Tag Archives: freeway expansion

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

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.

Concern over ODOT freeway improvement plans in Rose Quarter

Freeways or Neighborhoods? We can't have it both ways.

ODOT, in partnership with PBOT & BPS are proposing freeway widening and bridge demolition in the Rose Quarter under the auspices of the “Central N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans” project.  The current proposals start on page 27 of this PDF from the open house boards: http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?a=355067&c=53634

Be prepared, they are all pretty awful.  Their  ‘choices’ are unacceptable.  All of them.

This was a “freeway improvement” project from the start.  The public process was a sham.  Their 13 freeway choices were determined before the process even began.  It doesn’t matter how much input the public provides if they are just going to filter it down to the choices they want most.

The overview says:

The Central N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans are collaborative efforts.. to integrate land use and urban design planning with freeway planning

What will the products be?

The N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans will result in:

  1. A long-range plan for the N/NE Quadrant of the Central City, including a land use/urban design concept, policies and implementation strategies that direct and inform development within the quadrant over the next 25 years.
  1. An I-5 facility plan that identifies a preferred concept for freeway and related local transportation improvements near the Broadway/Weidler interchange to occur within the next 5 – 10 years.

This project appears to be spearheaded by freeway engineers, not urban planners.  Consider the following question:

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES ON THE FREEWAY THAT
SHOULD BE ADDRESSED IN PLANNING FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO I‐5 IN
THE N/NE QUADRANT? (choose 2)
Freight / Freeway Congestion / Travel Time
Safety / Reliability / Access

First of all, can they stop claiming that converting cash to pavement really counts as an “improvement”?  Next, can they ask for input on what our values actually are, instead of the six canned responses that are really just six ways of saying, Yes, more freeway, please!  Robert Moses would be so proud.

Next, 12 out of their 13 concepts include adding more lanes to I-5.  Do we not live in a Portland, a city known for great urban planning, reduced auto-dependence, and our successful efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?  And are we not living in the year 2011, and aren’t freeways, like, sooo last century?  And finally, can someone please tell me why on earth we built I-205 if we are just going to continue adding “auxiliary lanes” to I-5, indefinitely?

Lets ask some questions that get at what people really care about.  Like, Do you want to see “auxiliary lanes” added to a freeway in your neighborhood?  No?  OK, here’s another quick one that should be added to their survey: Do you still want a freeway in your neighborhood, dumping diesel dust down your kids’ throats?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Or perhaps to save on ink they could simply ask: How do you like asthma?

Albert Einstein once had this keen insight: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”.  I’ve always thought that Portland was a town filled with insightful people, so isn’t it about time for creative plans and 21st century solutions?  Years ago, one could claim that our city was forward thinking and insightful.  We set the bar high when we removed Harbor Drive and built the Waterfront Park in its place.  We demonstrated the power of grassroots political power and innovative thinking when we killed the Mt. Hood Freeway and reallocated the money to construct the eastside MAX.  But since then we’ve fallen behind the times.  Cities near and far have not simply followed in our footsteps; they’ve surpassed us in the battleground of livability vs. motorism. Consider the following few cases.

Where a Freeway Once Stood. San Francisco Embarcadero. Photo: Dewet/Wikipedia

San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway is now the famous Embarcadero Boulevard, and they replaced a portion of their Central Freeway with what is now Octavia Boulevard (using some money from selling excess right of way to pay for the project).

In Seoul, South Korea, a man who advocated removing the Cheonggye Freeway (which, incidentally, carried nearly the same traffic as the I-5 bridge over the Columbia) was given a mandate to do so when the city elected him Mayor.  Within five years he had, in one swift stroke, removed the freeway, restored the river it previously marred, created a Bus Rapid Transit system to accommodate the shifting transportation needs, and opened a linear waterfront park which spurred the area’s economic revival.  The traffic snarls that some predicted never appeared.  Was it politically popular?  Well yeah: that man was Lee Myung-bak, who was elected President just two years after the freeway was felled.

Even the south is more forward thinking than we are.  For example: New Orleans, Louisiana.  There, just as in Portland, an interstate was built which displaced inner city residents and businesses.  Down in the Big Easy, construction of the Claiborne Expressway resulted in the removal of 500 Oak trees along what was once a beautiful boulevard, and lead to the decimation of a thriving black business district (where once were 120 businesses, now fewer than thirty remain).  In Portland the construction of I-5 leveled huge swathes of neighborhoods, as shown in the photo linked to above.  New Orleans is certainly different than Portland.  They have the heat, hurricanes, and wet t-shirt contests.  And when it comes to roads, their thinking is as different as the weather: when it was time to think about expensive maintenance on their interstate, they instead decided to consider removing it completely.

Eastbank Freeway's Marquam Bridge. Photo: Steve Vance

Any Portland planner worth their weight in beans should know a few things:

1) The Eastside freeway is an eyesore.  As is the Marquam bridge.  The comment from former Mayor Katz applies equally to both: “It’s like having the Berlin Wall dividing east and west, with all the subtle charm of the Daytona 500 smack dab in the middle of our city.”

2) Even if a freeway were a masterpiece of art, it’d still be the culprit responsible for evils such as asthma, obesity, global warming, and of course freeway congestion (and as everyone knows, the only way to get rid of freeway congestion is to get rid of the freeway itself).

3)  When it comes to planning, the planner who controls the options controls the outcomes.

But freeway expansions are not inevitable.  Not a given.  Not a certain conclusion to the transportation story of our city.  The people of Portland need to return to our forward-thinking roots and demand better from the State.  We need more options.  We need to ask the right questions and demand better answers.

Lets make this happen.  Lets not just support a ‘no build’ option.  Lets do congestion pricing on the I-5 and I-205 bridges.  Lets tear out the Eastbank I-5 and demolish the Marquam.  Redesignate I-205 as I-5.  And instead of building the CRC, we’ll use a small chunk of the cash to build the 30 year $600 million bike plan in only 10 years.

We can do anything.  Just as long as we don’t start by building more freeways.

[CRC] Photos from 1970s Montreal show heartbreak of freeway expansion

When we talk about the Columbia River Crossing project in the Portland Metro region these days, the key terms seem to be “jobs,” “congestion,” “freight mobility” and so on.

But often forgotten in discussions of the project is the real, tangible impact that freeway expansions have on communities. Expropriations, home demolitions, sectioning off of neighborhoods; all of these are necessary biproducts of wanting more lanes, more space, more highway.

Andy Riga, on his terrific blog at the Montreal Gazette, has unearthed a treasure trove of photographs documenting the early-1970s expansion of the Ville-Marie Expressway in Montreal and the chaos the project unleashed on the neighborhood.

From photographer Brian Merrett’s recollection of his endeavor:

After the abandoned houses on the south side of Dorchester disappeared, excavations for a tunnel and a highway ramp began.  The apartment building at St-Marc and Dorchester was demolished. Another residential building at Tupper and Baile also went down. The ramp’s open maw gaped onto St-Marc just a few feet from the front door of the Julia Drummond residence at St-Marc and Baile. Then, mysteriously, while empty and up for sale, that building burned.

Friends living in Lower Westmount heard about my concern for my neighbourhood and talked of how their lives were soon to be transformed by the expansion of the Ville-Marie expressway.  Living on Prospect Avenue, just above the CP commuter tracks, these families had friends living on Selby Street and Greene Avenue.  I was invited to document the changes that were happening in that neighbourhood.

With members of the Westmount Action Committee, I spent two or three intense days photographing the demolition and disruption in that area then, over the next few months,  I went back to document as the construction of the highway crushed into the neighbourhood.  I photographed at rallies and at demonstrations.  The resulting panels of images were used in awareness-building events, at the 1971 Earth Day demonstration at Place Ville-Marie and finally as panels in the 1971 ‘Montréal Plus ou Moins’ exhibition organized by architect Melvin Charney for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

While Autoroute 720’s construction saw the demolition of most of the right-of-way, the project was never fully completed as a result of cost constraints. Showing they’ve learned something in the past forty years, the City of Montreal is now planning to turn the other portion of the right-of-way into a six lane “urban boulevard” instead of a limited-access highway as originally planned.

We could take some notes and learn a bit from the history of other regions before we snap the necks o N/NE Portland neighborhoods for a megahighway bridge project.

[Side note: It’s worth clicking Riga’s link to the scanned page from a Gazette article of the time. I love seeing the signs reading “Housing not cars,” “Renovate not destroy” and “Make housing a priority.”]