What the Zombie Westside Bypass Tells Us About Regional Transportation

December 2012

The Westside Bypass is back from the graveyard of bad ideas.

A white paper circulating in Washington County recently calls for legislation to authorize a study of the viability of this long-held nightmare of a freeway cutting across prime Tualatin Valley farmland, through communities and over new bridges across the Willamette and possibly the Columbia. In a twist, proponents now cite freight movement as a priority, and have expanded the concept of 'Westside" to include the entire North Coast, Yamhill County wine country, and even Marion County, in a bid to pump up the area's economic importance.

The last time this idea was seriously proposed, in the 1990s, 1000 Friends helped defeat the idea with our landmark LUTRAQ study (Making the Land Use, Transportation and Air Quality Connection). You can read that report in several volumes on our website. LUTRAQ demonstrated that the Westside Bypass would be a totally ineffective and expensive boondoggle. In its place, it showed a much better way to improve transportation in the region: enhance transit connections, connect streets, provide better links between jobs and housing, and think seriously about priorities for growth and conservation.

In our view, the reasons not to build a freeway through farmland remain the same. At huge expense to Oregon taxpayers, it won't really solve traffic congestion woes, but will foster sprawl, air pollution, and car dependency. The people who will benefit from it will be few, but those who will pay the cost will be many.

But as we discovered with LUTRAQ, it's not enough to just kill an idea. (And it's hard to put a zombie to final rest, anyway.) We need to have a serious discussion about how to improve transportation safety and efficiency in Washington County.

Many of the recommendations in LUTRAQ have not been fully implemented. Many Washington County workers still lack frequent, dependable transit. Washington County needs more affordable housing near where jobs are already located. And walking and bicycling are still not safe options for many people in the region.

Finally, the most efficient and cheapest way to increase freight capacity is to provide more options to reduce the number of cars driving on the same roads for every trip. It is cheaper to save a lane of roadway than to build one. 

To the extent that the return of the failed Westside Bypass idea can open exploration of those issues, we welcome the discussion. We are engaging partners in the region to discuss ideas for serious strategies to efficiently and equitably improve mobility without worsening air pollution, disrupting agriculture, and fostering sprawl. But the region does not need--and Oregon taxpayers don't want to fund--a multimillion-dollar study to tell us that that a staggering, growling zombie freeway is an idea that needs to be put to rest for good. 

If you agree, please click the "Recommend" button to the right, and share this page with others who care about the region's transportation future.

Oregon Stories | December 2012

This page was featured in our Oregon Stories e-newsletter in December 2012.

Stories in this issue:

Our Top 5 Lists for 2012-13
Infographic: Oregon's Candy Cane Connection
Return of the Zombie Freeway
Announcing our 2013 Events
Give!Guide 2012

Access the full issue here.

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