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Two-way streets likely coming to downtown

Fasten your seat belts. Although the decision is not yet official, the city of Hillsboro appears ready to scrap its system of one-way streets downtown and return to a two-way network as part of an effort to revitalize the downtown business district.

On Tuesday evening, a sharply divided Hillsboro City Council voted to go forward with reconfiguring the orientation of streets in the downtown core from one-way to two-way, which they have not been since 1968. But it took “overtime” before the vote was decided.

The vote was historic not only for the changes it will usher in for downtown Hillsboro, but because it represented the first time Mayor Jerry Willey has been called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote. In Hillsboro’s system of government, the mayor does not vote as part of the council except in the case of a tie.

When the council deadlocked at 3-3 on the issue — councilors Megan Braze, Darell Lumaco and Fred Nachtigal believe the current system is working effectively, while Aron Carleson, Steve Callaway and Olga Acuña think the change will inject new life into the downtown core — Willey was called upon to decide the issue.

“This is the first time in my six years where the decision falls upon the mayor,” said Willey. “My response is, we’ve had the status quo, and the status quo doesn’t work. It’s time we send a strong message that we are willing to invest in our downtown landowners and merchants. With that, I will break the tie and vote yes.”

There was a heated discussion before the roll-call vote was taken.

“I can’t see spending $2.5 million to make streets more unsafe,” said Braze.

Council member Lumaco concurred.

“I’m not opposed to spending money for downtown, but it must be a project with a positive effect — and I don’t think this is it,” said Lumaco. “It may create a bigger problem. I’m unconvinced adding more congestion and making parking more difficult will attract more people downtown.

“We have people who now patronize downtown businesses and probably won’t go back down there with this change.”

Nachtigal said he was living in Hillsboro when the city decided to change to one-way streets back in the 1960s, and doesn’t understand why the city wants to go back to that configuration. He pointed out that the city originally converted to a system of one-way streets because the business district was too congested and delivery trucks couldn’t deliver. He believes those factors have not changed.

Nachtigal said the move could actually backfire.

“People active in the downtown community have indicated to me they will be less active if it’s more difficult to get downtown,” he said.

Carleson said she supported the change.

“Merchants have invested tens of thousands of dollars in their shops and upgrades and this is a change they are ready to make. I look forward to the changes,” she said.

Callaway also backed the switch to two-way streets.

“I have heard from folks who say I’m crazy to approve this and those who tell me I’d be crazy not to, but I go back to what the downtown merchants want, and they have said they are in favor,” Callaway said.

After the vote, Willey urged those who have said they will stop coming downtown if the streets are reconfigured to reconsider their stance.

“Everyone’s concerns have been discussed and gone over multiple times. We will need to find solutions, but that’s all they are — problems that can be resolved,” Willey said. “For those who say they won’t come downtown any more, I encourage you not to boycott because the decision didn’t go your way.

“Stay committed to the downtown business owners. We will do all we can to make businesses more accessible, so stay tuned.”

In line to be changed from one-way to two-way are Main Street and Lincoln Street between First Avenue and Sixth Avenue, as well as Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues between Lincoln and Walnut streets.

“I’ve never seen so much division on the city council,” Doug Sellers, owner of wine shop Primrose & Tumbleweeds, commented after the vote. “But one-way streets are very confusing for customers from out of state and even Portland. And to those who say the one-way system is ideal, would you want a one-way grid in your neighborhood?”

The process of realigning the street system is projected to cost the city $2.5 million. Once formally approved, design and permitting would take place in 2014-15, with reconstruction of the business district in 2015-16.

A final vote on the reconfiguration of the streets will take place during the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, May 20.




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