Habit is habit, and is not to be thrown out the window by any man. Rather it is to be coaxed downstairs, one step at a time. ~ Mark Twain
Since the 1950s, transportation planners have expanded the national road network by hundreds of thousands of miles. There is by now a huge transportation planning infrastructure built up to decide how all of this money will be spent, with a basic underlying assumption of perpetual growth in the need for new roads. Most of this has been funded, at least at the federal level, by the tax revenue in the Federal Highway Trust Fund – exclusively dedicated to building highways and roads and the infrastructure (like lighting) that goes along with them.
Unfortunately, there is no equally large pot of money dedicated to maintaining these roads. A combination of poor design and lack of maintenance funding leaves most citizens simply tolerating the cracks, ruts, potholes and standing water that characterize our road infrastructure today. And yet, the jurisdictions just keep building more roads, using the same poor designs, and confiscating ever larger swaths of the natural landscape for the projects, with no plan for how they’ll maintain all of this in the future. The Sunnybrook Blvd Extension project in North Clackamas County was one such project.
In the middle of 2009, things were looking grim for trees in urban Clackamas County. The County staff had carefully selected an advisory committee to insure that the tree conservation ordinance process initiated by Urban Green at the beginning of 2008 would not impact any proposed development projects. The County’s transportation juggernaut was planning to build a half-mile piece of road that would destroy 86 large mature trees in the Three Creeks Natural Area without any obvious benefit for anyone. Aided by increasing tides of money from a handful of very wealthy special interests, the political climate in the County was taking on a decidedly narcissistic tone.
In 2009, Clackamas County planners and transportation department staff proposed to build a project that had occupied a slot in the County’s Transportation System Plan (TSP) for some time. The Sunnybrook Blvd Extension project would use approximately $10 million in Clackamas Town Center Urban Renewal District (URD) funding to extend Sunnybrook Blvd west, across 82 nd Avenue, across the top of the Three Creeks natural area to a new intersection with Harmony Road. The project would supposedly resolve a substandard level of service problem at the 82 nd Avenue / Harmony Road intersection by exacerbating an already serious level of service problem at the intersection of Railroad Avenue / Harmony Road / Linwood Avenue / Lake Road, and possibly save Happy Valley – to – Portland commuters 2 minutes on their trip (according to the County’s own studies). The casualties of the project would include 86 significant trees in the upland oak savannah forest at the top of the Three Creeks natural area and the connection of the Clackamas Community College Harmony Road campus to the Three Creeks natural area. Urban Green stepped into the public process and debate, and took action on the Transportation System Plan advisory committee to help rescue the upper part of the Three Creeks natural area and its trees from the juggernaut of mindless road-building.