Aug 27, 2005

Why I voted to keep the 242nd connector right of way

At the August 23rd Troutdale City Council Meeting, a resolution to support the vacation of the "242nd Connector" right of way was on the agenda at the request of Multnomah County. The 242nd connector is part of a plan to link Interstate 84 and Highway 26 in the future.

The Troutdale City Council voted 4-3 in favor of keeping the 242nd right of way. Earlier that evening, we also voted 4-3 to keep the 242nd connector as part of the city's Master Transportation Plan.

Multnomah County wants to vacate the right of way because they are trying to sell property to the Reynolds School District that includes the right of way. Multnomah County needs the money from the sale of this property to pay for a proposed Justice Center in Gresham. Because the right of way is within Troutdale, the county needed our approval before they could proceed with vacation.

I voted to keep the 242nd connector right of way because it was the responsible thing to do. The problems of north-south access in east Multnomah County don't just affect Troutdale. They affect the entire region and Troutdale needs to be part of the solution.

I voted to keep the 242nd right of way because I believe Troutdale's livability would be damaged if we failed to keep the door open for another north-south route. I don't want Troutdale's roads to end up like those of Beaverton and Hillsboro, or even Dundee, where all roads are jammed to capacity virtually 24 hours a day. Once the traffic got to that point here in east Multnomah County, it could take ten or fifteen years, if ever, to solve the traffic capacity problem. Financially, if we gave up the right of way now, it would be cost prohibitive in the future to purchase a right of way we already have today.

As part of Troutdale's Master Transportation Plan, our consultants DKS Associates advised it would be premature to vacate the 242nd right of way.

At the August 23 City Council meeting, Multnomah County officials testified in favor of getting rid of the right of way. But they were unprepared and unpersuasive. They claimed that 257th and 207th could easily handle an additional 10,000 cars per day. They claimed they had a 2001 traffic study to prove this, but failed to bring copies of their studies to the meeting. Even so, when Councilor Gorsek asked if that study took into consideration the thousands of acres of property recently added to the Urban Growth Boundary south of Gresham, they admitted it did not.

Councilor Gorsek said he was concerned about the different conclusions of the traffic study done by Multnomah County, which indicated there was no need for the 242nd connector, and studies done by Metro, which indicated there was still a great need for another north-south traffic route between I-84 and Highway 26.

I was also concerned about the conflict between the Metro and the Multnomah County traffic studies. As I stated at the August 23rd meeting, the only difference between the two traffic studies was that Metro was not trying to sell a piece of land that included the 242nd right of way! This was the reason Multnomah wanted Troutdale to authorize the vacation of the 242nd right of way. It had nothing to do with future needs for traffic capacity.

New homes, businesses, and stores by the thousands are going to be built in the Damascus and Sunnyside areas south of Troutdale. That means that hordes of traffic to and from that area will be coming north and south on 181st, 207th, 242nd, and 257th. If we don't make sure we have the potential to have the 242nd connector built from Highway 26 to I-84, Troutdale's roads will be filled to capacity with traffic in numbers that will seem like the unstoppable "bugs" that came by the millions in the movie Starship Troopers.

2 comments:

Kenneth R. Bents said...

The 242nd Connector: a dark cloud or The Sword of Damocles?

Many dark clouds have threatened Troutdale recently. To date, only the cloudburst of June 1 has been ruinous. However, other threats remain , dark and dreadful threats. The Port of Portland’s proposed intermodal rail yard at the former Reynolds Metals site is one, certainly. And if that fails to come to fruition, the prospect of a NASCAR track at that site is another. Either would be disastrous for the families of Troutdale. And there is a third: the potential for devastating development at the 250 acres surrounding McMenamin’s Edgefield Manor. All could have horrific impacts on the livability of Troutdale.

Enough has been said, for now, about the intermodal rail yard. Thanks to Ms. Minnis, there is a finger in that dike.

As to NASCAR, the International Speedway Corporation, the development arm of and for NASCAR, spurned Troutdale in favor of Kitsap County, WA. It should be noted, however, that the citizens there have filed a lawsuit, now in pendency, against them, so that threat lingers, as well. And supporters in Troutdale still beat the drums, hoping for changes, favoring the siting of a racetrack here, regardless of how negatively it would impact.

But the imminent disaster has to do with the 242nd Connector. And what , as is usual, is the concern is that most people in Troutdale are unaware of what could befall them. Most do not realize what The Connector is, what its construction could do to the livablility in Troutdale, and how very, very soon a crucial vote is about to be taken.

The Connector, in the simplest terms, is , now just on paper, a right of way , taking out the curves on 242nd from Glisan to Halsey. On paper it swings east from below U.S. Bank, or thereabouts, removing some of the holes from McMenamin’s golf course, diving NE below Safeway and Cherry Ridge, and continuing N toward Halsey. Interestingly, it , the right-of-way, even on paper, stops at Halsey.

The acreage at stake is currently under the control of Multnomah County. You live in or near Troutdale and are , therefore, as much owners of the acreage as is anyone else.

As you have read, Gresham wants a new justice center. They want to fund it with the sale of this acreage. The County is supportive. And a sale was imminent. It was agreed upon. But it was contingent upon the vacating of the right-of-way. The sale price was , roughly, $12m. To many in Troutdale, the sale has, from the beginning, smacked of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”; i.e., we own the land, “we” meaning taxpayers, but the benefits of the sale have appeared to be directed toward Gresham. But the sting from that wound was lessened when we learned that The School District and McMenamins would be buyers, not developers with an eye to a sea of row houses.

Then, certain factions objected. Gresham did because ‘they’ worry about a viable North/South connector to I-84, particularly with the development of The Springwater Corridor on the horizon. Noteworthy, however, is the fact that Gresham has commented that they do not want any ‘connector ‘ depositing its traffic in Gresham. Effectively, that closes the door on its development at the South end. Wood Village absolutely does not want the connector coursing through its village, and “they” have made their opposition a part of the record. That creates an obstruction at the North end of any proposed connector.

Gresham, however, is the big dog in this fight, with its 95,000 people, six times Troutdale’s population, so guess whom METRO is behind. Gresham supports the connector, wanting to see it “banked” for some future use , which ‘might’ benefit them on down the road, so to speak. Emphasis here is on the word, “future”. Best guesses are 20-25 years “if” at all.

ODOT refuses to go on the record with anything declaring they do not now, nor do they foresee any time, when they might have the money to finance the construction of the connector. Multnomah County has gone on the record, saying they do not have the money. METRO does not have the money. All seem to be talking about “at least 20 years” into the future. So they want Troutdale to take the hit, to void the sale to The School District and McMenamins, a sale which would result in “good” development and ringing cash registers downtown and at City Hall.

The only possible conclusion, then, is that the connector will not, probably, in our lifetimes, be built. It will remain a line on a piece of paper. But it will tie up one of Troutdale’s two remaining large pieces of developable real estate. And buyers are ready, buyers with Troutdale’s best interests at heart, to close the deal. Those buyers , again, are The Reynolds School District and The McMenamin brothers.

At the August 23rd Troutdale city council meeting, a three hour marathon, Mr. Terry Kniesler, superintendant of The Reynolds School District, announced that the high school, middle school, and one elementary school are at or near capacity. He also indicated that the acreage East of the jail is of interest to The District, with an eye to the future construction of a school there. Representatives from Multnomah County informed The Council that The McMenamin brothers are interested in acreage to the West of that, indicating the possibility of a convention center or an ampitheater.

No one living in Troutdale can deny the beneficial presence of McMenamins or The School District. And both have the need of the land in question. Now. There is precious little acreage left available in Troutdale.

But when the time came to vote on vacating The Connector Right-of-Way, the Troutdale city council majority voted against it, effectively leaving McMenamin’s and The School District swinging in the wind. Reasons given for the nay-saying votes, cast by Councilors Gorsek, Thomas, Canfield, and Kyle, for the most part appeared to have had to do with concerns about increased traffic on 257th, should the connector not be built.

Councilors Daoust, Ripma, and Mayor Thalhofer centered their arguments around the “fact” that The Connector likely would not be built, in any case, in our lifetimes, and that refusing to vacate the right of way (the connector) would tie up, for no viable reason, land which, if developed by The School District and The McMenamins, could only accrue to the benefit of all Troutdale residents.

But the vote was 4 to 3. Sadly, Mssrs. McMenamin were not present to state their case. And , obviously, Mr. Kneisler cannot be perceived as partisan. The representatives of Multnoman County present, Mssrs. Abrahamson, Butler, and Dingler, spoke well, offered all available current data, were well-prepared, but were inundated with unanswerable questions from the four majority voters, questions having to do with observations like: “we are told that if the connector is not built, we could experience ten thousand more vehicles per day on 257th.” The obvious retort to that is: were current demographics brought to bear, one would realize, in a NY minute, that given the numbers of people moving to East County, that 10K figure is sure to be in the news in the not-too-distant future, regardless of whether The Connector is or is not built.

Sadly, representatives of Cherry Ridge, the development likely most-potentially-affected by the construction of The Connector, were absent. Also absent was the owner of the shopping mall housing U.S. Bank and Safeway. The same is true of Safeway and The Bank. They might’ve had someone present. The same is true of the myriad other business owners in that mall. No one was there. None. Zip. And THAT made it too-easy for the majority to vote as it did.

What difference might those presences have had? Troutdale spent a good deal on consultants who recommended extending Hensley Road through Sunrise Park and also on widening Buxton. Impassioned citizens rose to the occasion and, one by one, delivered heartfelt pleas to the council NOT to widen Buxton and NOT to destroy Sunrise Park by extending Hensley Road. Guess what? The council listened. Hensley will NOT be extended. Buxton will NOT be widened. But when it came to the 3rd agenda item, vacating the connector right-of-way, so McMenamins might build a convention center , and The School District might bank some land for a needed school, who spoke up for them? NO ONE. What in the world is wrong with this picture?

In my opinion, what is wrong is that the people of Troutdale have no idea what The Connector is, where it might be built, how that might be ruinous to Troutdale, and they do not realize, since they do not yet know it is a “not in my backyard” issue, that they need to stand up and shout now. Fast. And The County needs to disseminate a map of the area with The Connector “overlaid” on it, showing how it would devastate The Cherry Park Market Mall, Cherry Ridge, McMennamins, and so on. We need a “visual aid” here.

They have until September 27. That’s it. The 27th is the Troutdale council meeting, AND A VOTE RECONSIDERATION MUST BE ON THE AGENDA. Residents, right now, need to contact their city councilors: Mssrs. Gorsek, Thomas, and Canfield, and Ms. Kyle, and let them know that a reconsideration of the August 23 vote is needed. A new vote. BEFORE Multnomah County decides to abandon the sale “as is” to The School District and McMenamins and re-market the property to the highest bidder, which, likely, would result in a row-house development, or some such. A blight. Not good for Troutdale. Help is needed. Fast. Involvement is needed. Fast. As it stands, the future of Troutdale is resting in the control of Gresham, METRO, and Multnomah County. With a little effort, Troutdale citizens could ensure that McMenamins might expand, benefiting all who live here, and that The School District has in its pocket the land necessary to build a new school, or more, as monies become available.

Also absent from the August 23rd council meeting were business people from downtown Troutdale. They are aware of this battle, yet they did not stand up. They are needed in this confrontation. What could be more beneficial to them than a greater influx of tourists to McMenamin’s? And, too, McMenamins, themselves, need to exert a powerful presence at the next council meeting, much as did the Buxton and Sunrise Park people. Had “they” been there, my guess is that the vote would have been very different.

It’s really, now, a matter of Troutdale’s residents taking “this” seriously. It is every bit as imminent a threat as is The Port of Portland’s proposed railyard at the former Reynolds Metals or, perhaps worse, a NASCAR track at that same site.

If any of this rings true, call your city councilor. Let them know how you feel. Fast. Then call your Multnomah County Commissioners.

For more background, read Mark Garber’s 8-27 editorial in The Gresham Outlook. He supports the sale but not the vacating of ‘connector’. Call him at 492-5123. Let him know one won’t happen without the other. See Mayor Thalhofer’s rebuttal to Garber of 9-3. Then read Stuart Tomlinson’s article in the 9-9 The Oregonian in The Metro East Section and e mail him at stuarttomlinson@news.oregonian and let HIM know your feelings. He quotes Sheriff Giusto as saying “the justice center looks dead” and cites 4 reasons: one is the current battle between Gresham and the county commissioners regarding control of a large segment of county roads. Commissioners Maria Rojo de Steffey and Lisa Naito are angry because Gresham went to the legislature to gain control of the roads. But if the commissioners allow that anger to turn to vengeance and squelch the deal for McMenamins and The Reynolds School district, they will be guilty of failing to keep the best interests of Troutdale and Wood Village at heart. Call the commissioners. Another reason cited was the vote of The Troutdale City Council. Call those council members at City Hall, 665-5175.

Finally, the sale to McMenamins and The School District of the county property must be accomplished. Whatever it takes. Call McMenamins, and suggest they show up at the next council meeting. Call Mssrs. Butler, Abramson, and Dingler at The County. Call ODOT, and tell them to go on record, offering their opinion that the connector won’t be built for at least 20 years. They have said it; they just won’t go on the record. Call Rod Park at METRO, and let HIM know how you feel, reminding him that Troutdale are as much a part of The County as is Gresham. And SHOW UP at the September 27 Troutdale City Council Meeting. Please.

Troutdale Councilor Canfield said...

Mr.Bents, you are obviously opposed to the 242nd right of way in Troutdale.

In your comment, you stated, "Sadly, representatives of Cherry Ridge, the development likely most-potentially-affected by the construction of The Connector, were absent." From what I understand, you are a resident of Cherry Ridge yourself. I am wondering if you attended the city council meeting on the night we voted on this?

In your post, you claimed, "The representatives of Multnomah County present, Mssrs. Abrahamson, Butler, and Dingler, spoke well, offered all available current data, were well-prepared, but were inundated with unanswerable questions from the four majority voters..."

This could not be further from the truth. The Multnomah County representatives were woefully unprepared. They continually made up statistics and made claims unsupportable by facts. Even after their claims were shown to be incorrect, they continued to attempt to make up answers instead of just saying, "I don't know."

The representatives of Multnomah County claimed the 242nd connector was not necessary on the basis of a 2001 traffic study they admittedly didn't even bother to complete. When Counselor Gorsek asked if that traffic study took into effect the lands in Damascus/Sunnyside that were added to the Urban Growth Boundary recently, the Multnomah County representatives admitted the study did no take those lands- thousands of acres - into effect.

Counsilor Gorsek pointed out at that time that Metro also had done a traffic study for a similar period of time. Metro concluded that the 242nd conector was still needed based on their traffic study. When Councilor Gorsek asked if they could explain the differing conclusion from basically the same information, they said they couldn't explain it.

And that, Mr. Bents, is the crux of the entire issue. The only difference between Metro's and Multnomah County's conclusions regarding their traffic studies is thatMetro wasn't trying to sell a piece of land.

I didn't find Multnomah County credible at all.

Finally, your proposition that the other councilors or myself would have voted differently if the McMenamins had exerted their "powerful presence" at the meeting in August is so far off the mark as to be humorous.

A couple evenings ago, there were almost 100 Troudale residents at the city council meeting, testifying against the annexation of the Baker property into Troutdale. I listened to all of them and respect their opinions. However, I still voted to annex the Baker property into Troutdale because it was the right thing to do.

We will have to agree to disagree on the 242nd connector. I respect your opinion but I do disagree with it. I won't be in favor of reconsidering this issue.