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City, ODOT reveal $400 million freeway expansion plans near Rose Quarter

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 7th, 2012 at 11:48 am

The plans would get rid of
existing bridge on Flint and
build a new overcrossing at Hancock.

After 16 months of meetings and open houses, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will share their "Draft I-5 Facility Plan" at a public, stakeholder advisory committee (SAC) tonight. The plans — estimated to cost $300-$400 million — call for adding two new lanes to I-5 as well as 8-10 foot "break down" shoulders, revamping on-ramps, adding new overcrossings, and making changes to surface streets in the area.

The State of Oregon has wanted to expand I-5 through the Rose Quarter area for decades and the ongoing N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans (part of the Central City 2035 planning effort) have given them a golden opportunity to do so.

When this process first started back in December 2010, we raised concerns after some very auto and freeway-centric plans emerged.

Fast forward to this past February when new plans were unveiled, and it was clear that those initial plans had been tamped down to include more attention to surface street connections and improving bicycle circulation. That being said, these plans would still spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand I-5 and increase the motor-vehicle footprint in what should be a thriving, human-scale part of our city.

Here are the project's objectives, as laid out at an open house back in February:

N NE Quadrant open house-7

To project planners, the new lanes, wider shoulders, and new on-ramp/off-ramp locations for I-5 are crucial to improve safety of freeway traffic. ODOT says this 1/2 mile stretch of I-5 has many more collisions than it should and they blame the excessive weaving and unsafe traffic behavior on the narrow freeway cross-section and poorly placed ramps. Throughout this process, project staff have maintained that this expansion is more about safety than about easing congestion and increasing freeway capacity.

At open houses throughout this process, ODOT has worked hard to make the case that the existing freeway is too narrow. Below is an image from a poster at the February open house that attempts to justify the new lanes and widening:

N NE Quadrant open house-5

The potential of expanding an urban freeway in an era of decreasing auto use and volatile fuel prices has given skeptics and activists reason to worry. One of them even called this "CRC Phase 2" (a reference to the controversial Columbia River Crossing highway mega-project).

I asked ODOT's Todd Juhasz about this back in February. He said they're not trying to "meet the capacity of the CRC" and that the new "auxiliary lanes" they want to add are simply to, "allow more space for vehicles to get on into the flow of traffic or off with more space." The new lanes, he said, will reduce side swipe and rear-end collisions.

Reducing the overall number of cars and trucks using I-5 and other streets in this area (known as transportation demand management (TDM) and transportation system management (TSM)) are also in the plans; however project staff have said that these measures alone would not solve the congestion (and therefore safety) issues.

Freeway expansions aside, the plans also call for major changes that would impact bicycling in the area:

  • That pesky diagonal intersection at Wheeler and Winning Way that leads onto I-5 would be moved up to Weidler.
  • On Williams, between Broadway and Weidler, bike traffic would run both ways in a center-running median. The plans call for a, "wide, grade separated, multi-use path."
  • A new, carfree I-5 overcrossing would be built to connect NE Clackamas in the Lloyd District to Winning Way near the Rose Garden Arena.
  • Two (and potentially three) "lids" over I-5 would be built between Broadway and just north of Hancock. These would cut down on freeway noise and could make bicycling less stressful.
  • The bridge over I-5 on N. Flint would be removed and southbound traffic would instead use N Vancouver to Hancock, where a new bridge over I-5 would be built. It would connect to N. Dixon. This would eliminate the notoriously dangerous and annoying Flint/Broadway intersection. Also, in order to cut down on cut-through traffic through the Eliot neighborhood, plans call for traffic diverters at the Hancock/Williams intersection.

Here's an overview of the main changes in the plans:

Given the high-profile mess that Flint/Broadway/Wheeler has become, that last point is probably the most important one. In formal comments to the project's SAC, the City of Portland's Bicycle Advisory Committee wrote: "The Committee generally supports Option 3 (Vancouver + Hancock/Dixon) although we feel that certain intersections will require a finer level of detail to ensure safe bicycle and pedestrian circulation."

The PBAC added that "enhancing the local network is an integral aspect of this project" and that they want to make sure the bicycle-related elements and local surface street improvements are maintained when/if the plans move forward.

"The associated surface street improvements... while attractive, do not offset the obvious negative consequences of the freeway proposal."
— Mike Warwick, project SAC member and Eliot Neighborhood Association Land Use Chair

Transportation activists with local non-profit Active Right of Way aren't as supportive. They are generally skeptical of ODOT/PBOT's intentions and they see this as nothing more than a freeway expansion project and they'd rather see the interchanges and expansions happen further from the central city (or not at all).

The Eliot Neighborhood Association, which represents people who live directly adjacent to I-5 and who would be most impacted by the plans (if they were ever implemented), opposes it. Neighborhood Land Use Committee Chair and SAC member Mike Warwick says they flat-out oppose any widening of I-5. "This proposal promises far more damage to our inner city neighborhoods than the benefits it is purported to provide." Even if the local surface street improvements were done, Warwick wrote in their official position that, "while attractive, they do not offset the obvious negative consequences of the freeway proposal."

Besty Reese, who owns the Paramount Apartments and is also on the SAC for the project, also sees surface street improvements as key. "If we have to have a freeway expansion through the middle of our city," she shared with us via email yesterday, "than let's at least make sure we get all we can for neighborhoods, surface streets, public transportation, bikes and pedestrians as part of the package."

Project staff will accept public comments at the SAC meeting tonight, where the plans will be discussed and a vote to endorse (or reject) the plan could be held. There will also be public comment taken at the next SAC meeting on June 28th. If you can't make the meetings, you can contact ODOT senior project staffer Todd Juhasz at (503) 731-4753 or via email at todd.juhasz [at] odot.state.or.us.

Learn more at the project website and by reading this article in The Oregonian from yesterday.

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Comments
  • matt picio June 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

    If they *have* to do this, maybe they can take a cue from Metro Detroit. The I-696 freeway project was stalled for over 20 years when the orthodox Jewish community sued. The proposed freeway was going to cut them off from their synagogues (Orthodox Jews cannot walk more than 1,000 paces on the Sabbath). The solution was to create 3 huge plazas with the freeway underneath them (similar to what Vera Katz proposed for I-405) with landscaped parks above it. If we're going to expand capacity, why not make it so that people in the area can walk/bike comfortably without choking on fumes and staring at a 200' wide trench of noisy cars?

    http://www.michigan.gov/documents/MDOT_Appx_B1_MI_Ex_Metro_Region_17_I-696_Three_Pedestrian_Pl_158692_7.pdf

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    • matt picio June 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      To amplify, one community sued, and the rest of the 14 suburbs the proposed freeway cut through followed suit. The resulting chained court cases stalled the project for 20+ years. Those of us who lived in Detroit said it took the fall of Communism to finish the freeway, because the 11 mile long center section was started the year before the Berlin Wall went up, and completed the year it came down.

      Another effect of all the suits is that the freeway "footprint" was minimized by making vertical retaining walls instead of sloped grass like you see on I-5 north of Fremont. This has inspired some in Metro Detroit to refer to the center section of I-696 as "The Death Star Trench". The 75mph traffic speeds on that highway reinforce that moniker.

      I would recommend ODOT follow the plaza example, not the Death Star Trench part. (tongue firmly in cheek)

      http://michiganexposures.blogspot.com/2011/04/interstate-696.html

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      • q`Tzal June 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

        Stay on target!

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    • Rol June 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      Quick... somebody build a synagogue in the project area!

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  • andy June 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    World-class separated bike facilities need to be the standard for any major infrastructure project such as this. Bridges - over rivers or highways - will always be a pinch-point for any travel mode in the transportation system; if this project proceeds without building out the bike system for future capacity, it will not happen.

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  • peejay June 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I wish I owned a business in this part of town. I could make some objection to this project based on my guess that I might lose customers, and they'd have to s**t-can the whole plan!

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  • Oliver June 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I get that this is just a conceptual sketch, but if I take it as drawn I have to wonder when they going to stop with bicycle "improvements" that replace a straight line with a series of right left left right jukes and dodges around new infrastructure. What's next, barriers and run ups?

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    • NPDX June 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Just another opportunity to train for cross season.

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    • El Biciclero June 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Why not just close the Flint overpass to motor traffic and let it be a bike-only overpass?

      The other thing that irks me a little about most bike "improvements" is that they tend to exchange street space for MUPs. Again, not to sound like a speed demon, but if my straight, 3-block, 20mph route were replaced with a 7-block, zig-zagging, 8mph route, I wouldn't consider it much of an "improvement".

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      • Oliver June 8, 2012 at 10:50 am

        And that seems to be exactly what's happening to/with Williams. It looks like the long term plan is to get bikes off Williams and on to Rodney. In which case it's not just 3 blocks, it's over 2 miles.

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  • Lenny Anderson June 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    The obstacle to moving freight is too many people driving alone in their cars in the peak hours. So called "freeway improvements" just invite more people to do just that, cancelling out any return on the huge cost of such projects. This proposal is about capacity, not safety. Just lower the speed limit if you are concerned with the latter. Freeways should be removed from the centers of citys and converted to urban scale boulevards. That goes especially for freeways along waterways. Fortunately ODOT is broke; time to lay off some freeway engineers.

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    • Andrew N June 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Lenny for Mayor!

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  • GlowBoy June 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I don't see the point in improving access to southbound I-5 here, when we should be preparing for the day when that section of I-5 is removed from the inner eastside.

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    • Reza June 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      Even with that pie-in-the-sky future, the freeway would remain intact south from Fremont Bridge to the I-84 interchange.

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  • Rol June 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Jonathan thanks for pointing out the dollar cost right up front, like "they" always do. Furthermore, was this project wearing a helmet?

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  • YoYossarian June 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    This is just more proof this week that traveling by bike is not being considered as a legitimate form of transportation. Honestly I don't know what needs to occur for the shift in opinion to happen, but everyone who cares about being able to safely get around this city by bike needs to start thinking about how we can up our game.

    At this point Portland's biking infrastructure is starting to look like greenwashing. If we can't get world class bike infrastructure from a 400 million dollar freeway expansion through the central city, or a simple cycle track on a huge and underused section of downtown (SW 12th), or a decent facility on Portland's supposed 'bike highway' (Williams) then what exactly CAN we expect to get?

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  • NPDX June 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    They need to combine this with the burying project that Adams proposed. Putting the whole thing underground from the Marquam to the Freemont would add well over 50 acres of surface that could be developed. The new land alone would be worth millions of dollars and then with buildings built would be in the hundreds of millions. That would add up to quite a boost in property taxes. http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=133375705191903700

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    • dwainedibbly June 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      I was thinking the same thing.

      If this project gets done, it will move the congestion northward, giving more ammo to the pro-CRC people.

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  • ME 2 June 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Last summer I had to attend an economic development forum in Klamath Falls. One of the topics was transportation and converting 97 to a 4 lane highway as an alternate freight route to I-5. The cost of this proposal is in the billions, but the State Senator for the region laid out a compelling case that with I-5 the costs is 5X 10X because first a new bridge is needed, next the rose quarter choke point needs to be addressed, and third the terwilliger curves choke point would need to be addressed. The plan of shifting freight to a less heavily populated part of the state made a lot of sense to me. Of course, the losers would be the ODOT regional managers along I-5, hence we get this type of proposal that will do nothing to ease congestion, while displacing businesses and homes along I-5.

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    • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      The HWY 97 plan sounds better, but what would be even better would be shifting that traffic to rail:

      http://www.hupac.ch/imgcache/97_29cf2031a9d/992_1200_800_79224e72c5.jpeg

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      • 007 June 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm

        Unfortunately, the powers that be and many citizens are against rail for some reason. I'd love it, however, if we went back to hauling freight by rail. Less congestion, truck accidents, pollution...

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  • Reza June 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I am conflicted on this proposal, as I am against widening I-5 but I like the ancillary benefits of the new lids over I-5 and the Clackamas bike-ped crossing. Anybody who rides or drives through the dreaded Box knows how bad traffic can get backed up with cars trying to get southbound on I-5 (there is no local southbound access to I-5 south of Broadway on the Eastside, which contributes to the congestion).

    On the other hand, I am wary that when it comes down to actually finding money for the project, any improvements to local multimodal connectivity (including the lids) will be seen as superfluous and be "phased in" or value-engineered out of the project entirely. And then we are left with an even wider gash through our Central City with more traffic and more pollution. No thanks.

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  • Paul Manson June 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Many of the bike components are "Potential" - which I take to mean: "If there is spare money. aka Nope."

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    • Steve B June 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

      That's my sense as well. They will be deleted for cost savings when the time comes, likely along with those nice looking lids.

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  • q`Tzal June 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    The solution is simple: toll I-5 between Delta Park and 217.

    From a fuel cost standpoint slow driving through Portland's traffic is cheaper than high speed in addition to the added distance of a I-205 rerouting around this area.
    Some freight does need access but most is through traffic.

    Option 1: use logic and rational speech to convince commercial and freight interests that they don't need to drive through Portland on I-5. I suspect the jedi mind trick might be more effective.
    Option 2: use MONEY instead. Trucks are routed and drivers are payed based on known mileage tables and costs incurred. These costs for shippers are primarily fuel and tolls. As soon as a route segment is tolled it is flagged in the routing software. When the extra fuel cost of the I-205 detour is less than the toll the magic of economics occurs and truck traffic that doesn't actually need to be there will disappear .

    The toll doesn't really need to be high for personal autos but for trucks it will need to be prohibitively expensive. Weight per axle with the added time cost of toll stations should set the paradigm such that most voters will be little affected but freight will only enter the area when necessary.

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  • Steve B June 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    This 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 obsolesence.

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

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

    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.*

    Sounds to me like we need to invest more in ODOT's "non-freeway" infrastructure.

    *Page 14: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TDATA/car/docs/2009_Crash_Rate_Book.pdf

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  • Granpa June 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    The I-5 freeway is 3 lanes from north of Ridgefield to south of Salem except this two lane piece. Accidents there are frequent and delays there are constant. This would not be a "make work" project and it is not part of a plot hatched by a cabal of industrialists bent on the destruction of the planet or the automobilization of Portland. The goal is to devise a solution to a problem.

    Jeeze the hatred of the transportation system as it exists, as displayed in this forum, has grown into the very Bikes VS. Cars situation that you so often rant against.

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    • John Lascurettes June 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      And it's two lanes from Ridgefield all the way south to Redding, CA. Then it's two lanes again for most of the San Joaquin Valley. So what that it goes to two lanes in Portland. There's a freight bypass freeway built around Portland and Vancouver just for long-haul shipping: It's called I-205.

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      • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

        And just across the river, another 2 lanes on I405

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    • 007 June 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

      Here's the solution. Live where you work and get your privileged butt out of your car.

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  • Lenny Anderson June 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Hey, we just love our city and don't understand why its heart should be carved up to save folks who don't even live in it a few minutes on their commute. A lot of freight from WA to CA already goes by way of 97, mainly to avoid all the passes on I-5 between Eugene and Yreka.

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  • Skis June 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Do you think the $400 million tag will be in every headline about this project like the $600 million tag was for the bike plan?

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    • A.K. June 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      No.

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    • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      $400 is laughable. They won't be able to do this thing for a penny less than $600 million. I wouldn't be surprised if it goes higher than that.

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  • John Lascurettes June 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Considering you cannot turn right (legally) from Vancouver onto Broadway, how to they propose to get cars and bikes onto Broadway and continue to the Broadway Bridge? Will they allow right turns then? How will they eliminate the conflict between right turns there and the no-stop traffic coming off the I-5 offramp? I don't see anything that looks like they're going to realign that offramp.

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  • I'm encouraging ODOT to drop this project, and instead focus on closing I-5 on the east bank of the Willamette. I-405 should be re-branded as I-5, and this section of freeway should be re-branded I-84. If only I-84 traffic is routed on this freeway, two lanes in each direction should be more than enough; however, if a traffic analysis reveals that three lanes in each direction is required to absorb all of the I-84 traffic if the southbound connection is removed from I-84 (along with the eastbank freeway), then I would support this project as proposed, with the freeway decking and the accommodation for better bicycle and pedestrian surface movement through the region. BUT, only if the I-5 eastbank freeway is removed as a part of the project.

    ODOT could potentially make all of its money back to pay for this project by selling off the land underneath the eastbank freeway. We removed the freeway on the west bank; it is time to do it on the east bank. The eastbank freeway is a blight on the eastside and a blight on the city. It's time to reclaim that critical eastside waterfront real estate, so Portland can take another step towards becoming the environmentally-minded river-oriented city it aspires to be.

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    • Terry D June 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Great idea, but then 405 would need to be expanded and several on/off ramps would need to be closed. This is another dangerous stretch of freeway that technically is illegal by federal standards because of the shear number of connections in such short length of freeway. Plus, it would be more expensive since 405 would have to be widened, probably underground since there are buildings next to it. Worth a study, but probably not doable....unless you could bury "though lanes" and put them underneath the current 405...

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  • Peter Michaelson June 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Seems to me that most of the congestion southbound at this interchange is caused by the on-ramp to I-5 from Wheeler. It's not a matter of the number of lanes. The congestion is caused by traffic merging onto I5 at the same time as I-5 traffic merging across that same lane to get onto I-84.

    So, the solution (much cheaper) would be to close the on-ramp or restrict flow via ramp-light so much that congestion is eliminated. If a huge backup results on Wheeler heading onto I-5 then use those gigantic empty parking lots for over-flow. Problem solved.

    And by the way I have a PhD in Traffic Engineering from Mickey Mouse University.

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  • Granpa June 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    There is no talking with the you guys. We just had a cyclist break a SUV’s rear window with his face at this very location. The proposal includes addressing that dangerous intersection and capping the freeway to provide park land. Yet the tone of the responses here range from: ‘ drivers have too much already so they are entitled to nothing,’ or ‘drivers have too much already so infrastructure should be taken away from them’. Bike Portland bloggers won’t be satisfied until traffic consists solely of cargo bikes running between yurt communes to yam farms.

    It is miserable to drive that section of freeway. That is why many motorists divert into the neighborhoods (like the Williams/Vancouver couplet). There is no doubt that there are many ways that the transportation system can be improved. Still there are hundreds of thousands of people in our region, with good intentions, who use cars and this freeway because that is the transportation system our society had developed. It is not just a freight route. This society of people, trapped in reality that is not of their making, are willing to work to improve the system for all users. Bike Portland bloggers should be so generous. More rail, more bike infrastructure and fewer and cleaner motor vehicles are worthy and admirable goals, but they will not come to pass because a vocal minority of uncompromising zealots insist that the majority is wrong and should therefore suffer, while these zealots demand to get their way.

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    • John Lascurettes June 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      We compromise often enough. We get nothing unless we demand it. That is reality.

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      • Granpa June 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

        OK. good luck with that

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    • Sigma June 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      Well said. I was at the meeting and it was clear that the vocal minority opposition, led by AROW, are only participating in the process so they can attempt to torpedo it.

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      • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

        So only those in favor of a project should participate in the process, even though it affects all of us?

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    • Chris I June 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      You need to broaden your perspective. Urban freeways are an American phenomenon. If you include western Europe in your pool of opinions, we no longer look like a minority.

      Also, I think you are missing the key point we are trying to make. This project will be at least half a billion dollars. We could build out the entire 2030 bike plan for that much. That is how we will get bike safety citywide, not by getting table scraps here and there every time a roadway is rebuilt.

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    • Kristen June 12, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I don't think you read John L's response to your first comment, and it's worth reading so here it is again:

      "And it's two lanes from Ridgefield all the way south to Redding, CA. Then it's two lanes again for most of the San Joaquin Valley. So what that it goes to two lanes in Portland. There's a freight bypass freeway built around Portland and Vancouver just for long-haul shipping: It's called I-205."

      We're not turning it into a "bike vs car thing". We're just looking for good options for getting around by anything other than a single person driving a car. Most of the traffic through the Rose Quarter is freight and commuters-- and most of those commuters are NOT car-pooling.

      Carving up neighborhoods to add one more lane that will only keep traffic moving for a short time before congestion is as bad or worse than it was originally-- not a good idea. We want Portland and the entire Metro area to be a livable area, where people can walk or ride a bike on their errands and commutes without having to wind through a zig-zag route to get to our destinations-- and that's the same thing the people in cars want.

      I want to go the most direct route to my destination (work, home, errands) regardless of my mode of transportation.

      Anyway-- this I-5 widening is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Like putting a band-aid on a broken leg.

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  • 007 June 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I believe the RQ widening is because of the CRC. As mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith has said, if we build the CRC, we will be "highway builders for 30 years." This proposed RQ expansion is just the first step.

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