During a downpour one afternoon last October, Linda Moholt was driving along Southwest Herman Road when she witnessed a flatbed truck run off the road into a deep side ditch.
“The ditches were flooding into the road, and the driver couldn’t see where the road ended and the ditch began,” said Moholt, who heads the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce. “It was scary.”
Herman Road in Tualatin runs for two miles through an area that’s all at once rural, suburban and industrial.
It links residential neighborhoods to the city’s major employment area. Trucks travel on the road daily to move goods back and forth from several manufacturing hubs.
In 2012, the city and the Tualatin Development Commission completed improvements along a portion of this road.
They added two new signals, bike lanes, sidewalks, railroad crossings and storm drains, and widened one intersection. Different users of the road have to share two 12-foot travel lanes.
But nearly half a mile on the east end of Herman Road didn’t benefit from most of those improvements. It has no sidewalks, bike lanes nor transit stops. Ditches like the one that caught that flatbed truck line each side.
There were 35 crashes along Herman Road between spring of 2012 and fall 2015, according to the city.
The city wants to continue improving Herman Road by adding transit stops, sidewalks and bike lanes where they do not currently exist, as well as adding extra space for existing bike lanes throughout the rest of the corridor.
City officials anticipate these proposed improvements to cost $5.3 million total.
Investing in streets
Every few years, Metro grants federal transportation dollars to make streets safer and help people and goods move throughout greater Portland. This spring, the Metro Council and Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation have decided how to allocate the latest $33 million in these grants, known as regional flexible funds.
In this series of stories, we're looking at communities around the region that stood up and spoke out for their needs – and exploring the impact these dollars will have.
Federal transportation dollars, known as regional flexible funds, will help pay for the project’s first phase, the design and engineering, with a $625,000 grant.
The Metro Council and Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) distribute those flexible funds every few years. The city will match the grant with $30,000. It plans to request an additional $70,000 from Washington County’s Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program.
“The first phase is so important,” said Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden.
Ogden said applying for money to pay for only the project’s first phase was a strategic move to get regional buy-in for the whole project. He hopes that will elevate the project when the city applies for grants for the construction phase.
“This money that we are providing isn't going to build anything,” said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents Tualatin, “but it will make sure that what does get built is right.”
“Herman Road is one of the projects that we chose,” Dirksen said. “But for every one that we chose, there are a dozen other wonderful projects that really, really need to be done, [and] that aren't going to be funded. So it's a challenge going forward and we need to work harder to find funding.”
Keeping up with change
Tualatin has evolved from a small farming hub into a major jobs center. It's no surprise some of streets and roads are outdated for a modern community that’s still growing.
“I remember when Herman Road was just this little, rural road winding out through not much,” Dirksen said. “It's amazing – with the expansion of Tualatin – the growth that they've seen in the city and that is now going through a really terrific employment area.”
“We have more jobs in town than we actually have residents,” Moholt said. “We have over 30,000 jobs now in Tualatin and there are only 26,000 or 27,000 people that actually live here.”
But that leads to more freight traffic, “which just adds to the problem of dealing with pedestrians and bicyclists and just cars,” Dirksen said.
Moholt agrees. It’s why she has been working on transportation issues ever since she became the chamber’s executive director.
“Transportation has been a very high priority,” Moholt said. The chamber has been “advocating for it, collecting the voices of the business community and then leveraging those voices to make projects happen.”
The city worked closely with chamber to gather support for the project’s flexible funds grant application.
TriMet, Lam Research, Kaiser Permanente and the Westside Economic Alliance were among a dozen businesses and groups that submitted letters of support to include in the project’s application packet to the Metro Council and JPACT.
“I would say that was part of the reason why it rose closer to the top,” Dirksen said.
Dirksen believes all of the projects seeking flexible funds are not only deserving, but critically needed.
“So when you determine which ones are actually going to get funding, those have to be the ones that really stand out,” he continued.
Why businesses care
“Herman Road was one of those first roads in Tualatin that I noticed as being especially dangerous,” said Alex Page, a Ride Connection service planner who wrote in support of the project.
Seniors and people with disabilities rely on Ride Connection for transportation services in the tri-county Portland area. In Tualatin, people working at local manufacturing companies also use its services.
According to Page, people often want to get picked up along Herman Road. As part of its service, Ride Connection will deviate from its normal route to pick up and drop off people who make reservations ahead of time.
“Another part of our flexibility is that we will do flag stops, meaning that we will stop on the roadway if you flag us down and we will pick you up at a safe location,” Page said. “The problem with Herman Road is that there is a long stretch of it with no safe location to pull over and pick people up.”
Ride Connection has had to work with its customers to find different pick-up and drop-off locations, away from narrow shoulders and deep ditches.
Eighty-three-year-old Elvira Hernandez has lived in a manufactured home community on the east end of Herman Road for 35 years. Ride Connection shuttles pick her up directly in front of her house when she goes into town, like at the Juanita Pohl Center.
Hernandez doesn’t see many of her neighbors walk along Herman Road, because she says it’s too dangerous. But people might be drawn to walking or biking along it when the city completes improvements.
And it’s not just people walking and biking who are concerned about safety. Drivers “feel very unsafe on behalf of pedestrians,” Ogden added.
That’s a concern Dan Goetz hears often from his employees. He’s chief executive officer of Warne Scope Mounts, a local manufacturing company with two facilities in Tualatin: one on Tualatin Road and a second on Teton Avenue, which he recently bought at the end of last year.
His business, which makes scope mounts for firearms, is also growing with clients in 33 countries worldwide.
Goetz’s truck drivers travel daily on Herman Road to move between his two facilities. Ever since acquiring the second facility, Goetz and his employees talk about the dangers of driving along Herman Road more frequently.
He reached out to Moholt to find out if the city had plans to address the problems along Herman Road. Goetz was pleased to learn the city had applied for flexible funds. His only complaint is that “these projects never move fast enough.”
“Eventually, it will be a nice improvement to the transportation in this corridor,” Goetz added.
“Things take a little longer,” Page said, “but ideally they take longer so that we can have a better, more equitable and more accessible design in the first place.”
The problem with unsafe roads is rooted in a history of “planning that’s not inclusive,” Page said. “Planning that didn’t take into account all the road users, all the community members.”
Tualatin's application with more details about the project. (Note that project costs and scope are subject to change due to final funding availability and other factors.)
Page appreciates that city officials are taking a more complete, big picture approach to improving Herman Road.
“So we’re happy to see sidewalk improvements,” Page said. “We’re happy to see bike lanes added; we’re happy to see traffic calmed in a manner that makes it a multimodal corridor. So all those things align with Ride Connection’s values and we’re pretty excited to be a part of the process.”