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Metro approves $6 million for 1/2 mile of new lane on I-84 freeway

Proposed new lane on I-84 in east Portland.

In a rare bit of love for freeways, on Thursday July 19th, Metro (Portland’s metropolitan planning organization) approved funding for a project that will add capacity to an interstate located within Portland city limits. The $6 million project will extend an auxiliary lane on eastbound Interstate 84 one half mile between the Halsey St. and northbound Interstate 205 exits. Metro says the project is being “fast-tracked by ODOT after it found cost savings around the state.”

It’s interesting to note how Metro councilors — who pride themselves on supporting investments that improve bicycle and transit access — talk about why they supported this project. I’m also covering this because I think it’s important for people to understand how much we spend to alleviate congestion and just what results are expected for this $6 million investment.

“I was at a meeting the other day where someone said ‘Metro never approves anything that has anything to do with highways,’ so I will happily support this project that actually has to do with highways.”
— Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette

Before the final approval, Metro’s news service described the existing conditions as a “Major freeway bottleneck” and wrote that, “Drivers heading east on I-84 or toward Clark County on Interstate 205 have long suffered in the Gateway District, where I-84 narrows to two eastbound lanes.”

Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick gets caught in this bottleneck herself. She said that while, “We really focus on what we can do to help reduce congestion in the region, and we’re looking at alternatives – we use mass transit and active transportation, this is a very short piece of expansion and it can really have an impact on helping reduce congestion.”

Councilor Carlotta Collette said approval of this project is symbolic and that it, “showed that the regional government isn’t just focused on non-motorized transportation.” Here’s more from Collette via Metro’s coverage:

“I was at a meeting the other day where someone said ‘Metro never approves anything that has anything to do with highways,’ so I will happily support this project that actually has to do with highways,” she said. “It’s not the first, but here’s my first opportunity to say so – I think it’s a great project.”

Graphic by engineering firm David Evans & Associates showing
traffic queues now and after the new lane goes in (on right).

According to documents by the engineering firm working on this project, this new $6 million lane is expected to “noticeably decrease” the queue/delay for through traffic. As for overall speeds, engineers estimate the new lane will increase speeds for through traffic by approximately 5 mph.

I find it fascinating that we live in an era when agencies like Metro, PBOT and ODOT understand we need to reign in urban car use in order to meet our economic, social, environmental and public health goals — yet they still support expensive urban freeway expansion projects. Our region is going to add a lot of people in the coming decades, will we continue to add more lanes if our freeways become congested? Will our bus, train, and bike networks mature quickly enough to offset capacity demands on our freeways?

— For more on this project, read about “The Battle of the Banfield” in The Oregonian and download a PDF of the engineering document that discusses the existing problem and potential benefits of the new lane.

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