The future of Saltzman Road
by Virginia Bruce
The road system in Washington County is comprised of a network of former native trails and dirt farm roads that were gradually paved, connected, and expanded during the county’s rapid growth since the fifties. When I moved here from NE Portland, I found out that it was easier to figure out what connected with what, rather than relying on the convenient grid and number system that makes it easy to get around on the east side.
The county was late to realize that cities would not expand to incorporate urbanizing areas like Cedar Mill, Aloha, and Bethany. Long-range urban transportation planning was made more difficult because the county was reluctant to use condemnation to achieve a rational system, and now that this kind of planning is underway, the land needed for right-of-way is very expensive and the county has to compete with developers.
Oregon and national judicial rulings have further hampered the county’s ability to “take” or require dedication of land for needed roads. Jurisdictions have lost in many important cases, including one handed down from the US Supreme Court this summer, when they tried to impose road-building requirements on landowners and developers.
Additionally, the funding model for new road construction has been reactive. Developers propose new housing and commercial areas, and the county requires them to fund (at about 28%) and design necessary road connections. Although there is a Transportation Plan (currently being updated—visit tsp2035.com for more information), many of the suggested new roads have uncertain alignments and fall instead into “study areas” (like the northern extension of Barnes past Cornell where Shell was allowed to redevelop).
Such is the case with the north end of Saltzman Road. A broad shaded area in the 2020 Transportation Plan indicates a desired location for the northward extension to the Multnomah County line. Although $6.5 million in MSTIP* funding was allocated to design the extension in 2004, the money was never spent. Subsequent development north of Laidlaw has constrained the choices for a northerly route.
Saltzman Road ends at Laidlaw, after the “thrill ride” down the hill and over Bannister Creek. Bannister Road continues to the north, but it is a steep and winding road through a residential area, and it would be absurd to turn it into a collector. NW 130th (which currently has a barrier at Laidlaw) was expected to be the eventual connection point, but in a subsequent development application, the hearings officer said it was speculative to assume that 130th would be the eventual route, and therefore did not require the applicant to dedicate sufficient right-of-way width for a major collector, and did not require dedication of right-of-way north of the 130thAvenue/Bannister Drive intersection to accommodate a future road extension to Springville beyond the Multnomah County line.
A recent development application for a parcel on the west side of Saltzman (http://cedarmill.org/news/513/new-subdivisions.html) showed the dedication of land for the re-alignment of Saltzman that would have draped the new road down a steep hill and across Ken Findley’s field. This would require an estimated 40-foot-high fill—more like a freeway than a suburban road. It would impact the adjacent wetland (and a major petroleum pipeline beneath it) and the cost of building it is unknown and very likely unaffordable. Findley is willing to “do whatever is best for the community,” but that alignment may not be the best answer. The application has been withdrawn for now, as Arbor, the developer, considers its options.
Our County Commissioner Greg Malinowski, says, “In the past when I have asked for the cost involved with different road designs [for Saltzman], I was told by staff that it would not matter what the cost was because the landowners would have to shoulder it. Now Arbor has the land and is pushing for the taxpayers to cover the cost of what could be the most expensive of the possible routes. But we don't know what that cost is, because the County has not done any preliminary costs estimates.”
Why should we be worried about extending Saltzman to the north? CPO7 Chair Kevin O’Donnell explained it this way in an October 2012 letter to Washington County Land Use Director Andrew Singelakis: “The north-south extension of Saltzman Road from Thompson Road to Springville Road remains a critical element of the long-term transportation planning needs for this area. The abrupt termination of Murray Blvd within the Terra Linda neighborhood and the awkward Thompson Road /Saltzman Road intersections are two examples of what happens when development determines road design and planning occurs in a piecemeal fashion.”
CPO 7 officer and Washington County Planning Commission member Mary Manseau says, “Without a plan for a direct connection of Springville to Saltzman, our road framework is broken—there will be no other alternatives to a north/south route to Springville between Kaiser and Skyline.
The Multnomah County land north of the line is currently a Rural Reserve, protected as farmland for 50 years. But continued growth in the region suggests that there will come a day when that area will come into the Urban Growth Boundary. We have a chance now to preserve a corridor for that future extension that will make our descendants grateful for our foresight.
At the August 3 joint CPO 1 and 7 meeting, CPO 7 leaders called for the formation of a Task Force to study the situation, and to lobby the county to take responsibility for designing a workable, affordable and long-term solution for the route. If you’re interested in joining the group, contact Kevin O'Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Major Streets Transporation Improvement Program