I-5/RQ and CRC Freeway Expansions: At the Crossroads of Portland’s Future

Posted by Steve in CRC, News on June 7th, 2012 – 2 Comments

From experiences in the past, the Clackamas bike/ped bridge is likely to be deleted for cost savings as the project cost soars with inflation.

UPDATE: AROW joined the neighborhoods in voting NO to the freeway widening proposal.  The proposal still passed but will be up for future votes within the SAC and at City Council.  Further coverage:


The I-5/Rose Quarter highway expansion project presents a crossroads for Portland and the entire region. Much as the CRC is problematic, this project would further entrench our city in a piece of infrastructure destined for obsolescence.

Demolishing three good bridge structures to add one lane in each direction–while possibly receiving a few bike/ped improvements in the process–is absurd.

While there are certainly safety improvements worth making, ODOT itself admits that freeways are essentially their safest form of infrastructure in this 2009 report:

The number of crashes per million vehicle miles traveled on non-freeways for 2009 was 1.22. This is more than three times higher than the interstatefreeway crash rate of 0.38, and twice as high as the crash rate of 0.61 for other freeways and expressways. The difference between non-freeway and freeway crash rates indicates that freeway travel is safer.*

This statement, along with Metro’s recent report that main streets are deadlier than highways, raises important questions about how ODOT is choosing to spend $400 million for such small safety gains.  I think we could do a lot more to improve traffic safety with such a large pot of money. For instance, you could build out almost the entire Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 which would bring improvements to neighborhoods across the city.

Please write your comments on the proposed plan to ODOT Senior Project Manager Todd Juhasz or attend an upcoming public comment meeting.

Photo: Greenberry INC

In CRC news, today we’ve heard that River users said Columbia River Crossing too low, and planner ignored them

“The concept of taking a bridge and making it lower is so contrary to common sense,” said Tom Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for Oregon Iron Works. “We’re kind of baffled how they got this far down the road without listening to the concerns. They seem to have just ignored us.”

Last summer, another review instigated by Kitzhaber and Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler deemed the CRC’s toll revenue projections to be inflated by nearly half a billion dollars. The CRC was relying on outdated and inaccurate traffic numbers, the review found.

Not surprisingly, the CRC is fielding some pointed criticism from area politicians, not a good thing for an organization reliant on the goodwill of Washington, D.C. and Salem and Olympia for financing.

“We are at a loss as to how such an oversight in this design could have occurred,” stated U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera-Buetler and three other Washington Congress members in an April 30 letter to the CRC. “Given the importance of navigation to our region, we believe it is imperative that a new bridge not limit future river commerce.”

and If you’re still on board with the CRC, you’re doing it wrong.

Funding for the project seems to be in doubt as well. The feds just rejected the ask for a $1 billion loan, citing the lack of funding support from the Oregon & Washington state legislatures.

Many of the premises used to convince Oregonians that the bridge is vital and necessary have been outed as false.

And that barely scratches the surface. It’s been a hot mess for many months.

  1. I don’t understand your argument that because freeways are (in the aggregate) safer than surface streets, we should stop attempting to make freeways safer and/or stop incentivizing further freeway travel.

    I’m also unclear on what exactly a freeway cap would look like. Could it have sidewalks? Grass? Buildings? Any of this seems a lot nicer to me than the existing open highway, which certainly functions as a scar through a potentially exciting neighborhood, and which as an occasional car driver I do indeed find unsafe.

    On the other hand, it’s a very expensive investment in urban highway transportation.

    Not making arguments here myself, just trying to understand the ones at play in order to cover this intelligently.

  2. Steve says:

    Fair point. I meant to raise a larger point of how we invest and where we invest. If we’re making claims about safety, let’s get real about that. Deleting the ramps for instance would be a dramatic safety improvement over what is currently proposed.. that doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors at play, but ODOT continues to harp that this project is all about safety. They are also making similar claims about the CRC’s bridge and interchanges.

    Here’s an interesting study out from Metro today: http://news.opb.org/article/local-study-shows-main-streets-are-more-accident-prone-highways/?utm_source=Sightline+Newsletters&utm_campaign=e056dfa420-SightlineDaily&utm_medium=email

    Freeway caps are AMAZING compared to none at all. In my experience however, they look dreamy on paper and are prohibitively expensive. There is nothing that would preclude ODOT from drawing up a great plan, appealing for funds, and then deleting the lids as non-essential when cost savings is necessary. This is a cycle repeated through history time and time again, and they often use such infrastructure to delight the neighborhood activists. Well this time it didn’t work, at least not in our neighborhoods–Eliot and Irvington said NO to the plan. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the other active transportation advocates at the table.

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.