While construction begins at Gaarde/McDonald St., city plans future projects to ease traffic on clogged highway

Pacific Highway has long been known for its congestion, but finding a solution won't be a simple fix, City Coucnilors say.How do you solve a problem like Pacific Highway?

That was the question on the Tigard City Council’s mind this week, as Councilors begin brainstorming possible solutions to make traffic smoother along the long-congested highway.

Pacific Highway, also known as State Route 99W, has been a problem with the city for years.

Traffic has been on everyone’s minds in Tigard, said Assistant City Manager Liz Newton.

The topic is regularly voted the No. 1 issue among Tigard residents, and City Council President Jason Snider said that it’s a topic he is often asked about directly.

“We would be remiss in our duties if we didn’t continue to push and have a discussion about what we can do,” Snider said.

A major lifeline for the city, Pacific Highway hosts more than 50,000 cars every day, said Mike McCarthy, a traffic engineer with the city.

“It’s gets to a level where our counters have trouble measuring (how many cars are traveling on the highway),” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that by 2035, traffic on the highway will grow by 25 to 50 percent.

“It just sucks the life out of everything. It’s the dinosaur in the room,” City Councilor Marc Woodard said. “There are other things that cities need to accomplish to stay competitive, but (Highway 99W) is something that we have to deal with. It sucks up a lot of resources.”

McCarthy said that Tigard would need to extend the highway to eight lanes in order to meet the demands of traffic, but added that an expansion of that nature is both cost-prohibitive and would likely destroy about 100 businesses located along the highway.

Pacific Highway is not maintained by the city, but by the Oregon Department of Transportation, which has final say on what — if any — improvements are made to the highway.

McCarthy said that the solution is to focus on smaller projects that will make the highway more efficient, such as intersection improvements and fixes to local hotspots.

“Those tend to be in the range that ODOT can come up with funding for,” McCarthy said.

But Snider said that the city should also focus on larger projects, such as rekindling the abandoned Westside Bypass, or building alternative east-west roads that motorists can use to circumvent Pacific Highway or local neighborhoods.

The solution won’t be easy, Snider said, and it won’t be accomplished by Tigard alone.

“This is a political problem,” Snider said. “We need to be advocating at other levels of government to push this. Having a conversation within our city won’t be effective in solving this problem. If we’re going to do anything about it, the Council and mayor will have to push and not take ‘No’ for an answer.”

The city will begin working on a shortlist of major construction projects that the Council can advocate for, including another shot at building a bypass or east-west connectors.

Neighbors regularly complain about speeding cars in neighborhoods, and congested side streets such as Walnut or McDonald.

“Those are symptoms,” Snider said. “Solving those won’t solve the disease.”

The city has taken steps in recent years to address traffic issues, re-timing its traffic lights a few years ago, re-designing the intersections of Greenburg Road and Hall Boulevard, and is starting this week on a construction project at Southwest McDonald Street.

Improving the intersection at Southwest Gaarde and Southwest McDonald street is a $9.4 million project meant to improve traffic flow and safety on one of Tigard’s most dangerous intersections.

Crews will install new through lanes and turn lanes for Bull Mountain Road, a left turn lane for Gaarde Street, a right turn lane for McDonald Street, as well as new traffic signals, bike lanes, retaining walls and crosswalks.

McCarthy said that between 15,000 and 20,000 cars use local neighborhood streets every day in order to get around congestion on the highway.

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