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Adams releases I-5 tunnel concept plan for public comment

Posted by on April 6th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Detail from Eastbank Freeway Tunnel Alternative draft plan released by Mayor Sam Adams today. Note the new arterial road (blue) and new connections to the riverfront (green arrows).

Portland Mayor Sam Adams has released his Below Grade I-5 Concept Plan that Beth Slovic at The Oregonian reported on earlier today (and then we followed suit).

The plan (download PDF) — which would bury I-5 between the Marquam Bridge and the Rose Quarter — is just at “concept level” and Adams says he wants to hear public feedback.

In a blog post titled, Envisioning a Future Central Eastside, Free of a Freeway, Adams said he’s releasing it for two main reasons: because the Central Eastside Industrial District is impacted by the City’s current N/NE Quadrant Central City 2035 planning process (which will likely come with widening I-5 through the Rose Quarter); and because as Transportation Commissioner back in 2004 he promised he, “would provide greater certainty to business and property owners in the Central Eastside Industrial District about the alignment for a buried east bank 1-5 freeway.”

Now Adams says, “We have identified a route that buries I-5 in place, and leaves the rest of the district intact.” Here are some bullet points of the plan, which he says “builds on earlier work” (done by former mayor Vera Katz and community groups):

  • Could maintain existing on- and off-ramps
  • Allows for a southbound on-ramp to be added in the Central Eastside Industrial District (shown at Stark St.)
  • Separates through traffic from local traffic; improves safety by reducing weaving movements
  • Rebuilds Water Avenue as functional, local-serving arterial.

While Adams’ plan does tunnel the freeway portion of I-5, it adds an above-ground arterial along the riverfront.

Adams says this could take decades for this to occur, the “future that the new concept plan portrays is undeniably appealing.” I agree!

Obviously with nine months left in his term, Adams knows he won’t be pushing this project along, but he at least wants to make some headway and keep the idea alive. “In final form, this reference document will hold the city to a single alignment should future decision makers seek to pursue a buried I-5.”

And of course, his release of the plan will be welcome fodder for many people in the community who want to see this happen – should future decision makers choose to listen to them.

Learn more on Adams’ blog.

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  • GlowBoy April 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    “While Adams’ plan does tunnel the freeway portion of I-5, it adds an above-ground arterial along the riverfront.” And just exactly how much bigger — and busier — is Water Avenue going to get? At least now all the I-5 traffic is above ground level.

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    • Paul April 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      I think you’re interpreting the tunnel (indicated in blue with the while dotted line) as the arterial. The arterial is in pink and would likely be behind buildings as they are developed.

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  • RyNO Dan April 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    NO to the riverside arterial, and NO to the Rose quarter widening.

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    • matt picio April 10, 2012 at 1:23 am

      Agreed. Better yet, re-designate I-205 as “I-5”. Remove I-5 south of the I-84 interchange all the way to I-405 in south waterfront. Remove the Marquam bridge entirely, including the proposed “stub”.

      A tunnel is too expensive. Also, it can’t be made earthquake-proof, and would require electricity to run blowers and pumps to change out the air and pump out the water. (it would be below river level, necessitating water pumps) As ugly as it is, the Marquam Bridge is the only river crossing which is currently rated to survive a major earthquake.

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      • Craig Harlow September 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

        Applause, Matt! Plus Nathaniel’s added suggestion (9/14 comment below)…

        remove the I-5 section from I-84 to the southern I-405 interchange, including
        the ramps at Morrison Bridge
        route former I-5 thru traffic along I-405 instead
        (many thru drivers will travel I-205 insead as well)
        cap I-405 as it’s already below grade
        enhance/add new I-5 ramps for MLK/Grand at I-84, to replace the then-decommissioned
        Morrison Bridge I-5 ramps
        retain the Marquam bridge, for ramps to I-5, since
        (a) SE Portland needs access to I-5, and
        (b) it’s the city’s current best hope for a standing bridge after a major

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  • craig harlow April 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    love it

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  • Chris I April 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Ugh. If you are going to bury I-5, why not tunnel under the Willamette where the Marquam bridge is now? The bridge needs to be taken down anyway. Even a new freeway bridge would be an eyesore/pollution source.

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    • was carless April 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      This is an excellent point. The tunnel should start on the West side, freeing up even more space around OMSI. That hefty 6% grade to their new proposed Marquam bridge would seem to be problematic.

      A couple other things:
      -why do we need a 5-lane Water Ave arterial? The existing one works perfectly well at 2 lanes.
      -what to do with the railroad – as the system becomes busier, Water Ave and the waterfront will become more and more cutoff as train frequency increases. Already you can get stuck for 15 minutes waiting for a train to creep over the Steel bridge – something will need to be done about this. At least Seattle got smart years ago and put their train through a tunnel (back in 1905).

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      • Marid April 8, 2012 at 1:06 am

        Generally, when I hear the phrase ‘perfectly well’ or ‘perfectly good’ neither is correct.

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  • Andrew N April 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Overall I’m impressed. Lots of moving pieces to deal with, but it would do so much to restore connectivity and open up significant portions of the eastside riverfront. Now the people of Portland need to push hard for action.

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  • Andrew Holtz April 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I grew up with the Harbor Freeway blocking the west bank river access. People need to be reminded how much better our city can be when people wrest precious land (especially riverbanks) back from cars.

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    • John Lascurettes April 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      And I was in San Francisco when people thought they could never live without the Embarcadero Freeway that cut off the city from bay views and waterfront for 50 years. Once they tore it down, they couldn’t understand how they lived with it for so long.

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  • Carl Larson April 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Just when it seemed like the CRC was the most wasteful freeway project we could think up, Sam proposes Portland’s own Big Dig. The Eastside Freeway should be REMOVED.

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    • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:03 am

      Indeed, it DOES seem redundant. Resign I-205 as “I-5”, resign the northern and southern bits of I-5 between I-205 and I-405 as “I-405”, and demolish the central bit.

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  • dwainedibbly April 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I hope I live long enough to see this happen.

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  • Carl Larson April 6, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I agree Andrew. Unfortunately, as much as Portland loves to pat its back about removing Harbor Drive, it’s hard to ignore the fact that not long after that highway was removed, Portland simply built a much worse highway on the other side of the river. I’d trade I-5 and the Marquam Bridge for Harbor Drive ANY day.

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    • adventure! April 7, 2012 at 6:06 am

      Both I-405 and I-5 were in place through the central core of the city by the time Harbor Drive was removed. One of the reasons (besides citizen involvement) they decided to remove Harbor Drive was because it was redundant. The Fremont Bridge was completed in 1973, completing the central interstate loop. Harbor Drive came down in 1974.

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      • Carl April 7, 2012 at 10:47 pm

        Oops! Thanks for the correction, Shawn. My point was that Harbor Drive was replaced by freeways that were far more destructive.

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  • Paulie April 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I think a better idea would be to combine I-5 with I-405, which could be expanded by double-decking. Then remove the Marquam Bridge eye-sore. It needs earthquake upgrading, anyway. A tunnel would be too expensive.

    Do we rally need two parallel freeways a mile apart?

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    • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 7:07 am

      And I-205 is the “bypass” for Portland anyway. We shouldn’t encourage interstate commerce/travelers to drive through downtown Portland. Widen I-205 to three lanes each way, widen I-405 to four, take out I-5 between the South Waterfront and the Rose Quarter.

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      • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:05 am

        Since I-205 is the bypass, it should get the I-5 number. The leftover part of I-5 can be renamed I-405, and then the central bit is a redundant leftover (you can go west of it OR east of it), and can be torn down.

        Then I-405 can be capped, since it’s already below grade.

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    • jeff April 9, 2012 at 8:30 am

      The Marquam got a seismic upgrade in the late 90s. Does it need another one already?

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      • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

        ODOT’s dirty secret. The Marquam is actually a higher collapse risk than the current CRC bridges they are about to tear down.

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      • Lance Lindahl April 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm

        Yes. Only the eastbank side of the bridge was upgraded. The west bank side was saved for a future phase and the work was never done. Seismic modeling has evolved quite a bit in the past twenty years and none of the bridge meets current standards.

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        • matt picio April 10, 2012 at 1:33 am

          What’s your source, Lance? This ODOT report from 2000 says that all 5 piers of the bridge (including the west side) were retrofitted in 1995.

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          • Lance Lindahl April 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

            The report that you cite only talks about work done on the main span of the bridge directly over the river. My point was that next to nothing has been done to upgrade the all of the various connecting ramps along the west bank.

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            • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:06 am

              Demolishing the Marquam bridge approaches would be possible if the section of I-5 between I-405 and I-405 was simply demolished. You have THREE north-south expressways in the Portland area; two is enough!

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  • Allan L April 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    How you get traffic off the upper deck of the Marquam Bridge down to tunnel level? One of Romney’s car elevators?

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  • Joe Rowe April 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Real vision would be removing all interstates from all large urban cores.

    Sam’s plan is costly and provides little benefit to a safe and equitable society per dollar spent. It hides the problem and is more costly to maintain. Why not tear down 205 and I5 completely? Create safe local streets at 25mph max. That would not add much to a cross town trip.

    Build an 805 bypass far East of Gresham. It would allow people on Interstate 5 in Salem to get to Seattle and back without blaming Portland for causing the sky to fall on interstate transit.

    Follow the sheep and learn to love walking in their output.

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    • middle of the road guy April 8, 2012 at 10:52 am

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more ludicrous statement.

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    • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

      The big push from the car-centric crowd is to extend 217 north, via a super-expensive tunnel under the west hills, crossing into North Portland and then onto Vancouver. $8 billion project, anyone?

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson April 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Great cities do not run freeways along their rivers. What does Frankfurt am Main have across the Main River from its downtown? A string of museums and greenspaces. Its about time Portland fixed this horrendous mistake from the 60’s. But Paulie has it right…just take the whole thing out Marquam and East Bank freeway, make I-405 into I-5 and call it good.

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    • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:07 am

      I’d give I-205 the I-5 number in order to encourage long-distance drivers who are “just going through” to avoid town, but apart from that, yeah.

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  • Schrauf April 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Great idea, but we can’t even raise gas taxes or mileage taxes enough to pave our streets, apparently.

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  • i ride my bike April 6, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I still see a freeway there. Remove it completely. This still has above ground land wasting interchanges.

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  • maxadders April 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    It’s simple: we replace I-5 with beard-powered cargo bikes

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    • jim April 7, 2012 at 12:20 am

      What is “beard powered”?
      Did you meen “beer powered”?

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      • maxadders April 8, 2012 at 8:44 am

        Beard powered. Meaning they run on the power of novelty and naive idealism.

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        • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

          Can they run on decades of stored fat that everyone seems to be carrying around with them?

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  • jim April 7, 2012 at 12:14 am

    How about a trolley that picks your car up with a big electro magnet stuck to your roof, it carries north south across the river and drops you off on the other side. Then you can have back most all of the real estate.
    I suppose I will get deleted again. sigh

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  • jim April 7, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Putting the cars underground isn’t going to work because the satelites that are going to track your mileage (new tax to replace gas tax) won’t work under ground

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    • middle of the road guy April 8, 2012 at 10:53 am

      If you can have cell phones in the subway, you can track cars in tunnels.

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  • jim April 7, 2012 at 12:25 am

    We could easilly have an east west bike tunnel if we could only convince them to route the sewers back to where they used to be, and do some serious scrubbing…
    A 22 ft pipe is quite wide enough to handle lots of bikes.

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  • kittens April 7, 2012 at 6:49 am

    What does it say about leadership or inactive in our local and state government that the mayor himself admits such a project is “decades-long”. Its all a depressing pipe dream. What about Mt. Hood Freeway becoming a light rail line or removing Harbor Drive and turning it into a park? Seems as if we live in a much darker time, when almost nothing is possible.

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    • kittens April 7, 2012 at 7:01 am


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    • Machu Picchu April 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

      I think the harbor drive project and maybe the Max line are examples of downsizing and decommisioning, while this project sounds like possible upsizing while sweeping the whole thing under the rug. Much more complicated. If there was consensus to remove I-5 and replace the asphalt and concrete with sod, the project would not take nearly as long. Replacing three miles of sewer line along Fanno Creek and Multnomah is taking years. Extrapolate from a six foot pipe to five and six lanes of freeway traffic.

      There is definitely something wrong with leadership in our community when the biggest, ballsiest proposition from a politician as influential as a mayor comes after three-plus years of self-inflicted impotence, and only on the way out the door. A mayor who kept his nose clean and showed up ready to work on the first day might have sold and moved a project like this. Now we have another ex-Mayor to attribute grand freeway visions to.

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    • matt picio April 10, 2012 at 1:39 am

      Different times. The money for the Mount Hood freeway construction was federal money. In the 1960s, there was a lot of that money, when the US had a booming economy and cash to burn. All Oregon did was re-route the money to transit. That funding source is gone, and there are no large federal pots of money to use now like there was then. Harbor Drive went away because it was redundant – Naito Parkway was only a block away, so removing Harbor Drive had little impact on traffic conditions, and even removed some problem intersections.

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      • adventure! April 10, 2012 at 11:15 am

        Actually Naito (Front Av) was a smaller surface street at the time of Harbor Drive. When they took down Harbor Drive, they widened Front to what it currently is. I-405 and I-5 were more important to the decision to remove Harbor Drive, I don’t think Front was much of a factor. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

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      • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

        I-5 is also redundant to I-405 and I-205.

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  • Jeffrey Bernards April 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Every project of these dimensions should consider the impact on climate change (it’s real folks). The net result should be a smaller carbon footprint. To remove that much existing freeway, and dig a HUGE tunnel, haul the dirt somewhere?, then pour concrete around steel. When it’s said and done we should see a BIG reduction in CO2, I just don’t see it? All that traffic noise? some of that traffic noise is bringing us our food, careful what you wish for. You want more bike lanes etc? This kind of project moves us further from obtaining the money we need for the bike master plan, not closer. I like to dream big too , but sometimes reality sets in and the reality is, it’s just a (pipe) dream. An out of sight out of mind freeway is still a freeway, no matter how much grass you plant on top of it.

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    • jim April 7, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      At least our big pipe project is underground. People don’t even knoew where it is. The same idea for the freeway, out of sight, out of mind

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  • BURR April 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    I think it’s a great idea, but OMG, shades of Vera Katz.

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  • Peter W April 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Taking out the freeway is a better idea than building a new one (even if underground).

    Does anyone know of studies or plans related to removing I-5 between I-84 and the Marquam?

    It’d be interesting to know what the current traffic models say would happen.

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  • GlowBoy April 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    The discussion of simply taking out I-5 on the central eastside (and redesignating I-405 to be part of I-5) has me intrigued. The Fremont Bridge is 4 lanes wide on each deck, and the surface stretch of 405 has enough pavement to provide a lot of capacity if its lane configurations were better designed. Knock the speed limit down to 45 and you’ll have less friction with vehicles getting on and off, which would also help.

    I’m sure it would pour quite a bit more traffic into the west side of downtown, but I’d be curious to know what studies have been done on the overall impact.

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    • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 7:50 am

      It would take longer to travel through Portland via the freeway, but you would see a reduction in overall travel. Drivers intending to drive through Portland would shift over to I-205. Many drivers would avoid Portland because of the increased travel times. The biggest unknown I see is the east-west travel, from 26 to I-84 and back. These drivers may end up on downtown streets, as the routing over the Fremont bridge is longer and would be more congested than it is today. Again, many of these drivers may just decide to stay on their side of town to recreate/shop.

      Bottom line: Portland would be a better place without I-5 on the east bank, and shutting it down and shifting the load to I-405 would not be very expensive (my guess would be less than $1 billion).

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      • Nathanael September 14, 2012 at 1:11 am

        Yeah, Fremont bridge could have issues….the east-west cross-town car traffic can’t be a significant issue given the substantial east-west service on MAX, but the truck traffic could be a big deal.

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  • Peter W April 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Taking out the freeway completely is a better idea than building a new one (even if underground). Cheaper, and better for reducing reliance on autos, among other things.

    Does anyone know of studies or plans related to removing I-5 between I-84 and the Marquam?

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    • Marid April 8, 2012 at 1:07 am

      Generally, when I hear the phrases ‘perfectly well’ or ‘perfectly good’ neither is correct.

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    • middle of the road guy April 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Let’s get rid of all road and have a barter-based society too.

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      • matt picio April 10, 2012 at 1:42 am

        Why not? We’re already moving towards a barter-based economy anyway, it’d be good to help it along. We can keep most of the roads for now.

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  • Joseph E April 7, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I’m glad to see everyone agrees on taking out the Marquam and the eastbank freeway, instead of replacing it with an expensive tunnel.

    Politically, planning on building the tunnel is a good approach. It looks like this plan would require tearing down part of the existing freeway, before construction would begin. This offers a good opportunity to see if 3 north-south freeways are even needed.

    So here’s the plan: 1) Add significant tolls ($10?) to the 1-5 interstate bridge, 205 columbia river bridge, and the Fremont and Marquam bridges. 2) If traffic on the local bridges goes up too much, add lower tolls there too.
    3) Save the toll money to repair bridges as needed to meet current earthquake standards, and to repave arterial roads and freeways. If there is enough toll money left over, start saving to build new bridges.
    4) Add carpool lanes, increase bus service, especially from Vancouver, and start commuter train service between Vancouver / Portland / Oregon City 5) Tear down the Marquam bridge and eastbank freeway
    6) Redo the traffic studies. I expect that the removed section of freeway will no longer be needed; traffic will disappear, taking 205 for longer trips, and transit / bikes / surface streets for local trips. But if there really is enough demand to pay for it, uses tolls to pay for building a new freeway tunnel, if needed, or just to widen 405 as a cheaper alternative.

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  • gumby April 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Vera had proposed a similar idea when she was in office which was to cap I205 through downtown.

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    • matt picio April 10, 2012 at 1:43 am

      I think you mean covering I-405. Capping that was more practical then burying I-5, since I-405 is already below grade. This project would be more expensive, since it would put I-5 below river level. Not a great idea.

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  • IanC April 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    The time for projects like this is over. I love the idea, but let’s save our resources. This will cost way too much money just to have a few more blocks of cafes, condos, “new” and “exciting” restaurants, maybe some food cart pods! By the time this is built, we’ll all be on bikes full time anyway.

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  • k. April 10, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Projects like this are so far off, that they may change completely based on what the future of the automobile looks like. In fact that’s true for our whole highway system. At this point, the growth in personal autos may not justify such investment in highway systems. Then again, maybe the future will bring technological developments that allow for our continued dependance on personal autos. I tend to think society is at the cusp of headed one way or the other, but I’m not going to predict which it is.

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