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Washington County 101: MSTIP and what residents want – UPDATED

Posted by on January 17th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Time for a change?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

City and county officials throughout Washington County are in the process of reviewing a $140 million list of transportation projects that will fund improvements throughout the county over the next five years. The money comes from the county’s Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program, known as MSTIP. The program has doled out $555 million in projects since 1986.

While MSTIP has traditionally favored adding lanes, widening roads, and other auto-centric projects, the attitudes of voters in Washington County have changed considerably since 1995, which was the last time the project list went to voters. A 2008 survey proves that Washington County residents now demand roads that are more pleasant to walk and bike on.

I take a look at the survey and go deeper into MSTIP below the jump…

Results from a survey conducted in 2008 show that voters in Washington County would like a full 46% of county resources to go to projects for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transit.

A list of projects from the 1995 MSTIP includes frequent mentions of “sidewalks and bikeways” but the word “bikeway” is a little misleading (see the list in a PDF here). In many cases the “bikeway” is a basic, old-school bike lane, separated from fast-moving cars by nothing but a stripe of paint.

“Bikeways” like this are present on many roads in the county, including Highway 99 and Tualatin Valley Highway. If you’re ridden a bicycle on either of those roads you’re aware how little protection the bike lanes provide and how inadequate they feel compared to the more robust, current generation of bike infrastructure.

Current projects listed on Washington County’s website include mentions of “bike and pedestrian facilities” as well, but the situation is similar to the list from 1995. Many projects are set to expand motor vehicle capacity without fully addressing the needs and safety of walking and biking traffic.

A series of images included in a recent Washington County newsletter highlighting MSTIP projects.

This begs the question… How exactly are projects chosen for MSTIP funding?

They must first meet specific criteria, listed on the official MSTIP website. Each project must:

  • improve safety
  • remove bottlenecks
  • be major roadways used by many residents
  • rank as high local government priorities
  • address multiple transportation demands (cars, trucks, bikes, pedestrians, transit)
  • be geographically balanced, providing benefit to residents all around the county

Potential projects are reviewed by the Washington County Coordinating Committee (WCCC) and specifically by the WCCC Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), both of which represent jurisdictions from around the county.

These committees are in the process of reviewing a new round of projects, referred to as MSTIP 3d. (A schedule of upcoming WCCC and WCCC TAC meetings is available on the WCCC website.)

How do county residents, the ones providing funding for these projects, actually want their tax dollars spent?

Results from a survey conducted in 2008 show that voters in Washington County would like a full 46% of county resources to go to projects for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transit.

Preferred funding allocation figures
from 2008 Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, Inc. survey
(Full survey in a PDF)

A clear majority of respondents (54%) also believe that cities and the county should invest less in roads and highways and more in projects focused on transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation.

Additionally, 59% of respondents were more likely to support funding for bicycle and pedestrian paths if they are built away from (but still connect to) major roads.

The preferences of Washington County residents are clear. The question now is, will city and county officials take their constituents’ desires into consideration as they make the next round of MSTIP allocations?

There’s been a lot of talk about new momentum for biking and walking in Washington County. This MSTIP process will be a test to see just how strong that momentum is.

Learn more about MSTIP on the County’s website. Follow all our Washington County bike news here. Contact Will Vanlue, will [at] with tips and feedback.

UPDATE: The original version of this article stated that MSTIP is funded by voter approved levies. Although that was originally the case, current improvements are made out of the Washington County general fund.

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    Todd Boulanger January 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Will…actually their use of the word “bikeway” is technically correct. A bikeway is generally a generic planning term for any bicycle roadway facility: signed bike route, bike lane, [bike track], etc.

    But your point to your readers may be that when one sees the term bikeway used in a grant or planning document you should expect the worse – ‘signed bike route’.

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      Todd Boulanger January 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      And by worse I mean – a bike facility with lower levels of overall safety and utilization, etc.

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      El Biciclero January 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      The “worst” is a MUP, of which there are a ton in my area of Washington County.

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    Alan 1.0 January 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Will, do you (or WashCo) have any data for (a) how survey takers think that funds are presently divided in those categories, and (b) how funds are actually spent in those categories?

    I’m interested as to how informed those survey results are…they seem somewhat ‘rose tinted.’

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      Will Vanlue (Staff Writer) January 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      The survey was only looking at what voters think the allocations of funds should be and I haven’t seen a survey asking how people think the money is being spent now (although that’d be interesting).

      As far as what’s been funded in the past, the data is out there but not in a central location that I know of. It can also be tricky when you’re talking about the state/fed match from funds and which dollars paid for which projects.

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    Alan 1.0 January 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks anyway. I’m skeptical that a random surveyee knows how much is spent on roads, but it is at least hopeful that the survey saw that much support for ped/bike/trans.

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    wsbob January 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I’ve given the davis-hibbits poll a once over. Polls and surveys can be difficult to understand and extrapolate from.

    The question I’m interested in having answered, is how much additional motor vehicle traffic volume on area roads and streets, residents are prepared to support.

    If it can be said that the poll’s findings are essentially saying area residents are expecting the county to slow increases in road’s motor vehicle volume by offering improvements and expansions of walking and biking travel infrastructure, I’d say that’s encouraging.

    Within the last 20 or so years, roads like 185th, Cornell, Walker and Baseline have had major expansions to accommodate greater numbers of motor vehicles. As the number of motor vehicles using the roads, increase due in no small part to the expansions providing for them, motor vehicle noise, pollution, congestion and danger has exponentially increased.

    Not so long ago, all of the roads I cited were basically two-lane country roads. Easy, and enjoyable to drive. Not too bad for riding. With expansion, they’ve become a stress mess.

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