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Input sought on benefits, tradeoffs of possible connections

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Traffic builds up at rush hours along the busy Tualatin-Sherwood Road. TriMet is working to improve transit connections in that part of Washnigton County.Regional officials are recognizing what Washington and Clackamas county residents already know: their cities are not just Portland bedroom communities but employment, retail and recreation centers, too.

The most recent recognition came from the steering committee that is directing the Southwest Corridor Study being undertaken by Metro, the regional elected government. Most of the news coverage of the study has focused on the possibility of building a new light rail or bus rapid-transit line through the corridor, which runs from the southern edge of downtown Portland to Sherwood.

But the committee also has directed TriMet to develop a Southwest Service Enhancement Plan that includes better transit connections between cities in Washington and Clackamas counties, including Beaverton, Durham, Hillsboro, King City, Lake Oswego, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn and Wilsonville.

TriMet is gathering information on how many people travel within and between these cities without going into Portland for work, shopping or entertainment. One goal is for TriMet to determine and fund service improvements to provide better transit connections for residents of these cities before the new line opens. They could include new bus lines between the cities that do not go through the transit mall in downtown Portland.

TriMet Senior Planner Tom Mills spent much of last week discussing the project in Tualatin and Sherwood. He presented it to the Tualatin City Council, the Tualatin Planning Commission and the Sherwood City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We want people to know what we’re doing and to hear what service improvements they would like to see,” Mills says.

The first community meeting for the plan will be held in Tigard on Nov. 6, followed by one in Multnomah Village on Jan. 23.

Mills previously worked on the Westside Enhancement Plan that TriMet recently completed to improve service in and around Hillsboro. It already has resulted in more frequent bus service between Intel’s Ronler Acres Campus in Hillsboro and the growing Bethany neighborhood north of town.

“The improvements will be incremental as the economy improves, but the goal is to be responsive to the needs of the communities,” Mills says.

The steering committee is pushing TriMet on the Southwest Enhancement Plan in large part because it includes the mayors of the Washington County cities in and near the corridor. They and their predecessors have worked hard in previous years to expand employment, shopping and recreational opportunities in their communities. Successes include Bridgeport Village, the large retail center near Durham and Tualatin, and the Tri-County Industrial Park in Tualatin.

The growth of Intel and other high-tech companies in Hillsboro has also created a regional employment center that competes with downtown Portland. It even draws workers from Portland, contributing to the “reverse commute” on the Sunset Highway every morning and afternoon.

Tigard opposition

The Southwest Corridor was chosen as the next potential high-capacity transit area by Metro in 2010 after a study process that also included potential alignments into east Multnomah County. It does not follow specific city or county boundaries, but is roughly bordered by Scholls Ferry Road on the west, the Willamette River on the east, the beginning of the Interstate 5/Interstate 405 split on the north and the Urban Growth Boundary administered by Metro on the south, which includes Sherwood and Wilsonville.

Today, this study area — dubbed the Southwest Corridor — includes 11 percent of the regional population and 26 percent of jobs in the tricounty area. Both are projected to grow significantly during the next two decades.

As a result of this growth, congestion is expected to increase significantly within the corridor. Highway 99W, a major connection between Portland and cities to the south, already is seriously overcrowded during rush hours. But so are the few roads that connect the cities in Washington and Clackamas counties directly, including some, like Roy Rogers Road between Tualatin and Beaverton, that have been improved in recent years.

On July 23, the steering committee recommended transit alternatives for further study, along with roadway, bicycle, pedestrian, park, trails and natural area projects. The transit alternatives included both the West Side Enhancement Plan that TriMet is undertaking and a new light rail or bus rapid-transit line between Portland and Tualatin. The new rail or bus line was chosen in the belief that Highway 99W cannot be widened enough to ease congestion in the future. The new line also is intended to encourage redevelopment along its alignment, which has happened to the MAX line from Gresham through Portland to Hillsboro.

The possible new line is not without controversy. Opponents in Tigard have qualified a measure for the March 2014 ballot to require a public vote on either a new light rail or bus rapid-transit line through their city.

Even without the opposition, the steering committee understands such a line cannot be completed for many years. But it does believe TriMet can improve service throughout the corridor before then. That is a goal the regional transit agency will be pursuing at the upcoming public forums.

After the Southwest Enhancement Plan is complete, TriMet will begin working on similar plans in other parts of its service area, including portions of Multnomah and Clackamas counties.

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