vehicles such as motorcycles. It would do this by increasing the viability of walking, bicycling, and transit trips in the area.
In a May 2019 memo, Valentine notes that according to the Metro State of the Centers Atlas, approximately 55% of all trips in the project area are already done by a mode other than single-occupant vehicle.
"The community has expressed significant concern regarding unsafe walking and biking conditions due to lack of sidewalks, bicycle facilities, and safe crossings along high-ridership transit lines," the funding application states. The project will address the community's biking and walking needs, including improved access to Intel's Aloha campus at TV Highway and Southwest 198th Ave.
Both TV Highway and 185th Avenue are identified as high crash corridors in the County Transportation Safety Action Plan.
"The proposed improvements are integral to increasing safety and access to transit in an area of the metro region with significant transportation disadvantaged populations," Valentine stated in the application. Sidewalk infill projects could also include 174th, 182nd, 187th and 192nd avenues between TV Highway and Johnson Street.
The Aloha Access to Transit project is in what Metro calls an "Equity Focus Area," and has the support of the Aloha Business Association, Community Participation Organization (CPO) 6, Westside Transportation Alliance, The Street Trust, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, and TriMet, which runs lines 57 and 52 in the project area.
Out of 23 projects, Aloha's equity rating was tied for third highest in the Portland Metro area. The project with the highest equity score was Portland's 122nd Avenue Corridor Improvements. The project with the lowest equity score was Tigard's Bull Mountain Road Complete Street.
Projects were also rated for risk, and how well the project achieves Metro's Climate Smart Strategy goals. On climate, the Aloha project scored a 2.2 (the highest climate score was 5.2), but the risk level was determined to be low. The sole stated risk is around needing to work with outside agencies — in this case, the Oregon Department of Transportation — to improve local access to transit on a state facility.
At October's WCCC meeting, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González said that due to the project's mid-list ranking, the WCCC would need to officially refer the project to Metro to secure funding. The WCCC, whose voting members include mayors representing rural, suburban and urban populations in the county, expects to vote on that referral in November. As Metro representative for the northern urban areas of Washington County, González is a non-voting member of the WCCC.
González also said a broader issue for the WCCC is boosting community engagement, as the Westside has not been well represented in terms of public comments.
But while business leaders and elected officials around the region may have plentiful opportunities to lobby WCCC members, such as at Westside Economic Alliance's breakfast forums, the public has less access to the WCCC. WCCC meeting materials do indicate a spot for oral public comment at the beginning of each meeting, but the WCCC website does not offer instructions for public comment, nor is there currently any avenue for it other than showing up to the monthly meetings, held at noon in Beaverton. The county does invite public comment at its many transportation open houses around the county, but ultimate decisions are shaped and made at WCCC meetings. No audio of their meetings is available, but archived meeting minutes are located at www.co.washington.or.us/LUT.
If funded, along with the $5,193,684 requested from Metro, the Aloha project would receive $594,441 in local match from the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP). MSTIP is a major county roads funding source made up of property taxes paid by Washington County residents.
The WCCC has been selecting and recommending MSTIP projects for the county board's final approval for years. Their criteria is laid out on the MSTIP information page, which says projects must:
• Improve safety
• Improve traffic flow/relieve congestion
• Be on a major road used by many residents
• Address demands for cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, and/or transit
It is interpretation of the second and last items that puts things up in the air for the Aloha project. Based on previous projects pushed forward by the WCCC and approved by the county board, addressing "demands for cars" has meant adding single-occupant vehicle capacity, a.k.a. road widening. While mode shift alone can add capacity, since bicycles are smaller than cars, and buses hold many more people, historically, mode shift away from cars hasn't been a WCCC priority.
Whether mayors believe that the mode shift anticipated by making active transportation safer in the Aloha Access project can address traffic flow remains to be seen. The WCCC will vote whether to refer the project to Metro — or not — on Nov. 18. The meeting is scheduled for noon at the Beaverton Library's Cathy Stanton Room.
Naomi Fast is a writer living car-free in Beaverton. She has written for BikePortland.org as the Washington County correspondent and her website is naomifast.com.
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