In this morning’s Oregonian (in the West Metro community news section of the paper’s print edition, which does not yet appear to be posted online), Andrew Theen and Nicole Friedman report on differing visions for Tualatin Valley Highway (OR-8), a major east-west thoroughfare connecting the cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro. The highway–the route of TriMet’s 57 bus, and a high-volume stroad which connects the two cities (and bisects the unincorporated community of Aloha), has been the focus of planning activities for the past two years; as leaders try to determine what to do with it. In its current state, TV Highway is a “stroad” beloved by virtually nobody. It is a high-volume, high-speed arterial arterial and significant freight corridor; but one with numerous adjacent uses (mainly to the north, as railroad tracks run parallel to the highway’s south side) such as businesses and homes, and numerous at-grade crossings. The question faced by planners is: convert it to a more highway-like state, with features like physical medians, greater access control, and grade separation at key intersections? Or tame the road into more of an urban boulevard, with a lower speed limit, on-street parking, improved pedestrian amenities, and more rather than fewer access points?
On this matter, the two cities at either end of the stretch–Beaverton and Hillsboro–have wildly different visions.
Hillsboro: Pour the concrete
The city of Hillsboro seems to favor a more highway-like approach, at least in the vicinity of the South Hillsboro tract; a major undeveloped tract south of the highway and west of SW 209th, which was recently added to the metro area’s Urban Growth Boundary. The city has suggested that the intersection between TV Highway and Cornelius Pass Road, which presently is controlled by a traffic signal, be grade-separated. (Right now, Cornelius Pass ends at TV Highway, but were it extended south it would go right in the middle of the South Hillsboro parcel). Hillsboro is also concerned about north-south movements; as there is a paucity of wide N/S routes between TV Highway and Cornell, particularly west of 185th. (Cornelius Pass and Brockwood Parkway are both high-volume streets north of the MAX line, but two-lane streets south to TV).
The city’s comments did address transit; unfortunately the main suggestion there was bus pullouts along the highway–presumably so cars and more easily whiz by without being delayed by a stopped bus.
The city, which has a large industrial base, particularly in its northern quarters, as well as having quite a bit of nearby agriculture, has expressed concern about freight movements before. Hillsboro mayor Jerry Willey recently raised eyebrows when he suggested that the region should take another look at a “Westside Transportation Corridor”, which was panned by many critics as a replay of the Westside Bypass freeway proposal shot down in the 1980s. While improvements for freight (including trucking) are a Good Thing; the probably with adding general purpose lanes is that it isn’t effective at freeing up room on the road for trucks; instead we know what the road fills up with.
Beaverton: Not so fast
A vastly different point of view comes out of city leaders in Beaverton, who have expressed concern that the proposals will conflict with the city’s Civic Plan, particularly with plans to renovate the city’s downtown core. Beaverton has also expressed concerns that the project “prioritizes cars and trucks at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists and transit users”, according to The Oregonian.
One of the fundamental difficulties with TV Highway is that soon after entering the Beaverton city limits–it turns into Canyon Road, and passes right through Beaverton’s downtown core. While Canyon Road is no walker’s paradise, either–it’s busy, congested at most hours of the day, and dominated by auto-centric land uses (including numerous car lots), disjointed sidewalks, and a generally poor pedestrian environment–it resembles nothing like a highway. And the city’s renovation plans would probably make SW Canyon an even less welcoming route for through-commuters and truck drivers. Many such users use SW Murray to US26 as an alternative to slogging through downtown Beaverton–but Murray isn’t designed to function as a highway (despite superficially resembling one in places)
What to do?
Obviously, we here at Portland Transport are far more sympathetic to Beaverton’s cause than we are to Hillsboro. If Hillsboro wants to expand its road network, it needs to be thinking more N/S rather than E/W; as any expansion of TV Highway will have a negative impact on its neighbor to the east. Of course, widening Cornelius Pass or Brockwood south of Cornell will likely be unpopular among residents, who have already seen expansion projects along both in recent years. This is particularly true south of Baseline, where both streets pass through predominantly residential areas.
But if one operates under the assumption that freight movement is important–and we agree it is–then reducing SOV travel is a great way to accomplish that. Hillsboro, in particular, doesn’t have particularly good transit connections (and like its road network, is especially poor N/S). The 57, the 48, and MAX are all major and important E/W corridors, but between Willow Creek and Hillsboro TC, north-south services are missing. Both the 57 and the 48 (which runs along Cornell) are excellent transit corridors (or should be); the 57 has been frequently mentioned as a possibility for BRT treatments in the future. Development of South Hillsboro should include transit connections between it and the MAX, as higher-density developments like what is envisioned there by the city will make things worse for freight if everyone drives and further clogs up TV Highway.
After all–if money is available to build overpasses and pay for maintenance on new roadworks; surely there is money available to put into an endowment to pay for transit operations in a corridor?