Vagabond Shark

Ideas, Bikes, Art, Design, Architecture, Politics, Tech, Software

Murray Road – A Freeway in the not too distant future?

Posted by Peter W on November 12, 2007

The front page image in the Washington County slides linked to from this post shows an artists depiction (below) of a project that I saw earlier on a WCCC road projects list.

Overpass on Murray Road

Alarmed by this, I asked the City of Beaverton about it (along with another project on their list–a five lane connection from Hall Blvd to Jenkins Rd which would go right though an existing neighborhood). It turns out that although these projects are on Beaverton’s list of plans, they are low priority projects that were included in the County list only because the County didn’t ask about priorities. It is scary though, that the County just assumed projects like these, that would obviously have a severely negative impact on bike and pedestrian modes, as well as neighborhood livability (or even neighborhood existence in the Hall Blvd case), should be among the first projects funded by the next Washington County MSTIP funding initiative.

In fact, the general trend in the Washington County MSTIP plans seems to be widening 2 lane roads to 3 lanes, widening 3 lane roads to 5 lanes, and even widening the 5 lane TV Hwy to 7 lanes. It makes me wonder – when does this pattern end? If the roads weren’t wide enough before, what guarantees that they will be wide enough after reconstruction? Will they just alleviate congestion temporarily while enabling more auto-dependent development at the urban fringes, which will in turn require another round of road widening projects? I also wonder what happens immediately after roads are widened? If it just enables more traffic, won’t that cause more congestion on the roads connected to newly widened roads?

People may currently accept MSTIP road widening projects as necessary and even convenient, but as we run out of easy projects and as it becomes necessary to tear down homes and neighborhoods to make way for more lanes, the political tide will begin to turn against wider roads (and has likely already begun).

But if wider roads don’t fix the traffic problem and people want an alternative, what can be done? Luckily there is an alternative.

The Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation (DLUT) seems to have left one huge factor out of their supply and demand transportation equations – the demand side. They assume that there is nothing they can do to reduce the amount of driving people do.  But the solution is actually in their name – “Land Use”. Instead of building wider roads to handle growing traffic from new houses far away from businesses, schools, and shopping, the DLUT should focus on promoting infill development and new development in centers, where people are close enough to where they want to go that they wouldn’t need to use a car to make trips (or if they did use their car, at least the trips would be shorter). Resident surveys have already shown that people prefer this to sprawling auto dependent development; the DLUT just needs to start paying attention to what people want and help make that happen. The alternative — continuing our current path and turning our roads into freeways — means more noise, more neighborhoods carved up, less people walking, biking and taking transit, more pollution, and in the end, just more traffic.

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