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ODOT set to unveil plans for I-5 expansion near Rose Quarter (Tonight)

Posted by on February 2nd, 2012 at 1:59 pm

N NE Quadrant plans at BAC-3

ODOT and PBOT planners presented the
designs to the Bike Advisory Committee
last month.
(Photo © J. Maus)

ODOT, in partnership with PBOT, will unveil their plans for a I-5 freeway expansion project near the Rose Quarter at an open house in the Lloyd Center Mall tonight.

The plan, which is being done as part of the larger Central City 2035 and N/NE Quadrant plans, would add about 1,500 feet of additional lanes (in each direction) and a breakdown shoulder on I-5 between the I-84 interchange through the Rose Quarter. In addition, a host of other changes are being considered that will have a dramatic impact on surface streets and mobility in the area in general.

Aerial view.
(Photo: ODOT)

While just a planning exercise at this point, officials have estimated the cost of the “recommended base project” at $310 million with an additional $204 million for a slew of other “potential elements.”

ODOT and PBOT reps presented details about their plans at a meeting of the City Bicycle Advisory Committee last month. Surprisingly, ODOT planner Todd Juhasz and PBOT planner Mauricio LeClerc said the main thrust of the expansion isn’t to relieve congestion and add capacity. They say widening the freeway is being done to improve safety.

Here’s how Juhasz explained it when the subject of added lanes came up at the BAC meeting:

“We’re not trying to meet the capacity of the CRC [Columbia River Crossing project]… No matter what happens here, if CRC backs up this area will still be a mess no matter what we do… But what this project does is you’ve got so many on and offs in this area, by adding what we’re calling auxiliary lanes, it allows more space for vehicles to get on into the flow of traffic or off with more space… reducing side swipe collisions and rear end collisions.”

Juhasz says their modeling shows them that even with the additional lane, I-5 wouldn’t get any increased capacity at all. “It’s not increasing capacity at all… we’re not getting any capacity benefit.”

In terms of bicycle access, there are several interesting elements being considered.

Planners have come up with a “lid” concept that would put a cap over the existing freeway to “create a park-like atmosphere” on the streets above. The lid — estimated to cost about $110 million — would be placed over the freeway where it intersects with Broadway/Weidler/Williams The lid would allow for more breathing room to possibly improve the biking and walking access and help mitigate the negative livability impact of a major freeway…

Other ideas being considered are two new overcrossings over I-5. One would be at Vancouver and Hancock…

… and the other would be a biking/walking only overpass between Clackamas Ave (on the east) and Winning Way…

Another element of this project is a new multi-use path (MUP) that would run from NE Multnomah to Weidler right alongside I-5 on its eastern side…

And here’s another look at the MUP in relation to the Clackamas Overcrossing (it’s the orange dotted line that begins in the lower right):

ODOT and project stakeholders are also looking at removing the existing Vancouver bridge and directing all north-south traffic over to N. Flint Ave…

It’s worth noting that the Hancock/Vancouver and Clackamas overcrossings, along with the multi-use path are currently listed as “potential elements” (read: extras) of the “recommended base project.”

In addition to these elements, there’s also the question of how the new freeway configuration (and on/off-ramp changes) will impact the large volume of bike traffic on nearby local streets as well as existing property owners.

Rich and Betsy Reese, who own the Paramount Apartments on the corner of N Flint and Broadway, penned a letter to the projects Stakeholder Advisory Committee on January 19th. The opening paragraph sums up the feelings of many activists I’ve spoken with about this project:

“While we question the basic premise of the inevitability of freeway expansion, and in principle are more interested in traffic engineering changes that would enhance our neighborhood through better bike, pedestrian and public transportation connections, we understand the importance of participating in this public process at the point of the current discussion.”

This is big and complicated planning process that is trying to accomplish many goals. We’ll have more coverage as things evolve. To learn more, come to the open house tonight from 4:30 to 6:30 at Lloyd Center Mall (west end, near Nordstrom) or visit the N/NE Quadrant project website.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Josh Berezin February 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    At $310 million, I wonder what the cost per crash averted would be. I’d be surprised if this were the most efficient way to reduce crashes.

    And $110 million for a lid? I mean, I’m sure the lid would be nice for people walking and biking, but I can’t imagine it would be the top-priority way to spend over a hundred million dollars on making walking and biking easier. How about if we leave the lid off and put the $110 million into the highest-priority projects in the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030?

    I’m sure that’s not how it really works, of course.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jonathan.

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  • Steelshwinnster54 February 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Again more money for cars not to hit each other or create more traffic jams, or be able to have a shoulder to pull off on. What if we REDUCED I-5 to two lanes each way instead, and made the speed limit 35 mph. It would still be quicker than surface streets and would not impact neighborhood livability. Then we could use the whole 310 million for bike plan projects, yea!. Yea like that’s gonna happen.
    Thank you for the story and meeting notice Jonathan.

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  • Gregg February 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    This is the worst idea since the proposed CRC highway expansion project.

    Build more lanes= have more cars= more congestion and more climate change

    I agree with Steelshwinnster. We need fewer lanes not more lanes. How is there money for highway projects, but we can’t fund the bicycle master plan or cover the cost of transit?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm


      there isn’t any money for this. To my knowledge, this is just a planning exercise. If real money comes up, then we’ll have an even more rigorous debate about the project’s merits… And don’t forget, there’s still the “no build” option.

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      • q`Tzal February 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        If this is a “planning exercise” what can we do to ensure that the negative effects of all options are included in the final analysis?
        Even a “No Build” option can have negative consequences. Too often Departments of Transportation view themselves as a “Department of Construction” therefore “No Build” is by definition 100% bad.

        My point being that if we want to debate that some large project needs to be built the DOT needs to credibly and convincingly show that a No Build option actually is bad.
        Further, macro scale traffic simulations are commonplace these days. Any build options/scenarios need to be run to show the negative consequences that they have.

        I might be much more willing to accept that we need to build a project like this if the DOT’s primary argument wasn’t “THE WORLD IS GOING TO END WITHOUT THIS EXPANSION!!!!111!!!”

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  • Unit February 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    ODOT has learned that “capacity” is a bad word and if they just call their widenings for capacity “safety” projects, maybe people won’t notice the sleight of hand.

    C’mon ODOT, adding two more lanes to I-5 is a capacity project no matter how you cut it. Don’t lie. Be honest and let’s have an adult conversation about its merits. This is state-funded deceptive propaganda at its worst.

    Kudos to the project team for including elements to get people across I-5, specifically the MUP bridge. Now let’s make sure these don’t get put into the traditional ODOT “phase 2” that never gets done.

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  • Paul Johnson February 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Oh, wait, ODOT’s serious? Let me laugh harder now. Seriously, Oregon has bigger transportation fish to fry than the hardest possible spot to expand a freeway possible.

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  • Andrew N February 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    In my opinion the lid, Clackamas overcrossing, path, etc, is all just lipstick on a giant pig — the pig being an expansion of capacity on I-5 right in the heart of the city. If this and the CRC are evidence of some sort of evolved culture at ODOT, we are in trouble.

    We should be deep into the planning process for removing I-5 on the east bank, declaring 205 the new I-5, and making all of what’s left through central Portland 405. That in addition to some combination of congestion pricing, a VMT tax (to fund a much-more-rapid expansion of mass transit infrastructure and Bike Plan implementation), and special consideration for freight movement. Instead, we’re debating freeway *expansion* projects that would look straight out of the 1950’s if you took away the transit and bike/ped components.

    Ugh. The notion that we’re even paying people at ODOT and PBOT to come up with plans like this makes me sick.

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    • Andrew N February 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      People should definitely take a look at the SAC’s most recent meeting packet. There is a letter at the end of the document from the owners of the Paramount Apt’s that is worth reading. It’s at http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?a=382260&c=53257

      Oh, and thanks to Jonathan for publicizing this story.

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      • Spiffy February 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        that’s an awesome letter, thanks for sharing! and thank you Paramount Apartments!

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    • Chris I February 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      If we remove the Marquam Bridge and the east bank freeway, 4 lanes through the Rose Quarter will be more than enough to connect I-84 to the Freemont Bridge interchange, and ODOT will save money every year on freeway maintenance.

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  • Lance P. February 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I say shut I5 down. That would solve the safety issue.

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    • was carless February 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm

      I’m afraid that this proposal – which has been pitched many times before – is the only one that makes financial sense AND would actually achieve anything: increased mobility.

      The eastbank freeway is just a crap-chute. The land under the eastbank freeway along the river is probably worth well north of $100 million alone…

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  • Spiffy February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I’m positive that more room for cars won’t make people drive them more safely… nor should our leaders be investing in a dying trend…

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  • Oliver February 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Then there’s the ‘new’ Transportation Bill about $0 dollars to be used for bike or pedestrian projects.

    So you get a giant freeway interchange in the middle of town (anywhere really), with no way around other than by motor vehicle.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 2, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    The minute PBOT agreed to use ODOT $ for this phase of the Central City plan, you knew where it was going…more road capacity. The planning agenda for the Central City should be freeway removal.

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  • NW Biker February 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Where room is made, congestion follows. It’s like a gas; it expands to fill the available space. Proof of that is Hwy 26. It’s just as backed up now as it ever was prior to the additional lanes being added.

    They can call it safety if they want to, but it really is just highway expansion for capacity.

    I like the suggestions here of getting I-5 out of the heart of the city, and using 205 instead. That might call for the development of another north-south route to the west, or revive talks of a highway parallel to 217, but just how much can the city center take?

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    • Chris I February 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Even easier: Make I-405 into I-5. You can remove the Marquam and the east bank freeway. I-5 through the rose quarter becomes an extension of I-84.

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      • was carless February 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm

        Maybe a small congestion charge to reduce the number of drivers – and congestion – during peak hours. Everyone else can drive through the central city to pick up groceries before/after rush hour.

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  • poncho February 2, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    sweet 1/2 billion dollars to add 1500 ft of lane! and people say we cant afford 100 million city wide bike improvements!?!?!?!?

    wow, what we do and spend to make it easier to get to the outskirts by car as fast as possible, who cares about urban neighborhoods they pass through. likewise what we do for “freight efficiency “(trucks) to get the production as far away as possible from consumption. maybe if we didnt prioritize long distance trucking speed we might start making things closer to home.

    dont get me started on that junk science known as traffic engineering.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Since we are at the design concept phase now, how about these ideas:
    – making the Vancouver and Hancock lid intersection a multimodal roundabout (CROW style) vs. a signalized “Tee” intersection?
    – and adding small community commercial along the sides of any urban lid to screen the new streetscape from the regional traffic? See link

    These large lids are a great way of reurbanizing broken street and neighborhood links, but I worry that these mitigations for old errors usually get value engineered out…as an example, the large lid for Vancouver has been reduced during the recent budget cuts.

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    • was carless February 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      The problem is that these lids are just too damned expensive, and there really is no need to have large urban freeways going through the central city. Most European and Canadian cities do not have freeways running through them – for obvious reasons.

      Also, since we are in a very risky earthquake zone, these lids become an engineering nightmare, and very expensive – and makes it impossible to build any structures on top, since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake would flatten it.

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  • Todd Boulanger February 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    From the article above an interesting point on that successful project:

    ” A case study by a real estate developers group, the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, said the cap shows that the following ingredients are necessary: an active road reconstruction project, well-organized citizens, an eager developer, a city government that makes the project a priority and a strong retail environment.”

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  • kittens February 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    ha! A $500 million planning “exercise”? it will be a fine day indeed when other parts of state government think similarly bold about their jurisdiction: education, health and parks. This is a waste of time and resources to be sketching up pipe dreams when every Portlander knows we can barely afford the current transportation system. Passing a damn bond every time we need streets repaved and bridges repaired is no way to fund a transportation system. TriMet could tell you that.

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  • q`Tzal February 3, 2012 at 6:06 am

    ODOT, let’s just be clear:
    A MUP is not a replacement for safe and continuous on street bicycle access.
    A MUP is a wide sidewalk that is never cleaned and which enforcement is never considered.
    A MUP is a space for pedestrians to stagger randomly in the path of fast moving cyclists and never be to blame.
    A MUP is a place where utility poles can be placed as unsafely as possible without a concern that it will cause any problems.
    A MUP is a slow speed travel corridor with no chance for priority at automotive crossings which necessitates uncontrolled and unsafe dodging through automotive traffic that has no legal reason to stop.

    On street bicycle access removed and replaced with a mandatory MUP is like ripping out a section of 6 lane interstate highway and telling everyone to just drive through that field over there: uncontrolled, undeveloped, unsafe and slow as dirt.

    A MUP is NOT a replacement for safe and continuous on street bicycle access.

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  • was carless February 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    For a radically different vision, this was pitched YEARS ago as an alternative plan for the eastside near the river. Hint: they suggest ripping out I-5.


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  • RyNO Dan February 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    A beautiful example how the DOT crowd has completely re-defined the concept of “safety”.

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  • Peter W February 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    “We’re not trying to meet the capacity of the CRC [Columbia River Crossing project]… No matter what happens here, if CRC backs up this area will still be a mess no matter what we do… ”

    He doesn’t seem to get the point. He’s saying if the CRC *backs up* (like the current bridge backs up at 5pm with people driving home to Vancouver) we’ll have congestion in the Rose Quarter. Really he should be saying that if the CRC *opens up* (widens to 10+ lanes of capacity for Vancouver commuters driving South), then we’ll really have a mess in the Rose Quarter.

    “But what this project does is you’ve got so many on and offs in this area,..”

    If there are that many on and offs, isn’t the simplest and cheapest solution to just close some of them?

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  • Steve B February 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I am very pleased with the plethora of the smart-thinking comments BP readers have made in reaction to this project.

    Please make sure you take a two minutes to share your thoughts directly with ODOT and PBOT:

    Karl Lisle
    City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

    Mauricio Leclerc
    Portland Bureau of Transportation

    Todd Juhasz
    Oregon Department of Transportation

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