County ties Basalt Creek Urban Renewal to Parkway Extension project

Basalt Creek Parkway extension
The $31 million Basalt Creek Parkway extension would bring that road east from Grahams Ferry Road and connect with Boones Ferry Road near Greenhill Lane. Courtesy of Washington County
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Tualatin City Councilors asked to support parkway, bridge project over objections

A proposed urban renewal district in Basalt Creek and Tualatin’s Southwest Industrial area is now tied to a planned road and bridge extension across Basalt Creek that would connect Grahams Ferry and Boones Ferry roads. 

Basalt Creek Parkway
The Basalt Creek Parkway would connect Grahams Ferry Road with Boones Ferry Road using a 700-foot long bridge over Basalt Creek. Critics of the $31 million plan say it would have an adverse impact on stormwater runoff and fish passage, as well as on traffic. Courtesy of Washington County

The Tualatin City Council approved the creation of the new district at its Aug. 23 meeting. But that only came after the Washington County Board of Commissioners asked councilors to support the construction of a planned extension of SW 124th Ave. across Basalt Creek that would connect Grahams Ferry and Boones Ferry roads. Commissioners said that opposition to the proposed Basalt Creek Parkway Extension project would fly in the face of the Basalt Creek Concept Plan that was adopted by Tualatin in 2019. 

“It was agreed there would be a Basalt Creek Parkway Extension and Wilsonville was very insistent they have both sides of Basalt Creek on this because they didn’t think Tualatin would manage it well,” Commissioner Roy Rogers said at an Aug. 3 county commission meeting. “We finally established a line in which we said ‘Okay, we’ll commit to this for future generations.’ But what we now have is a 124th that essentially goes nowhere because that last leg hasn’t been built.” 

Because a portion of the proposed 717-acre Basalt Creek/Southwest Industrial Area Urban Renewal District is in unincorporated Washington County, commissioners had to agree to the establishment of the proposed urban renewal district. They did so at an Aug. 17 meeting, but only after pressuring city officials to support that course of action in writing. 

“Commitments were made and the city has been outstanding in their efforts to move those commitments,” Rogers said Aug. 17. “It was always known there would have to be some look at the Boones Ferry issue. I mentioned to the mayor the other day that he and I will be in rocking chairs looking at each other by the time this gets done. But the environmental issues, those have always been there and we’ve never skirted that. It’s part of any federal funding and we’ve always known we have to look at it. Thank you to city representatives for their understanding of this complex issue.” 

Ultimately, the proposed urban renewal district will go forward. City councilors voted 5-2 in favor of that outcome at an Aug. 23 public hearing, with councilors Valerie Pratt and Bridget Brooks opposing the measure. Because that vote was not unanimous, a second vote was required and held at an Aug. 30 special meeting. This resulted in an identical outcome, with Brooks and Pratt again voting against adoption of the ordinance. 

All of this followed an Aug. 9 meeting, where the council agreed by the same 5-2 vote to support the project, both politically and financially, in order to preserve the district, which is intended to spur industrial development, build new infrastructure and create jobs.

“I personally do not support the action of building a bridge over the canyon,” Councilor Christen Sacco said. “I do recognize that as a governing body this was agreed upon and that was a decision made before I was on the council. So, while I feel it doesn’t align with my values, I kind of feel like that ship has sailed. The conversation isn’t if this bridge is going to be built, it’s if it is going to be included in this district.”

Basalt Creek Parkway
Basalt Creek Parkway between Tonquin and Grahams Ferry roads opened in 2017. The extension will connect Grahams Ferry and Boones Ferry roads. The five-lane road will include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, drainage, street lighting and a bridge across Sealy Ditch and a new signalized intersection at Boones Ferry Road. Construction is expected to begin in Summer 2023 and finish Fall 2024. Courtesy of City of Tualatin

Sacco added that if the council doesn’t comply with county wishes, it will endanger future funding for affordable housing, as well as long needed transportation and utility infrastructure. 

“That’s something that weighs heavily on me,” she said. “It’s something the entire Portland area really needs right now. It supports our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives to make sure we have affordable housing for the people who really need it. That’s something we really need to consider for this conversation.” 

Others flatly refused to agree, including Brooks and Pratt, both of whom also voted against sending a letter of agreement to the board of commissioners. 

“I feel like we’ve been bullied,” Pratt said. “And in my experience, you have to face up and be strong and direct with a bully. I think we need to be polite, but it (the letter) has also got to be worded in a way that we’re not backing down. We have to be careful not to set ourselves up to have this continuously go on.” 

Brooks said there are far too many problems with the planned extension project across Basalt Creek, including existing traffic issues on Boones Ferry Road, to consider it feasible. 

“I have a really hard time with adding a project that’s such a controversial project,” she said. “I could go through six main bullet points for why it’s controversial, from safety, environmental impacts, pollution, I have a list – trust me. To add additional benzene in the air and carcinogens and having more tuck traffic coming down Boones Ferry Road, and to have a line item added in and saying this is the same project … I’m feeling like I want to slow way down on this, I’m feeling really uncomfortable.”

In exchange for county support, Mayor Frank Bubenik suggested that the council should demand support in other areas, including more say in the Basalt Creek bridge design as well as more cooperation on future traffic projects. 

“If we are to concede this then I want way more than what we have in the letter right now,” Bubenik said. “I want firm commitments from the county of how they are going to further refine the plan based on what our constituents say.

“If we take this out of the plan, we pretty much have been told back channel the county will not approve this urban renewal zone. And if we tank this one, do you think the county will approve another one? There’s no way. So, all those plans we have for revitalizing downtown, they’re going to tank that. It’s put us in a really crappy position tonight of how we move forward on this.” 

As presented, the Basalt Creek/Southwest Industrial Urban Renewal District is 717 acres of land zoned for industrial uses and intended for employment development. Several small sections are zoned for residential and commercial uses. The district is split into two sections, one south of existing city limits in the Basalt Creek area the other in the industrial area on the west side of town. 

Projects that could be funded through the tax increment financing used in urban renewal include a water system upsizing project, extensions of Blake Street and the Tonquin Trail, as well as a Basalt Creek Gravity Sewer project. A total maximum indebtedness of $53.2 million is envisioned for the district, which are the funds that could be spent on redeveloping or improving the district over a 30 year period.