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Imagine the Central Eastside, minus that pesky freeway

Posted by on November 16th, 2006 at 3:28 pm

Ron Buel - Riverfront for People

[Ron Buel of
Riverfront for People wants to
bury the East Bank freeway.]

About a month ago I had lunch with Ron Buel of Riverfront for People. He had an idea to share with the bike community and wanted to get some feedback.

I quickly found out that this wasn’t just any old idea…

Buel is one of several transportation visionaries behind a nascent effort to bury the I-5 freeway from the Marquam Bridge to the Banfield interchange.

This vision was drafted by a panel of 24 experts known as the Freeway Loop Advisory Group that was assembled in 2003 by Vera Katz and ODOT.

Their job was to review the near and long-term transportation, land use, and urban design issues regarding the I-5/405 freeway loop that surrounds downtown Portland on both sides of the Willamette.

Putting this major freeway into a tunnel — and even possibly burying the Marquam Bridge — is an immense and expensive undertaking, but it might be more feasible than you think…especially with Ron Buel and Riverfront for People spearheading the effort.

Buel got his start on Portland’s political scene way back in the 1960’s when he helped Neil Goldschmidt in his bid for City Commissioner. Buel’s impressive list of credentials includes founding the Willamette Week in 1974 and an executive position at Nike just to name a few.

[Concept drawing for new Eastside riverfront possibilities includes man-made marinas, new parks, and lots of other good stuff.]
Drawing courtesy Riverfront for People

And Riverfront for People? They’ve been advocating to remove the east bank freeway for over 20 years. And, if you know your Portland history, you’ll remember them as the group who rallied to get ODOT to tear up Harbor Drive and put Tom McCall Waterfront Park in its place.

Suffice it to say, the idea to put I-5 into a tunnel is far from just a pie-in-the-sky scheme.

So what would this mean for bicycles? Plenty.

Buel envisions bike boulevards criss-crossing the Central Eastside and giving direct, benzene-free access to the River.

[Mmmmm Benzene.]

It was clear in listening to Buel, that he wants this project to move forward because it would add to the cultural and economic vibrancy of Portland.

Buel also emphasized how this plan would cut congestion and reduce car trips in Portland. The plan calls for adding capacity to the freeway and — because many people that drive in Portland are commuting from outlying cities — a major part of their vision is to add thousands of close-in, “workforce” housing units enabling more people to walk and bike to work.

Other salient points in their vision include:

  • Taking out the freeway and adjacent ramps to create 43 acres of land between the Banfield and OMSI along the riverfront.
  • Restoring wildlife habitat in the river, on the bank, and back from the bank for a minimum of 100 feet, and make a major City Park similar to Waterfront Park on the West Side.
  • Expanding the Eastbank Esplanade and adding bike boulevards along the river North-South and down to the River from the Central Eastside and adjoining neighborhoods.
  • Major mass transit and pedestrian enhancements that offer greater access to the River
  • Adding thousands of units of workforce housing to be built adjacent to what Buel called the “jobs zone” in the Central Eastside.

[Future of the Eastbank Esplanade?]
Drawing courtesy Riverfront for People

Buel and his group received a boost from City Council when they unanimously passed a resolution to study this idea as part of the Central City Plan Update that will begin in January 2007.

Before I left my meeting with Buel, he asked if I could present a few questions to get feedback from the bike community. Here are some questions for you to consider and share your thoughts on:

  • Would you prefer to see a bike boulevard built running North-South along the river, or would you just like to see the Esplanade widened so cyclists and pedestrians could better share the space?
  • Which streets running East/West down to the River through the Central Eastside seem best for future bike access to you if the freeway were removed?
  • Would you participate as a cyclist in the Central City Plan Update public participation process?

As far-off and far-fetched as this idea may seem, this is the type of visionary thinking that we can’t be afraid to consider if hope to make Portland a great city for future generations.

Buel says if we start now it would only take 15 to 25 years to complete. I know politics and budgets rule the day but even if this plan gets stalled or shot down, I hope it succeeds in starting a dialogue that forces our city planners and elected officials to consider bold moves to make this city work better for people, not just for motor vehicles.

Further reading:

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • SKiDmark November 16, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Anybody heard of the Big Dig?

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  • nj November 16, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    Can we have it both ways? The Esplanade for more leisurely walk/bike, and a Bike Boulevard close by for getting there a little faster? Maybe even a street for non-motorized vehicles? Either way, we need to get the fast bikers off the Esplanade if we have the option, in my opinion.

    SE Ankeny is an obvious choice for an East-West Bike Boulevard.

    Great idea!

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  • nj November 16, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Nice call, SKiDmark. Maybe we can avoid rewarding the contract it to Bechtel.

    My vote goes to TransManche Link, the folks who brought you the Chunnel.

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  • Elly November 16, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    A couple of questions:

    1. You’ve got Buel saying that this is going to both increase freeway capacity and reduce traffic by building more housing — is that a misprint? I thought it was common planning wisdom these days that increasing road capacity increases traffic.

    2. How does an underground freeway reduce pollution?

    This sounds like a good idea, but I have to sigh thinking about the massive amounts of money that it seems reasonable for the public to spend on highway projects, and the kicking and screaming that seem to accompany (or prevent) many modest bike and ped projects.

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  • Jeff November 16, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    I’d be happy if they just replaced the crumbling Sellwood bridge with a bike friendly
    crossing. Where are they going to get the money for such a project? Maybe it’ll be like the $15 million tram who’s figure turned into $54 million.

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  • Jonathan Maus November 16, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Good questions Elly,

    The increased capacity bit was not a misprint. I have a hunch this piece was included in the plan to thwart anyone that this is just another anti-car scheme.

    As for the pollution…I’m not sure. My hunch is that it would be filtered somehow.

    And Jeff, this thing would cost waaay more than the tram.

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  • enginerd November 16, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    I agree, SKiDmark!

    It wouldn’t be benzene free, either, since tunnels need to be vented somewhere.

    The Big Dig was originally was costed at $4 billion; final, not including the recent problems was over $14 bil. It’s likely that the level of federal $$$ that Boston got won’t be around either. We have more pressing needs for our share of federal transportation $.

    Many of the features, such as habitat restoration, worker housing, et cetera can (and should) be accomplished regardless of the freeway. All relocation would do is profit developers, create another Pearl, and drive out all the cool DIY funky businesses that the eastside is starting to grow.

    With regard to the 3 questions: Widen the esplanade and improve Water Avenue; Hawthorne, Carruthers/Division, Clay, Salmon; as a cyclist no…as a taxpayer, yes.

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  • silken November 16, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Preserve CHUNK 666’s natural habitat!!!

    The central eastside, specifically the area west of Grand between Division to the south & the Steel Bridge to the north, is the long-time grazing lands of CHUNK 666, named in their venecular as “CHUD Alley”. It was here CHUNK 666 was carted off en masse in paddy wagons at the dawn of this century for possession of out-of-state fireworks. It was here that CHUNK has derbied, seen visions of the Kloven Hoof in the flames of burning building, stumbled across titanic roller skates, baby saved, & performed thier sacred funeral rites for thier most ancient choppers. There is nary a CHUNK ride that does not roll a wobbly wheel on these sacred lands. The I-5 acts as a great wall to protect CHUD Alley from condos & starbucks & easily offended empty-nesters. W/o the I-5 CHUNK, & indeed all of Portland would be cheated of this wonderous urban habitat.

    Say no to the destruction of the great I-5 Anti-Pearlization Wall! Preserve CHUD Alley!!

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  • bjorn November 16, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Have they considered what the ramifications of just removing that part of the 5 would be? The 205 and 405 both already exist, and it seems like upgrading them might be cheaper than a tunnel. I definately like the idea of creating more livability along the river though.


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  • Dave November 16, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    It sounds to me like he’s figuring that the new housing on the old freeway footprint would have more workers living close-in and avoiding automobile commutes, therefore reducing traffic and pollution.

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  • Jonathan Maus November 16, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    I just added more information to the further reading list…Ron Buel’s testimony from the City Council hearing last month.

    It’s full of more details that I didn’t mention in the post.

    Here it is (PDF)

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  • lennon November 16, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    I’m going to offer my answers to Buel’s questions before and general observations:

    1. The Esplanade serves its current purpose (a car-free recreational zone) admirably, but adding more mixed-used capacity would just increase the likelihood of bike/ped collisions.

    2. I agree with nj that Ankeny would be an excellent connector to the Steel Bridge and N. Esplanade; ideally, though, I’d love to see a conduit from the new Three Bridges bike/ped crossings to the westside, preferably via a bike-friendly Sellwood bridge replacement/retrofit.

    3. I can’t imagine there would be any shortage of volunteers, but I’d be happy to participate in the city planning process.

    Now on to the general ranting:

    While I love the mental image of a freeway-less urban core, I just can’t see it being justifiable given the constant scarcity of funds for major infrastructure improvements of any kind. Other projects (Sellwood bridge replacement, eastside north/south light rail, etc.) should absolutely be given precedence over what seems to me to be more of an aesthetic ideal than a pragmatic goal.

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  • Cate November 16, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for the PDF, Jonathan.

    Is “tax increment financing” a nice way to say “increased taxes”?

    “To get into the funding cue at JPACT, the city will have to make a strong case for prioritization of the Freeway Loop, and certify its ability to find local match for the project, perhaps from tax increment financing. This will require sustained effort across multiple years.
    Clearly, the project will be behind the Columbia Crossing, the region’s current number one priority and a multi-billion dollar project itself.
    But, perhaps more important to the timing of this project are the competitive demands from other suburban parts of the region – demands supported by Congressman David Wu for widening 217; demands from East Multnomah County and Clackamas County for a new freeway there called the Sunrise Corridor; and demands for connecting to Highway 99 from I-5 via the so-called Newberg-Dundee bypass. These competitive projects will cost from $500 million to multiple billions for each.
    This region gets a lot of money from the federal and state governments to build and maintain freeways – in the billions every six years – but it must be noted the the Bush Administration has been cutting back dramatically on U.S. transportation infrastructure funding so it can pour more money into its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps soon, Iran. This combination of reasons explains why this project will require 15 to 25 years to complete.”

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  • enginerd November 16, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    Simply put, tax increment financing is a way to borrow against the future. An agency issues bonds for an infrastructure project, knowing that the project will spur development and increase property value. The bonds are guaranteed by the anticipated future tax revenue from the new development/increased property value.

    It’s not just war that’s sucking the highway fund dry. It’s federal funding for local projects that really have no national value. In the future, projects like the Bi-State Columbia Crossing on an interstate highway will likely get federal $. Projects of a more local nature, like Sellwood Bridge will likely get a much lower federal contribution that currently, if they get any at all.

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  • Cate November 16, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    Thank you, enginerd, that makes sense.

    The desire to get rid of I-5 on the eastbank has been around for decades – it’s just always been considered too expensive. (This reminds me of Vera’s idea to bury I-405. Fortunately that idea died.)

    “The plan calls for adding capacity to the freeway…” Is that because the congestion on I-5 is slowing down movement of freight through this area?

    It’s great that Ron Buel et al are including bicyclists in the process. Bravo to them.

    I’d love to see the esplanade widened so that bicyclists could be close to the river without dodging peds, dogs, etc. It would also be great to ride along the river without the noise of I-5.

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  • Sara November 16, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    I don’t understand why we would want to make a tunnel under the river for the freeway to go through. Isn’t that:
    (1) not a great use of money
    (2) not good for the river (think of all the construction that would be taking place)
    (3) unnecessary?

    I feel like I missed something here.

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  • Sara November 16, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    “a major part of their vision is to add thousands of close-in, “workforce” housing units enabling more people to walk and bike to work”

    I don’t think a bunch of condos is going to add to the “vibrancy” of the eastbank. I personally think condos are ugly.

    I’m sorry for being negative. Maybe someone can explain why this is a good thing?

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  • b!X November 16, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    Well, without getting into the question of what they, in this instance, mean, by “workforce” housing, the term isn’t SUPPOSED to mean condos. It’s supposed to mean housing for low and medium wage workers.

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  • Donna November 16, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    “Workforce housing adjacent to the jobs zone” – does that mean that Ron Buel wants us to believe that any riverfront housing built would actually be affordable to people who work in the Central Eastside? That point alone makes me skeptical of the whole thing.

    —besides, where else would the young fire dancers practice & perform?

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  • Jonathan Maus November 16, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    From what Ron told me, I interpret “workforce” housing as the opposite of the Pearl. He mentioned how he wants to make a place where “knowledge economy” workers can live…not bankers and empty nesters like the Pearl.

    That being said, of course I doubt it will be affordable to messengers, Chunksters and fire dancers.

    Maybe as an aspiring journalist I should learn to be more critical, but it seems many people are being negative without really giving this thing a fair shake.

    Given Buel’s past and what others have told me about him, I don’t think he’s out to do this for selfish reasons. He sees an opportunity to do something bold that can transform Portland in a positive way and he’s taking that opportunity.

    Guys like Buel don’t get hung up on budgets. If the plan is good and the people want it, I’m sure the money can be found.

    It would have to go through a competitive process…so if other projects were deemed more worthy this wouldn’t get built.

    Remember, many Portlanders would have voted “Yes” on the Mt. Hood Freeway if given a chance…but it was visionary transportation advocates and politicians that saw an opportunity, acted on it, and the rest is history.

    If we maintain business as usual, nothing great will ever happen and we’ll end up with another Pearl District on the Eastside.

    I say let’s give this the benefit of the doubt for now.

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  • Randy November 16, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    More grass and low-rise (no more than 4 story buidlings) would me nice. I’d say no way if however losing the freeway means polluting the eastide with skycrapers. The eastside is the eastside specifically because it’s low-rise. Skycraper change everything especially the acoustic ecology of a place.

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  • Cate November 16, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    “Guys like Buel don’t get hung up on budgets.” That’s scary.

    They say it will cost $3 million just to put a plan together. Is this project worth spending that much money on a plan?

    My question is: why is this idea any better than all the other ideas that have come and gone for removing I-5 from the eastbank?

    “I say let’s give this the benefit of the doubt for now.” Jonathan, you do PR. We question. It all balances out.

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  • Chris November 16, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    Cmon guys…see this for what it is! We are smarter than this. The last of the west side riverfront is being built out for millionaires as we speak…onward to the eastside! Now get the H-E-double hockysticks off our river front condo land you bike scum, unless you are wearing spandex!

    Those questions Mr. Maus was asked seem puposely meant to deflect this line of thought. But how is the laboring man ever going to afford a riverfront condo?

    Portland better remember it’s roots here…1000 friends of Oregon and all. Metro is more compromised in its mission every year. See the snake in the grass here..and kill it!

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  • Cate November 16, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    Jonathan has a link to on this issue. Some of the comments are good:

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  • SKiDmark November 16, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    The pollution reduction theory is that the whole tunnel must be vented with giant fans and the air it sucks out must be treated before it is released. If anything it is incremental.

    More capacity does not create more traffic, it alleviates traffic congestion? You know what else decreases traffic congestion more freewat entracnces and exits. That way you are not going past where you need to be and then backtracking or travelling 5 miles on surface roads to get to a freeway. Also signage to indicate where you enter the freeway is nice too. I am probably more aware of these issue as i moved up here from San Diego, which is a tourist town, so the signage is more than adequate.

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  • SKiDmark November 16, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    But still it took ten years to finish the Big Dig and like every other construction project in Boston, it went way over budget and is not quite free of flaws. Do we really want to have construction in downtown for ten years. It’s taking them over a year to pave Naito PKWY.

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  • Jeremy November 16, 2006 at 11:51 pm

    Actually, SKIDmark, the solution to freeway congestion is fewer exits, not more. One of the reasons the Autobahn can maintain a free flow of traffic over long distances is you only get on it to go a long distance.

    Historically (and Southern California being the model for this plan), freeways have added more and more interchanges. Every interchange is a bottleneck because you take free flowing traffic and suddenly throw in speed and flow changes. Busier interchanges are almost always backed up during peak traffic flow hours and often backed up during off-peak hours. Given a choice of multiple routes, traffic will self correct and spread flow across the routes, thereby increasing the speed and flow of all traffic.

    Most neighborhoods oppose (and understandably so) allowing their streets to be used as alternate routes, so most grid systems have been artificially blocked to force people into only a small number “arterials” (like those streets carry the life of the city or something) and freeways. Less opporunity to drivers to choose a faster route than the one they are on and, presto, more sitting in traffic.

    Freeways should be meant to get you further, faster and streets should be meant to get you shorter distances (1-5 miles), faster. As it is, our traffic “planning” has failed. Probably why quite a few visitors here ride their bikes.

    BTW, does anyone else find it ironic that cities across the country are now scrambling to rebuild once existing transportation infrastructure destroyed in favor of autos? All this talk of freeways reminds me of an anecdote I once heard about transportation in Seattle. It once took a person just 22 minutes to get from Kirkland to downtown Seattle. You walked to the dock and took a passenger ferry across Lake Washington. You hopped on a streetcar to go over the hill and were depositied neatly in downtown. Now, you get in your car, drive the 520 bridge to the I-5 interchange, hop off at one of the 3 exits serving downtown (used to be more but they figured out downsizing kept the freight moving through the city), parked and walked out into downtown 45 minutes later (or most often more). Passenger ferries aren’t even that effective any more because of the floating bridges. Hmmm…

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  • Dabby November 17, 2006 at 12:13 am

    You people should not get your panties in a bunch over this idea that has been proposed many, many times in the past, and will never, ever, be done.
    And, on another note, this is the dream child Or someone elses origonal idea, she jumped on the band wagon) of the vicous and heartless Vera katz, the mayor who basically did nothing during her term. Perhaps instead of burying the freeway, we can bury the hideous statue of her that sits on the esplanade…..
    In closing, this idea will never come to pass, and if it does, I will eat my hat, as long as it is a hat made mostly or entirely of peanut butter and chocolate.

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  • Dabby November 17, 2006 at 12:16 am

    Onced again, after rereading the above article, this “vision” is not the origonal idea of these people. It is a very very old, and very, very bad idea, just as the original placement of 1-5 was, and is.

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  • Providence November 17, 2006 at 8:08 am

    If this becomes a reality, I think it would rock my world if we turned the entire freight railroad into a big, fat, wide pedestrian and bicycle path. Huge — three times as wide as the Esplanade. With shops and housing right on it. Did you notice that Buel mentions burying the railroad on his BlueOregon post.

    For those who were searching for a definition of Workforce Housing, it comes from Richard Florida’s “Rise of the Creative Class”. Here’s an interesting quote from Buel on the subject from BlueOregon:

    “Workforce housing is housing that costs 25% of income for families within 60% to 140% of the median income. Such housing could be built because the land under the freeway will be in the hands of the State of Oregon after the freeway goes below ground, and land-cost for such desirable development could be subsidized.”

    For those who think we can’t build anything that doesn’t look like the things you don’t like — I hope your dreams become much more pleasant real soon. I notice that, even though this is the same group that fought for an won turning Harbor Drive into Waterfront Park, all you negative nitties want to talk about is the Pearl. If you don’t like the Pearl, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make a neighborhood you would like.

    Speaking of dreams, I thought Enrique Penalosa said it very elegantly in the movie they showed at the Bagdad. It was something like “Figure out what you want your city to look like and make it that way. Dare to dream. Be crazy. Crazy ideas are what change the world.”

    Someone mentioned how against something like the 1000 Friends of Oregon would be. HA! We have choices. We can either build up or out. Density or sprawl. Those are the choices.

    If I-5 is in a tunnel, we put about 100,000 cars each day underground. Out of sight. Out of smell. Without downspouts from the road into the river.

    The money thing is interesting, too. These projects are built with federal funds. Those funds are for highways and are going to get spent. This project is going to compete against other highway projects. You want to take a major source of pollution off the river and make an incredible thing for bikes? Or, would you prefer to build a West Side Bypass.

    The money is going to get spent. It’s a matter of on which type of freeway. One that creates a more livable city, or new ones that create more suburban trips and more sprawl.

    So, try out the imagination for a minute. Let’s say that the powers that be can get you through all of your fears. That this thing is built. That we have a chance to offer ideas for how to make it good for bikes. I’d like the railroad bed. What would you like?

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  • Michael November 17, 2006 at 8:20 am

    In case you have not noticed, gas prices are recovering from their pre-election slump. They are well on their way to $3/gallon. High fuel prices are going to factor into this matter soon.

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  • Brad November 17, 2006 at 8:47 am

    Silken hit the nail on the head! It will become the next Pearl or South Waterfront with lots of “knowledge workers” flush with cold hard cash from the sale of their grossly inflated Bay Area or Los Angeles condos / shacks moving to PDX and plunking it down on these new units.

    I’m no xenophobe but the market is going to cause this to happen. Companies move to Oregon for the lower wage structure. That means the locals are not getting any more than they were already making and the transplants keep their higher out-of-state incomes and their equity gains. They snap up the “cool” urban real estate and keep housing prices high while forcing the local working class to the more affordable ‘burbs. I don’t think that taxpayers statewide will be too inclined to fund rent / downpayment subsidies for Portlanders. They already resent this area’a control of the state’s purse strings.

    Oh well, should this ever come to fruition it will be twenty years from now and I’ll be too damned old to take advantage of the alledged biketopia this will become. I’ll also be too busy chasing kids off my suburban lawn.

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  • John Boyd November 17, 2006 at 8:55 am

    Isn’t only question is whether inevitable Eastside development will be underneath an interstate or on top?

    waterfront starbucks vs waterfront elevated interstate. Your call.

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  • enginerd November 17, 2006 at 9:09 am

    Buel’s BlueOregon post makes some interesting conflicting points, talking about increasing capacity with a tunnel, improving freight efficiency, but then closes with a typical lefty rant about peak oil and pollution. Which way do you want it…more capacity and more cars, or less oil consumption?

    He compares Tokyo’s reliance on rail to move people and highways to move freight. Cool. But we’d need federal $ to improve either. The money comes from different pots, but at the same time, the agencies (FHWA, FTA) as well as congress, looks at which states are getting $ and the odds of us getting the $ we’d need to do transit AND freeways is pretty much nil.

    Burying the railroad is also interesting, but it’s a private system. Federal funds are available to put roads over or under railroads, but the fed won’t help finance an undergrounding of a private system. I doubt BN and UP would pay the megabucks needed.

    There are many things that could make the eastside better for cyclists, and this is not one of them.

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  • John Boyd November 17, 2006 at 9:28 am

    Isn’t the only question is whether inevitable Eastside development will be underneath an interstate or on top?
    Sooner all the cars are in the ground the better.

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  • BURR November 17, 2006 at 9:28 am

    1. Vancouver Canada has NO freeways in or near its downtown, this is by purposeful design, and it is a much more pleasant city for it. People still seem to get around just fine, and all that land that would have been taken up by the freeway’s footprint is put to better uses.

    2. Putting the freeway underground is an expensive engineering project, but Portland now has a fair amount of experience with tunnelling, including the westside light rail tunnel and the two CSO Big Pipe projects. We can and should tap that expertise, and IMO, moving the freeway underground would be a better use of tax dollars that the CSO project.

    3. The surface disturbance from a tunnelling project is minimal compared to traditional road construction. Elevated portions of the eastside freeway are currently a significant seismic hazard which can and should be eliminated.

    4. In addition to Boston and NYC, many European cities also use tunnels to eliminate the conflict between freeways and surface land uses.

    5. Agree to move or remove the freeway in Portland, and then we can have a serious discussion about land use planning in the district. Personally, I think major change is coming to the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID) regardless of whether the freeway stays or goes, this area is simply too close to downtown and the land is too valuable for it to remain a protected industrial enclave for much longer. The locus of commercial and industrial activities in Portland has long since moved north to outer northwest areas along the St Helens highway and northeast to the Columbia South Shore Plan District, which was rezoned in the mid 80’s and has much more convenient access to major transportation corridors that the CEID. Removing the eastside Hawthorne and Morrison Bridge viaducts and returning the approaches to these two bridges to surface level would be another great improvement in the CEID.

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  • Ross Williams November 17, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    There are really three different issues here.

    The first is whether eliminating the freeway is a good idea. Would the city be a better place without a freeway running along the waterfront.

    The second, is what should be done with the space if the freeway is eliminated.

    The third, is is the freeway’s benefits worth investing in a tunnel.

    I think most people agree that the city would be better off without a freeway along the waterfront. If it wasn’t there, no one would be suggesting that as a location.

    The second question is the most interesting in many ways. There are lots of possibilities for what might go there instead of the freeway. I think the “workforce housing” idea is not very likely to survive. Nor are the 100 foot natural stream buffers. And they are even less likely to survive if the funding depends on new development.

    The third question is different than the one being asked I think. Does having a freeway on the east bank justify the investment? I don’t think it does. If there weren’t a freeway there already, no one would suggest tunneling one under the east side.

    More capacity does not create more traffic, it alleviates traffic congestion? You know what else decreases traffic congestion more freewat entracnces and exits. That way you are not going past where you need to be and then backtracking or travelling 5 miles on surface roads to get to a freeway.

    More capacity doesn’t relieve congestion, it just moves it. Its like adding an extra bathroom door because there is a line of people waiting to use it in the morning.

    Adding capacity often does create more traffic. In fact, that is really its only good purpose to serve beneficial trips that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

    As for the freeway entrances and exits, they slow down traffic on the freeway. But you are right more access points do allow more direct trips and reduce total driving distances and thus traffic. The ultimate implementation of that concept is a local street grid where every cross-street provides access.

    And that is really the fatal flaw in the plan for a tunnel. Portland would be much better served by replacing the freeway with a multi-modal surface street that is connected to the existing street grid.

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  • Dabby November 17, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    You people are going on and on about something that has never happened, and will never happen.
    Put this thought into something reasonable.
    We are stuck with the stupid freeway and that is that.

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  • Ross Williams November 17, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    “You people are going on and on about something that has never happened, and will never happen.”

    Si se Puede!

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  • SKIDmark November 17, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Sorry Jeremy, I politely disagree. I lived in San Diego for 13 years and the traffic was a breeze compared to Portland and especially Washington Country. I also had a driving job in the Inland Empire. It slows down at rush hour of course, but having an exit every 2-3 miles made it much faster and easier to do my delivery job. If I had the same sort of job here i wouldn’t even attempt to use the freeway,, and I would be consigned to doing 25 on surface roads. This is why I parked my motorcycle 4 years ago and got a bike, because traffic up here SUCKS.

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  • SKIDmark November 17, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    What is a knowledge worker? A 15 to 30 dollar an hour IT Technician? They all live in the Pearl already. I sincerely think Service Industry workers make up at least a third of the downtown workforce, and they can’t afford to live downtown, even in the so-called affordable housing. It probably has something to do with minimum wage being nowhere near the living wage. You are still eligible for the Oregon Trail card evn if you are working 40 hrs. a week at minimum wage.

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  • Jeremy November 17, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, SKIDmark, but San Diego has 5 lane freeways that do not run directly through the core of the city and comparatively huge surface streets so you really can get to where you need to go in either instance. As a delivery driver, you probably knew a whole load of alternate routes and what times of day to take them. I know I did when I was driving courier in college. You also probably know San Diego’s onramps and exits are actually about as frequent as Portland’s with the exception of the stretch from Barbur to Naito.

    The problem isn’t really the numbers of entrances and exits but instead what happens once you get off the freeway. East-west travel is limited and the grid system is crippled intentionally, limiting the ability of travelers to adjust routes based on current traffic conditions.

    Of course, an increase in capacity would allow through traffic to stay the heck out of the way of those bottlenecks we always see at the I-84 and Rose Quarter interchanges, but those are only about a mile apart, not two or three.

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  • Macaroni November 18, 2006 at 2:23 am

    Traffic Schmaffic, we’re running out of cheap oil.

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  • adam November 18, 2006 at 8:15 am

    we don’t need cheap oil, we are cyclists. $5 gallons of gas is fine by me. I could care less if walmart has to charge more. in fact, I could care less if all the waltons loose the fortunes that their daddy gave them. screw them.

    we don’t need traffic, either, we are traffic.

    back to my normal vacation.

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  • Aaron November 19, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    aside from Adam et. al. comments which ignore the high price of food and oil-based bike tubes, we should DEFINATELY rally against tunneling. I was in Boston when the big-dig was going on. The entire city was a mess of construction (think of current construction x10. The job was done so poorly that water leaked in at several points. The concept which was supposed to route traffic underground rather than street level failed to account for triple-convergence, and therefore more traffic was generated. Finally the pollution stemming from the vent shafts has degraded air quality. I appose this project and anything that increased the cost of the current highway system.

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  • Providence November 19, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    OK, Aaron. Let’s say that I-5 was removed and not replaced at all. Ready to advocate for less freeway capacity? Or, should we just be happy with that loud, ugly, polluting thing in the middle of our city. That bridge and freeway sure does put the car as the centerpeice of Portland … don’t you think?

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  • Brian November 20, 2006 at 8:48 am

    Historically, when the river was the primary mode of transportation, equal access to the riverfront and river resource was provided on both sides.Since construction of the I-5 Freeway, the Eastside has been cut off from the river resource and had to shoulder the burden of freeway noise, air pollution and traffic infiltration into the neighborhood. Removal of the Harbor Drive Espressway on the westside shows that relocation of the Eastbank Freeway is possible.

    The Vera Katz esplanade is only the start of what the Eastbank can be like in opening up 400 blocks of continuous land for bicycles, pedestrians and reclamation of the river resource. And, relocation of the freeway into a tunnel will provide long term benefits through dramatic reductions in Eastside air and noise pollution not to mention major reductions in surface street traffic and congestion.Its time to get back to the future and reclaim Portland from 100 years ago. Riverfront for People deserve support from bicycle and pedestrian constituents.

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  • Michael November 20, 2006 at 9:46 am

    Some number of years ago it was suggested to simply remove I-5 from the I-405 interchange to the I-84 interchange. Then, I-205 would be renamed I-5 and become the primary N-S route. The remaining incomplete bits of old I-5 would then become I-405, the urban alternate N-S route.

    I-5 (as it is) is terribly overused and dangerous, especially near I-84 and the Interstate Bridge. It is nearly impossible to grow it in it’s present configuration.

    I-205 still has considerable room for growth, and most importantly, has the already high capacity bridge across the Columbia.

    This would free up the east side properties with no need to build any difficult and expensive tunnels, etc.

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  • adam November 20, 2006 at 9:46 am


    brian for MAYOR.

    Listen, commrades, let’s take this thing and do it right. Keep the conversation happening here but realize that the people in charge are afraid of us and they are reading this stuff.

    this is our city and we are taking it back from:
    – jerk off judges
    – malicious murdering cops
    – unresponsive, lazy and expensive politicians
    – morons who build highways
    – etc, etc.

    The time for Action is NOW.

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  • Brad November 20, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Great idea, Michael! That would actually be cost effective and completed in our lifetimes.

    The downside is that it IS practical and cost-effective, didn’t pass through some ridiculous “visioning” process, and can’t be used by politicos to grease the palms of their special interest constituencies. So, sadly, it fails the Portland litmus test.

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  • tonyt November 20, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Wow Michael,

    I realize that you say it was an idea floated years ago, but I give you full props for remembering it and passing it along.

    It took me a bit to wrap my brain around it, but heck yeah, that would solve a ton of problems. Why should we have major interstate traffic routed right through the heart of Portland? And 205 is super wide and doesn’t go through nearly as many bottlenecks/funky turns etc. It would radically reduce the use of I-5.

    Call it I-5 redux!


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  • Michael November 20, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Let me try to post a map image:


    Or, click here: 

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  • Lenny Anderson November 20, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Renumbering I-205 or I-405 as the new I-5 and simply eliminating the current I-5 on the Eastbank and the Marquam Bridge is the way to go. Vehicles now using I-5 will find another way or people will move, ride transit or just give it up and ride a bike.
    I am looking forward to hanging out on the East Portland beach watching the sunrise and hearing the birds.
    PS…the UPRR mainline will need to go into a tunnel.

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  • enginerd November 20, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    It will take an “act of God” to change the rules that govern the Federal Interstate Highway system. If you want to see such a change, start getting the message to Oregon’s and Washington’s congressional and senatorial delegations.

    One of the purposes of the interstate system is to “connect the dots” of major urban centers. Without a major rule change, the Fed would not accept a bypass of Portland and Vancouver’s core areas.

    Anyone who says I-205 has room for growth hasn’t been on the Johnson Creek to Oregon City stretch lately. Also, the Airport Way interchange is at, or near, capacity (thanks, IKEA).

    Further, any federal funds ODOT has received for maintenance, repairs, or improvement on I-5 that are decommissioned before the end of their “service life” of 20-75 years(depending on the improvement), would need to be refunded to the Feds on a pro-rated basis. ODOT has better things to do with locally generated revenue…like keep it’s bike program going!

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  • adam November 20, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    does anyone have god’s number? I will call him and see if she can help.

    also, we need a new mayor, in my opinion. one who can provide vision at less than 400K. and, while we are at it, one who has the balls to stand up to idiots.

    more stupidity –

    and on and on and on. keep wasting our money, tom, and keep ignoring us. make sure that resume is up to date, kiddo.

    who wants to run?

    if I like you as a candidate and a person, I will personally make sure you are in the job.

    keep up the amazing ideas.

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  • Michael November 20, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Removing the ugly chunk is just a mile of bridge and pavement. It hardly affects overall connectivity at all, and improves the safety of what is left.

    I did not mean that the present I-205 has ample capacity, but that it has more growth potential than does present I-5.

    Turning the present I-5 into I-405 still leaves 95% of it’s usability intact. It just removes the worst bit that occupies the most valuable land. Most commuters would scarcely notice any difference as the downtown destinations would be mostly unchanged.

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  • adam November 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    maybe we should allow the feds to build a freeway through the southwest hills, too?

    I am not clear why the eastside has to suffer with all of this pollution, congestion and asthma while the rich people don’t.

    can someone explain this to me?

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  • adam November 20, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    one more idea –

    what if the sellwood bridge and/or ross island were designated as motor free zones?

    if they do not have to enjoy the burden of endless trucks, maybe we can save some money. and, if I want to bike to my house in the SW hills, I have to go to the hawthorne bridge. that is NOT efficient.

    good luck with those city committee meetings (yawwwwnnnnn).

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  • Jessica Roberts November 21, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Why is everyone so down on this? I can’t imagine ANYTHING more exciting to Portland than losing the stinky, dangerous, unhealthy behemoth that currently keeps us mere humans from using and enjoying our own waterfront. We gave away our best land to I-5, and we can’t see the wisdom in correcting that?

    I often have the impression that the very best and most visionary things about Portland couldn’t happen today. Where’s our champion to turn a parking lot into Pioneer Square, or rip out Harbor Drive to make Waterfront Park, or block a freeway AND figure out how to transfer the funds for Light Rail?

    I want ballsy politicans who are willing to go for the big, beautiful projects that transform our city. I see kicking I-5 off of the waterfront as just such a project. I hope Ron Buel goes far with this effort.

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  • Brad November 21, 2006 at 11:33 am


    You should also remember that there is a large segment of the population that will not benefit from such big, beautiful projects yet still have to pay for them. How many middle income folks can’t afford The Pearl but pay three times more property taxes than the guy with the million dollar “historic” penthouse built in 2005? How many blue collar workers cannot afford to double the time of their commutes so that we can have another Pearl District on the east bank of the Willamette? How about those folks who resent the $55 million tram that will shuttle a handful of highly paid doctors from their posh waterfront condos to OHSU when their kid is stuck in a crumbling public classroom with nearly forty other kids?

    Portland certainly had some visionary projects back in the day but the times and the needs (not to mention the size) of the populace has changed. Many people rightfully question whether billions spent to “beautify” Portland is worth the cost or could that money be put to better use on schools, social services, public safety, etc. The tram and the water bureau debacles have tempered public sentiment as to government’s priorities and fiscal discipline.

    There are also serious questions about who benefits from a refurbished eastside. Who is most likely to buy the new condos created – local working class Oregonians or cash rich outsiders? The Pearl and South Waterfront show that “yuppies”, wealthy retirees, and cash laden transplants snapped up and drove up the price of those properties. Our tax dollars were used to subsidize those developments but we were quickly priced out of that market. With that history, why would working class (or suburban taxpayers who would also contribute via regional, state, or federal taxes) Oregonians again wish to pay for a similar scheme? Where also is the benefit for the rest of Oregon? How will this improve schools in Prineville or Joseph? Build healthcare clinics in Yamhill? Improve sewer systems in Medford? State dollars are limited and the tide against privileged Portland is rising. You can’t sell “bike friendly livability in PDX” to Eastern Oregonions when they don’t have 24/7 state police protection due to budget cuts. You also cannot expect the shrinking middle class in Portland to shell out more taxes when they are struggling to afford what they already have.

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  • Jessica Roberts November 21, 2006 at 11:57 am


    You can kill any quality of life project with your arguments. The trails we use and love, parks, libraries, even bike facilities in general, can be argued away as “mere fluff compared to the great need we have in ____.”

    I don’t want all big visionary projects, but I sure don’t want to live in a grim, utilitarian city where we never had the guts or the will to take risks and invest in more than the bare minimum.

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  • Jessica Roberts November 21, 2006 at 11:59 am

    p.s. Don’t try to speak for others. I, for one, am firmly in the middle class but am very happy to pay taxes for projects I care about, like the aforementioned trails, libraries, and bike facilities.

    If you really care about the tax burden you should focus on how much of your tax bill goes to the military, not on nickel and diming me out of the Esplanade I’m perfectly willing to contribute to.

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  • max November 21, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Large amounts of money already flow out of portland into eastern oregon. No one in eastern oregon is paying for projects in Portland, in fact the opposite is what happens everyday.

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  • Ross Williams November 21, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Brad –

    You are inventing results that aren’t there. Eliminating the freeway from the east bank certainly isn’t going to double the commute time for anyone. Putting it in a tunnel won’t either.

    As for whether having a city that is attractive is worth the price, I don’t see how that is even arguable. Portland’s economy is now driven by the fact that it is an attractive place to live for highly desirable employees. The future depends on those creative people generating jobs for everyone else.

    As for eastern Oregon, there are a lot of people who would live the rural lifestyle, if they didn’t have to work. The folks that do live that lifestyle are almost all doing it on the backs of everyone who is slaving away in cities. Most of their public infrastructure, right down to the power and telephone lines, was paid for with government subsidies of some kind.

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  • Brad November 21, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Jessica – I am not absolutely against Mr. Buel’s ideas. I just think that we have other priorities and alternatives to consider first. Portland can be the most attractive place in the nation but that is a shallow platitude if our kids are functionally illiterate or families are forced to flee to the ‘burbs to find affordable housing. Is that what we want for our city – a gleaming yet cold collection of high rise condos, coffee houses, and wealthy Californians waiting to die? I don’t see many elderly folks or urban hipsters cruising around on bikes in The Pearl even when it isn’t raining. How would the new Espanade be different?

    Most middle class families don’t mind paying taxes for the projects they care about but as individuals, we don’t have the liberty to earmark where our taxes go. If you polled most folks in Portland, I bet that underground freeways with pricey condos on top doesn’t even crack the Top 15 things they want tax money spent on.

    The military? Strawman argument – we’re essentially talking about state taxes. If the Oregon congressional delegation can talk the feds out of money for this, wonderful. I am more concerned about the state and local taxes and “sweetheart exemptions” that developers will get, the tax abatements for the million dollar units in a formerly dilapidated and now “historic” warehouse building, and the businesses and people run off by the new gentry they helped to finance.

    Ross – ask anyone who has lived in Boston over the past decade or so about how great the traffic was during the Big Dig? Then ask them how much better it got when the tunnels leaked and had to be closed? Ask the local businesses to see how their foot traffic was during that project? During the minimum three to five years of construction the I-5 / I-84 tunnel would require, the surface arterials of the close-in eastside, downtown, and I-405 would be clogged with car and truck traffic as no good north-south alternative exists for accessing the center city. That’s enough time for businesses to end leases and look for new digs in Wilsonville, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, WA. The expansion of the transit mall downtown should be a good test of what major construction will do to traffic and businesses. Plus, when the “Big One” hits or the Willamette floods ala 1996, we’re essentially a gridlocked city for how long afterwards? Ask Bay Area residents about the stacked Nimitz freeway.

    As for the rest of the state shouldering the burden, I do realize that money flows from Portland to the rest of Oregon and not vice-versa. My argument is that the rest of the state “pays” when their needs are not funded because Portland chooses to keep more for its own “cosmetic surgery”.

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  • enginerd November 21, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Brad –
    I’m with ya 100%.

    The change would be nice, but there are better ways to make Oregon a better place for the money. Seattle’s Alaskan Way Tunnel, driven by failure of the existing structure, is being estimated at $3.6 billion, with the overall project at $4.4 bil. There are still a few major engineering “uncertainties” to be resolved, so figure the end cost will be closer to $5.0 bil. Seattle is looking to fund $207 mil from the Fed, and the rest from local and State sources, mostly their from their recent gas tax increase.

    Oregon needs to figure out how to generate transportation revenue and take care of basic maintenance needs (potholes, pavement ruts) and emergency needs like Highway 35 before we go about spending it on visionary projects that are as much about aesthetics as they are transportation or structural need.

    Washington boosted gas tax by a nickel, and then another 9 cents within the past few years. Oregon legislators seem to be hesitant to increase gas tax, or seriously implement some form of “user pays” system. Our last gas tax increse was over 10 years ago, and has been eroded by fuel efficiency and inflation. Miles-driven programs are still in the testing stages.

    Interesting note:People like to say bridges are bad, and cite the failure of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge in the Loma Prieta quake. What they don’t tell you is that the segment that failed had been subject to at least one, if not more, crashes by Naval aircraft from Alameda Naval Air Station.

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  • Macaroni November 27, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I don’t think we should spend any money on anything related to outmoded forms of transportation such as cars. The end of suburbia is near and fewer and fewer people will be able to afford gas for their vehicles anyway.

    See the doc: The End of Suburbia. It is fascinating.

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  • Chris June 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Maybe not something for the short list of changes but I would support this as a longer term initiative. Moving the freeways out of the visible picture would definitely help capture more new ridership be removing the imposing signs of a car dominated society and replacing it with a relaxed pace and beautiful surrounding. The opportunity for an increase in urban density along the river could have a positive affect on mid-outer east side housing.

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  • Collin April 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Personally, I want Sulivan’s Gulch back: Yeah, remember that golf course? The club house is now occupied by Point West Credit Union. Call me extremist, but I don’t care for I-5, I-405 and I-84. I want to see those freeways eliminated completely. Burying them only adds excessive costs with no real benefit. Expand I-205 and convert HWY 217 into the new I-5. Freeways need to travel outside of the city proper. Bring back Sulivan’s Gulch, plant some trees and maybe build a golf course again — of course, I wouldn’t want to “hook” a drive and hit a MAX… funny thought, actually.

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