Before you all clobber me for this story, please understand my history with the South Hillsboro area and the lands that comprise it goes back 4 decades. I attended meetings and public hearings and everything in-between as landowners and developers plied government officials to allow them to annex the hundreds of acres involved. When that Urban Growth Boundary line moved, a fortune worth hundreds of millions was made. So imagine the pressure and sales pitches that were brought to bear on those in power. It was a long-drawn-out process that included influencing political positions, committees, and commission seats.
As a broker of 40 years, a developer, and a planning consultant, I was expected to nod my head up and down (not side to side) and sing the mantra of the South Hillsboro plan. But like most insiders & locals, we all knew traffic planning was going to be an insurmountable challenge. Up to 8,000 residences will generate up to 80,000 car trips a day. That will double the traffic flow on TV Highway, a State Highway that already has many intersections at capacity or failing. Despite a lot of consternation, the South Hillsboro plan was approved as the best option to bring much-needed housing to our marketplace. Traffic planners presented thousands of pages of analysis and conclusions were made that the North-South routes could support the largest master-planned community in Oregon history. Concerns were legitimate that these new residents would have to drive North to our Tech Sector to get to work, and then drive back to the South to get home. In their way are TV Highway itself and underdeveloped major arterial streets (Cornelius Pass, 185th Avenue, Century Blvd).
You can learn all about the South Hillsboro Master Plan Right Here
There are a few things that great master planning just can not fix. Go to Reed’s Crossing or any of the South Hillsboro neighborhoods that are rising at breakneck speed and you will likely be impressed. The trails, home designs, parks, and roads inside the project are all top tier. On par, this is some of the best planning work we have ever seen in the Pacific NW. Having hundreds of acres of virgin land to work with helps- but all credit goes to the City of Hillsboro Planning staff and Newland Communities. It is a spectacular effort at master planning but the project is already in trouble; it was simply the right project in the wrong place. Industry insiders knew it and feared it, and Monday at 1:25 PM I saw it first hand. The traffic flow into and out of the area does not work now and likely it never will. Will the project fail? No, it will probably sell out in record time. Will residents flood local streets, TV Highway, and those North/South collectors? Of course, they will. And together we will all learn what it is like to have a 5-mile drive to work take 30 minutes or more.
Heading North on Cornelius Pass at 1:25 PM, 8/24/2021, I had a 15-minute wait to move through 1 traffic light.
This past Monday I toured all the communities I could in South Hillsboro, and boy was I impressed. When it came time to head back to Orenco, North of the project, I was stalled out trying to leave. Only 1 lane heads North, 1 goes to the left to the West, and 2 lanes head to the right. For whatever reason, the traffic was really bad although there were no construction stoppages nor delays. The light at TV Highway was only letting 3 or 4 cars across the railroad tracks. Getting Northbound was seemingly impossible.
As we waited a man behind me in a Ford Taurus decided I was causing the problem. He began honking while raising his middle finger in a motion that I think meant he was upset at me. So there we sat… me, the cars in front of me, the long line behind me which extended back to the South, and finger guy. The second light came and went and we moved 4 cars ahead. The honking kept on and now he was in the middle of the lane to my left. On the 3rd light I crossed and he was in my bumper as the light turned red. As we crossed we were welcomed by a Cornelius Pass road loaded with cars; a long line with both lanes filled all the way to the Walgreens at Baseline.
I pondered the visit and was saddened to realize this was our new normal. I think 500 homes have been completed. But with thousands more coming, this traffic problem is not to be fixed. I don’t see how that is possible. Thousands of jobs are coming along highway 26 at Brookwood, both North and West, to join the tens of thousands of jobs that are already in Hillsboro. Many of those jobs will be held by people living in South Hillsboro. One can see bumper-to-bumper commutes just to travel across our city in the not-too-distant future. And we have not provided for bus lanes or alternative travel lanes. Maybe Electric bikes, skateboards, scooters, and small vehicles will be able to travel on sidewalks or special transit lanes. Whatever will happen will be the direct effect of the cause. Many of our existing traffic systems are hanging on by a thread, and South Hillsboro can easily push them over the edge.
City of Hillsboro Master Plan- South Hillsboro
The map above is from the cities South Hillsboro Master plan. The traffic section I was stuck in is shown by the purple arrows. This is one busy intersection folks and the line of traffic sitting in the South Hillsboro side is going to be something to avoid. The orange arrow shows the Western route in and out of South Hillsboro via Century Drive. The Blue line on the far right is 209th Avenue which is the Eastern route. It is not going to be much help as it terminates North into the Reedville community of neighborhoods which will not easily handle too many more cut-through trips. This is a tough patch of the valley to travel through these days and the future looks even tougher.
Given the choice, smart planners would have opted to put housing along Evergreen Road or along US 26 at Meek Road or Jackson School. But no land was offered there, nor was influence placed there. Planning should be done free from such influences, but it rarely is. In my experience, I have seen everything from political deals to large campaign donations. I know too much, maybe. But even a simple farm kid like me from Hillsboro can see that this South Hillsboro project is going to have some dire consequences for all of us. Livability and viability are on the line, and it seems to be the traffic fears so many of us have already manifested themselves.
In San Jose, a large percentage of the workforce travel 45 to 90 minutes one way to work, and the numbers are on the rise. Is this where we are headed? Let’s just leave that question right there and hope the answer is a resounding NO.
It would be easy to dwell on the question of how HIllsboro’s smart, public minded planners who have otherwise made Hillsboro such a great place to live, made such enormously damaging decision on the largest project in City history.
Dirk Knuden’s description of the “right project in the wrong place” perfectly sums up the situation. Planners all over the country could marvel at the interior planning of South Hillsboro which meets density requirements and still maintains a great supply of parkland, excellent walkability and variety of housing (including what used to be called single family zoned neighborhoods)
But the Achilles Heel of the project is transportation nightmare it creates which overwhelms the positive aspects of the development, as Dirk Knudsen so accurately describes. As Dirk also writes, the problem wasn’t hidden during the discussion developments.
In the late 1990’s former Washington County Commissioner Steve Larrance was pivotal in forming the “Citizens Against Irresponsible Growth (CAIG)” non-profit that went to LUBA numerous times to try to stop the South Hillsboro Development based in large part on the TV Highway traffic problem. I was a Board member of the organization as was Rick Van Beveren.. Larry Derr, the attorney for the group did countless hours of work preparing the appeals, but to no avail.
Several aspects of the approval were particularly troubling. In order to bring the land into the UGB Metro had to show that transportation needs could be met with the development. Simultaneously, in 1999, proposed updates to Metro’s Regional Transportation plan started showing TV Highway as a limited access six lane highway. Steve told me these included overpasses at major intersections. Of course this was never going to happen but once it was being considered for the Plan, it became a factor in the South Hillsboro approval. LUBA specifically cited the 6 lane plan as providing adequate capacity in rejecting the CAIG appeal. The Kittleson traffic impact report, upon which Metro gave its approval, was woefully inadequate to express the reality of what would happen when 20,000 more people were put along TV Highway.
CAIG argued that the residential development should be placed nearer to Sunset Highway where the jobs were and where there was land. What I always heard as an argument against that was that the Sunset Corridor was prime industrial land where the future good jobs would come from. As we now see, that industrial land is now being taken for server farms which have almost no employment, take a huge amount of space and are enormous consumers of power. We also have Top Golf.
A final irony is Dirk’s description of the 15 minute wait time coming from South Hillsboro on Cornelius Pass crossing TV Highway. It’s an irony because another topic that Steve and I worked on tremendously was the need for the Westside Bypass, which in some plans included Cornelius Pass. Instead of a quicker way up to Sunset Highway, we now have the wait for three light changes to cross TV Highway the Dirk described.
Don Odermott, Hillsboro’s traffic engineer frankly predicted this problem years ago.
Is there any Hail Mary from modern technology that could remedy this situation? It’s conceivable that smart car and smart roads could greatly increase through capacity on TV Highway and on roads generally. But this is not likely to be a reality any time in the near future.
TV Highway is a major arterial. We all know what happens to the human body when its arteries are blocked. I wish I could see a surgical solution in some near term to avoid the same problem with our commerce and living in regard to the clogging of TV Highway. Perhaps someone else can. We can be sure any solution will be very expensive.
What remains is that a stunning interior planning achievement is overwhelmed and undermined by the TV Highway congestion Achilles Heel.
I have lived in Reed’s Crossing for a year now and have never experienced more than one light to get through intersection heading north on cornelious pass at tv Highway. Never. Maybe there was a cat wreck ahead on day you visited?