A new A report (PDF) prepared by consultants for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and in partnership with the City of Portland shows that the agency might be trying to build momentum for widening I-5 between the I-405 and I-84 interchanges. Ideas detailed in the report would also come with major changes — including the potential displacement of buildings and new bridges over I-5 — to local streets in the area.
[UPDATE (12/15) : The concepts in the report were developed in 2007, but are now being put forth as “starting points” in the N/NE Quadrant planning process. This is the first time the public has seen the concepts developed in the report.]
The four concepts detailed in the report would all have dramatic impacts on bicycling, walking and motor vehicle traffic flow.
According to the report (PDF here), this section of I-5 — because it’s used by all three freeways and has “only” two lanes in each direction — is “the most significant bottleneck in the Portland freeway system.” The report’s “Problem Definition Summary” lists several other reasons for making changes (which might sound familiar if you’ve been following the Columbia River Crossing project):
- The design is substandard to handle existing and projected volumes.
- The proximity of on and off movements creates too-short weaving distances.
- The number of rear-end crashes are high…
- Land use changes are increasing the demand for access to the area…
- Ramps off of I-5 lead to narrow cross streets with little excess capacity.
- The freight community has publicly stated that the congestion in this section is one of their highest priorities for improvement.
Four separate concepts are detailed in the report and all of them include potential displacement of buildings, removal of existing streets, new vehicle bridges over I-5 and additional freeway lanes. Below are detail images of the four concepts along with notes from the report about biking and walking impacts…
This concept would add a new overcrossing where Vancouver meets I-5. “Bicycles and pedestrians could also utilize this new crossing without crossing the interchange ramps at Broadway. It would also be possible to construct a new pedestrian crossing of I-5 one block south of Broadway into the Rose Quarter.”
“… the new overcrossing that combines the Williams/Vancouver one-way couplet and Hancock. Bicycles and pedestrians could also utilize this new crossing, thereby completely avoiding conflicts with the interchange ramps at Broadway. Also proposed is a new pedestrian crossing of I-5 one block south of Broadway into the Rose Quarter.”
“… new overcrossing that is on the existing Williams alignment. Bicycles and pedestrians could also utilize this new crossing without crossing the interchange ramps at Broadway. Pedestrians and bicycles could also use the new Hancock overcrossing of I-5. As with the other alternatives, a new pedestrian crossing of I-5 one block south of Broadway into the Rose Quarter would also provide pedestrian access across I-5 into the Rose Quarter.”
“… the new overcrossing that combines the Williams/Vancouver one-way couplet and Hancock. Bicycles and pedestrians could also utilize this new crossing without crossing the interchange ramps at Broadway. Proposed also is a new pedestrian crossing of I-5 one block South of Broadway into the Rose Quarter.”
The report’s authors (it was created by CH2MHill, but no individuals are listed in the report) says that this planning effort should be characterized as “‘homework’ to determine if there are one or more feasible and acceptable alternatives.”
Mindful of the significant impact these proposed concepts would have, the report states:
“While there certainly are some impacts to community goals and urban fabric, there are also many opportunities for enhancing those goals. Those include better local access to adjacent land uses, opportunities for new development, more open space potential, better non-auto local circulation, better neighborhood connectivity, and no significant visual impacts.”
The area, part of the “Freeway Loop,” has been studied for years. Now, with the start of full-scale planning and public processes for the N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans, ODOT and the City of Portland want to make sure that their ideas are part of the picture.
— Download: I-5: I-84 to I-405 Design Workshop Concept Report (PDF)
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I’ve walked, driven, pedaled, and taken the bus through that part of town, and I’d have to say that it’s currently friendliest to the automobile. If they want support for this from people who aren’t completely biased towards cars & trucks, it’s going to need to improve it for other forms of traffic — most notably, to me, walking. Walking over the freeway around there is not very pleasant at all. It’s this long, noisy, hectic expanse of gritty sidewalk. Automobiles are already climate-controlled, require no physical exertion, and go 50 freaking miles per hour there! How badly can they really be suffering?
Here’s a random idea: if crashes are such a problem in that area, lower the speed limit to 30. Yeah, I know, the federal highway system will not allow for it. Depressing…
How about a “big dig” to bury most of the freeway in tunnels (adding extra capacity of course) while restoring the street network on the surface?
I was going to gripe at you Jonathan for posting such hard to read maps, but after looking at the PDF I see that the ones there are just as bad. I’ll take you to task though for failing to point out that this is a joint ODOT-City of Portland process — I was scared, until I read that in the preface, that this was ODOT again attempting to cram a giant freeway redesign down the City of Portland’s throat.
funny you point that out Paul. The original headline was “ODOT, City of Portland….” but I wasn’t sure of the various roles and since the report said it was “prepared for ODOT” and that the City was just “in partnership” I wasn’t sure if I should give both of them equal treatment. That being said, I’ve added the City’s name back to the headline and mentioned the ODOT/city partnership in the article.
Quick comments based on a quick look at the PDF – Bike/Ped feels like an afterthought. They seem to be minimizing the impacts – the proposed widening would significantly increase noise in the corridor, as well as potentially widening the “awful area” (the zone that is unpleasant to walk/ride in). I’ll take a more detailed look and comment later – there are potentially a lot of conflict zones here.
Jonathan, the report seems to be from November 2007. Do you know if it’s a typo or if you have a link to an older report?
It’s a typo. Look at the preface, where it says “November 2010”.
I thought the CRC was “the most significant bottleneck in the Portland freeway system.” Now this??? So confused…
(Or maybe we’re just getting sold a load of hyperbole in order to railroad through another massive highway project?)
I wish someone would HIGHWAY through an important RAILROAD project! Why are we still wasting our time on cars and trucks!
there used to be a train (steam at first) that went east over the steel bridge to the city of Albina, it went west on killingsworth to greely and out to st johns.
I could just see it these days- stopping to unload some beer at plaid pantry, a case of oil at the food carts, some more stops at the bars to drop some kegs…
Riding between Rose Quarter TC and N Williams/Vancouver is about to get much more interesting. They’d better not screw this up…
Eww. Do not want.
While this section may represent a bottle neck there already exist 5 lanes each of north and south bypasses to avoid the area already. Between the 405 and the 205 havn’t we already built enough capacity, the problem is convincing folks who are going through to avoid the central city. Perhaps a congestion toll on this section of the I-5.
I agree, Bjorn. I’m not sure where to put all the traffic, since 205 and 405 are already nuts, also, but I don’t think we need to encourage more through traffic in the core of town.
Is this really the best way to spend $780 million to $1.3 billion? That’s the cost of what they’re proposing, at least as of a 2008 report by ODOT to the state legislature. Imagine how much we could do to create livable communities with that kind of transportation money.
That’s right, we could have 7 miles of light rail to Milwaukee for that kind of money.
But seriously, I hope that Kitzhaber can be pressured to appoint a new ODOT leadership that’s more in tune with Portland’s transportation policy over the last, oh, forty years.
I think i would be okay with something like this if they agreed to bury it, or otherwise fix the ped/bike environment. If not, i don’t think we want it at all.
-From the report:
“The purpose of this project was to determine if there are one or more concepts that improve the mobility and access while reducing the safety problems that exist in the I-5/I-84 interchange vicinity, in ways that are acceptable to the stakeholder agencies and do not preclude future design solutions. That answer is “yes.” This report documents four interchange concepts married with two scenarios that retain the existing number of through lanes on I-5 and increase the number of through lanes by one. All of these situations improve the conditions over the existing operation.”
I’m not sure how they got to this conclusion, but I don’t think I would say that these options “improve conditions”… at least not for all users
Additionally their current ” Pedestrian and Bicycle Access” scores both as ‘bad’ wtf. Additionally since they score all of their options better than the existing infrastructure even though they are considering ripping up broadway and williams/vancouver. The only questionable spots now IMO are Vancouver/Broadway. Additionally, direct connections to the steel bridge appear to disappear with some of these plans. but yet its scored ‘better’?
With respect to the Convention Center, RG, etc: “All of these facilities are affected positively by improved freeway access that would result from any of the concepts, but there are no direct impacts to these properties.” because freeway access is always a positive result? it would appear that there is not the parking to absorb this capacity, or the local street capacity to handle the surge
For all concepts, there is potential to include a
dedicated off-street bicycle facility along the west
side of the I-5 right-of-way from Weidler to Oregon.
The vertical alignment of this separate facility
should be kept high enough to cross over Holladay
and Multnomah Streets, thereby avoiding bicycle
conflicts at the Rose Quarter Transit Center. This
bike trail connection could provide access to the
Steel Bridge as well as the Eastbank Esplanade and
the future bike trail planned for Sullivan’s Bluff along
What do you think of this? I don’t know that it would be so great… riding sky-high over the RQTC. maybe others like this option better than the current setup.
They could solve the freight congestion problem handily simply by removing the entrances and exits onto I-5. That would be a good first step to removing the freeway entirely from city limits.
Exactly. You can’t have crashes and bottlenecks on a highway that doesn’t exist.
Biking from the steel bridge to North Williams requires 4 lights, a narrow multi-use bridge, dodging train tracks, a zig zag ramp, a hill and, this time of year, huge pools of rain water.
Gee. Wish we only had an occasionally congested bike highway to deal with.
Being from Iowa, I know baseball fields & freeway lanes — “If you build it, they will come”.
Does it ever stop. Same as it ever was.
Can you imagine what it would look like if somehow we could bury I5 from the Marquam bridge through the Rose quarter? Imagine the potential uses of that space for business, public spaces, housing etc. This is probably not possible at all but couldn’t we use the enormous and costly mechanical digger currently at work on the sewer/runoff project to tunnel? My understanding is that that piece of machinery is what is so expensive about tunneling projects. I am prepared to stand corrected: ) Anyone out there have knowledge on this?
Mara is correct. Let’s look at money. Where can I find costs for 2 big projects nobody is talking about in Portland.
1) Has anyone noticed that for the last 2 years massive work crews have been on Interstate 5 North of downtown keeping the hill from sliding down on the freeway. What’s the name of that project? It has to be at least $300 million.
2)What’s the cost of all the upper deck reconstruction of Grand and MLK there by OMSI. What’s the name and cost of that project?
2) is the MLK Viaduct Replacement. $36 million. http://www.portlandonline.com/keepportlandmoving/index.cfm?&a=108929&c=41602
This is the pro CRC crowd that really wants this project. When the powers that be said the CRC’s 6 lanes was causing the I-5 bottle neck they never mentioned the Rose Quarter’s 4 lanes on I-5. This is deflecting criticism of the CRC project. I’ve said all along that it’s pointless to add 10 or 12? lanes to the bridges when it’s only 4 lanes through the Rose quarter. Maybe they finally see the logic of the criticism.
unless i am misreading these maps, it looks like it would be pretty tricky to get to the broadway bridge from northeast.
Several Oregonian articles have made passing mention of the fact that the CRC is perceived by those pushing it merely as the first step to eventually widening all of I-5 north of 84. This new plan is probably reflective of their piecemeal strategy. As such, the city and state both need to hear a clear “no way no how” message from people like us.
I still think that 205 should be made the new 5; the CRC should be canceled as currently designed; and the Eastbank Freeway should simply be removed (no tunnel, which would cost a mint) and that side of the Willamette returned to the people of Portland. What is left of the old I-5 can be re-numbered 405 and can function as a secondary, local freeway. It is so depressing that we are still talking about widening freeways in a city with such a carefully-constructed mythology around its supposed “sustainability”.
Kudos to Jonathan for publishing this story.
I’d love to see a study of this solution — cost, immediate effect, development benefits, etc., because it seems so sensible…
Just noticed that in several of the options the nice old apartment building at the corner of Flint and Broadway is slated for demolition. Ditto for the just-renovated affordable housing with the bike pull-out at Weidler and Williams. Crazy. Urban planning at its worst.
gah. of the 6 bullet points listed as reasons for making changes, im betting that the 6th is the big mover – freight trucking wants it. as far as im concerned, the costs of freight trucking (even merely in terms of things like safety and wear and tear on roadways) are already too high. were stuck with it, cause our freight rail infrastructure is crippled, but still – central city thoroughfares shouldnt be at the mercy of their demands.
traffic behaves as a gas. it WILL expand to fill the available space. add an extra lane of traffic, and well have the same problems we have now, just one line wider. to hell with this idea. freeway expansion is an wasteful anachronism.
One of the complaints about the CRC was that the elimination of the bottleneck at the Columbia River would move the bottleneck into the city of Portland and that frustrated drivers would exit the freeway to clog surface streets where bicycles would be impacted. This location, where the freeway necks down from 3 lanes to 2 lanes (each direction) is already frustrating drivers and diverting traffic onto surface streets.
Our society uses cars. It is a beautiful dream to pretend that we are on the cusp of a cycle centric utopia. It is more realistic to accept the truth that society is going to replace and upgrade failing infrastructure and that cyclists and motor vehicles will continue to share that infrastructure. The incorporation of cycle lanes and infrastructure is in an upward trend and that is good, but from the sound of this thread the real goal is not to facilitate cycling but to eliminate all transportation that is not cycling.
I expect to get flamed, but this blog has become complaint central.
I suppose it depends on how you define “upgrade,” and for whom the infrastructure replacement is meant to act as such.
The crux of the “complaint central” problem is that DOTs nation wide, Oregon DOT included, seemly consider the volume and speed of auto traffic as the only important factors in their design and maintenance of roads and highways.
To the detriment of pedestrians.
To the detriment of cyclists.
To the detriment of the handicapped.
To the detriment of the safety of auto drivers even.
To the detriment of all: auto traffic must be kept moving at as high a speed a will just barely not cause a nation wide 10 million car crash scene.
This is why we complain.
I weigh in on the best long-term solution for the city, which IMO is to remove that section of I-5 altogether and revitalize the east side of the river to enhance livability, community, and alternative transportation options. The creative design energy would be tremendous for the city, correct a terrible design flaw the city has to live with every day, and position Portland like other great cities of the world that have a river running through its core. That would be an investment in the city’s future, not a wasted exepnse on a bandaid project that wouldn’t solve the issues we are already dealing with. Imagine the economic impact to the city that a vital waterfront on the east side could bring.
For all this talk about building “more” capacity, I see very little options for improving the use of what we already have.
I have to drive for work often, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck in an awful traffic jam because I wasn’t expecting it, and now I’m helping to compound the problem.
If there was more intelligent information easily available on signs BEFORE entering a freeway system, you could know to avoid it or take a different route, and therefore not add to the existing congestion. I know plenty of ways to get to where I need to go, but once you’re “on” a freeway and stuck in horrible traffic, it’s oftentimes hard to get back off.
ODOT traffic cams and Google traffic maps can help if you’re at the office, but when you’re out driving you oftentimes don’t know what to expect until it’s too late.
If more information were available, I think it would help to reduce this type of problem WITHOUT having to build MORE freeways, which will just get clogged again in the end, any ways. Help people intelligently use the infrastructure we have – no one WANTS to be stuck in awful traffic.
Note that all the proposals eliminate N/S travel on Flint, Vancouver and Williams for bikes, buses and cars. Some “improvement!” This project needs to be killed. Attend the City’s planning meetings for the NE sector of the Central City Plan, and raise hell.
Our plan the the Central City should eliminate the Marquam Bridge and Eastbank Freeway, designate I-5 thru the Rose Quarter as I-84 (maybe buried and paid for with tolls), and putting a lid on I-405 and calling it I-5.
A few people have asked about burying I-5. Believe it or not this is actually something that has been studied in the past and actively advocated for by some veteran transportation advocates. Check out the story I did back in June 2006, Imagine the Central Eastside, minus that pesky freeway.
I can only dream. And the Eliot neighborhood will be happier too.
To Joe Rowe, Question #2: http://tinyurl.com/l68lsd
That is the MLK Viaduct Replacement project and involves far more than the upper deck. Take a look underneath sometime.
The project history is particularly interesting, I think.
It would be great to put the freeway underground and return the surface to neighborhoods for buisness, schools and parks. As a point of reference the Boston Big Dig cost about $22 billion.
I’ve been hit not once, but twice where the NB exit off I-5 hits Weidler. Lucky for me I saw them coming both times, but it was too late to avoid getting hit.
How does one possibly produce a document where the maps are oriented in the wrong direction? Their fees can’t be cheap, was the marcomms person who printed the report an intern?
The project should be rejected on this priciple alone.
The images in this post have been cropped. If you click on the pdf, the actual report has north arrows indicating the correct orientation.
Jonathan Maus, I’m hoping that you not only go to these meetings but stand up, as a business owner directly effected by this type of change, and let them know that this is NOT positive for the neighborhood and will negatively hurt your business. Actually, it looks like you might be displaced. Also, what about the newly remolded annex? Looks like it is gone as well. New transitional housing, gone.
On another note, it seems like city is ‘sh**ing there they eat. Why are they discussing items like this when the citizens of Portland have made it clear via elections how we want the city to go. Portlanders have spoken for nearly 30 years how we approach issues like this. Also, why are hosting the Lloyd SAC? This committee is planning on how to make cycling better on Vancouver. I’m a blown away and very ashamed of my city right now.
I don’t know, from a political stand point it is advantageous for the PBOT to involve the public if they don’t actually want this to happen.
PBOT gets to say “Gosh, I guess the public does not want this” while saving face with ODOT by not having told them to go to hell personally.
Sorry if this has already been said by 30 previous comments: the presence of i5 along the Willamette’s bank is a gigantic mistake of epic proportions. Adding more lanes here and there will only temporarily reduce congestion. Access to water for recreation, commerce and livability is nearly impossible to beat. Creation of acres of valuable real estate, while nearly impossibly expensive, would later be viewed by succeeding generations as heroic. Adding a couple of lanes and condemning buildings and surface streets is mindless. The small and temporary gains would be swallowed up in a short period of time. Use this money if it is available for the long, long view.
For those proposing eliminating I-5 through PDX: are you suggesting that the additional traffic could/would be handled by 84 and 205? Having driven on all 3 at rush hour, it seems to me that capacity is the issue. If you eliminate 50% of the available roadways (from PDX to Vancouver), how does that improve congestion or increase capacity? Sure, it will do wonders for downtown, but what about the 84 and 205 corridors?
I think a sensible option would be to make I-405 a double-decker with 4 or 5 lanes on each deck. Move all I-5 traffic to the expanded I-405 and remove the Marquam Bridge and East Bank Freeway. No need to dig another hole, lets use the trench that is already there.
If adding the Mt. Hood Freeway would ” cripple the freeway loop”, how would removing a highway not make it better? our street grids do a pretty good job handling traffic on the east side. no reason to assume that a similar setup wouldn’t work for crossing the river.
Just an FYI on a clarification/update to this story:
The concepts and the report are not new. They were first developed in 2007, but the report was just an “internal working document” and has never been made public until now.
All these noble arguments are academic as long as gas remains cheap/subsidized and the trucking lobby has so much sway. We will continue to see governments build bigger, wider freeways and Americans will continue to fill them with cars.
Those of us who envision a different transportation picture are in a VERY small (and relatively un-moneyed) minority and that is why no one is really listening to us.
I am pretty much done dreaming. I am pretty much done having faith in a just government that listens to all of its citizens. And that is why I’m pretty much done with discussions of how and why Portland is so much cooler than other cities. In the end, the car will remain king for a long time, even in Portland, no matter what kind of organizing happens to oppose it. And rather than the freeways going underground, it will be hardcore bicyclists who ultimately realize that their only course is to reject, eschew and subvert on a deep, personal level.
Of all the options, only the third seems to be anything close to an improvement for cyclists, since it would have people turning left rather than right off of Broadway to access I-5. The right hook problem at Broadway-Williams is the most ridiculous traffic problem for bikes that I can think of, especially since the new changes.
Well 30 or so years ago Portland did kill the Mt Hood Freeway and the I-505 in NW, and since then we have just rested on our laurels. Now millions have been spent on the CRC that could double the number of motor vehicles entering Portland from the north, and then this silly ODOT/PBOT idea.
Great cities reclaim their rivers for civic use; even homely Frankfurt a. M. has parks along both sides of the Main. Portland’s 50 year plan should have the river-side freeways gone, replaced by housing, commerce, and civic life. Paris started to reclaim the Seine in the 16th century, so we have a lot of catching up to do.
This 2007 ODOT document is just background for a much larger planning effort by City of Portland. The N/NE Quadrant effort is attempting to address a lot of the viewpoints and concerns voiced in these comments. You should all get involved.
Sorry, but Portland is only one of many cities it passes through. I do not see it getting better no mater what is done any time soon.
Transportation by large gas-powered surface trucks is bad news for any livable, sustainable community. It shouldn’t be. When are we going to start thinking about a replacement mechanism ? So we need to remove the incentives, and this stretch of road is a great disincentive. I don’t care if they “remediate” the inconvenience to cyclists and peds. NO WAY !
How about decommissioning I-5 as a freeway, and converting it to something more appropriate to a city? An arterial, basically. That way there would be no need for ramps, and the road wouldn’t be such an impassable gouge through the urban fabric.
The speed would be a little slower, but that might not be such a bad thing. This blog post discusses some of the implications of a slower speed limit along this route: http://deadhorsetimes.blogspot.com/2010/07/unorthodox-and-maybe-crazy-but-really.html
Then, like others have said, rename I-205 to I-5. They did something similar in Cambridge, MA when residents objected to a plan to put I-95 through their neighborhood. The solution was to simply rename a nearby circumferential highway to I-95. The freeway was made to go around.
Ask Gordon Price what a benefit it is to not have a freeway plowing through a city, and he’ll speak with pride of the first stop light you’ll encounter on I-5, at the terminus of that interstate, at the city limits of Vancouver BC. And he’ll describe how that city has somehow managed to scratch by, even without a freeway through its core.
Add up the acres of potentially valuable real estate consumed by urban freeways, and the surrounding areas that are poisoned (literally and figuratively) by the presence of freeways. All for what? The ability to go blasting through a city at speeds more appropriate to interurban travel through the countryside? And that’s only when there’s no congestion, otherwise you’re traveling arterial speed anyway. And that congestion never quite seems to go away, no matter how many lanes are added.
Maybe freeways don’t belong in cities. After all, being as they are designed for getting in and out of cities as quickly as possible, and with as little contact as possible with the urban core, urban freeways are essentially monuments to people who don’t like cities. Maybe that’s part of why freeways are so ill-suited for cities. And while freeways and interstates are great for moving quickly between far-flung destinations, cities are concentrated collections of destinations. Maybe the very density that defines cities thwarts the design goals of freeways.
I had the same thoughts. I like it!
Well put, Spencer! I’d sign off on this plan.
Are people here Redditors? Someone was nice enough to post the above comment to r/portland and now seems to be getting downvoted right and left in its defense. And a pretty reasonable defense at that. Perhaps you could offer him or her (and me) some help. 🙂
Thanks for the substantive reporting on this!!
Ugh, dropping half a billion dollars to gut a bit of urban Portland and widen a freeway. And people complain about spending half a billion on bike projects for the whole city???
Seems that we just need to get twice as many people on bikes, and lots of congestion on freeways will magically disappear.
But if they widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter, they’ll just move the bottleneck elsewhere.
I’ve been impressed that Portland went through the 80s, 90s and ’00s without any downtown freeway expansion projects. Most other cities demolished and rebuilt their freeways at least once since they were built in the 1960s, and there’s no gain. Congestion is almost as bad as it was before (I’m thinking St. Paul, MN, Salt Lake City, UT, Seattle WA, to name a few), and they have spent a couple hundred million that would otherwise have been spent on something else that mattered, or still be in the pocket of the citizens.
Thanks for the coverage, Jonathan.
Not to mention Vancouver, WA, which demolished and rebuilt I-5 through downtown in 1980. And that certainly didn’t solve any problems. Now they want to demolish and rebuild again.
Thank God Vancouver DID rebuild their freeway when they did, otherwise it would be just real ugly getting through there now (worse than now)
I don’tlike the idea of the new bridge spending all this extra money for all these new ramps and stuff, this is really jacking the price up on this. Govt. gone wild.
Perhaps if they just build a bridge now and later if they have money build more ramps…
so they’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the freeway and not one cent to provide bike ped bridge connections on the Flint and Williams alignments?
That seems very typical of the autocentric idiots at ODOT.