Splendid Cycles

Backers say I-5 Rose Quarter widening could be model for future freeway projects

Posted by on August 31st, 2017 at 11:42 am

“We would love to see this project successfully set a new precedent for how we address urban highways in Portland.”
— The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance)

Technically speaking, not all freeway projects are created equal. But they all pretty much have the same goal: Make it easier for people to drive cars.

That being said, is it ever a good idea to widen a freeway in a dense, urban area? In 2017?

From an engineering perspective, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s current plan to add lanes to Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter is a far cry from the 1950s-era plan to build the Mt. Hood Freeway through southeast Portland or the more recently vanquished Columbia River Crossing project.

A major theme of the current debate is whether the I-5 Rose Quarter project is qualitatively different. What if — as its backers (and fence-sitters) say — it represents a new era of highway building? One that’s kinder and gentler? One that even (supposedly) progressive Portlanders should get behind? What if this one is worth it and the “No More Freeways” mantra from activists is a knee-jerk reaction to an old boogeyman that deserves a chance to make good?

These are just some of the many question I want to address in the coming days.

The debate around this project is heating up as we’re just about one week away from a Portland City Council hearing that a new coalition group has targeted as the place to stop it.

While this coalition sees the project as a waste of money that will encourage auto use (among other things) — people who support it see it as a golden opportunity to fix local streets and bridges in the Lloyd District that serve thousands of daily bikers and walkers. Some even push back at the notion that it’s a “freeway widening” project at all.

Back in March, Portland Bureau of Transportation Planner Mauricio LeClerc told the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission that, “This is an innovative project that really makes a freeway project something that is about place-making and that improves conditions for all modes.” LeClerc also warned that if the project doesn’t go forward, funding for surface street updates and new overpasses would improve convenience and safety for bicycle users could be lost. “How else are we going to fix those five bridges over the Rose Quarter now, unless we come up w $200 million ourselves?”


BikePortland commenter Beeblebrox (a regular commenter who I can verify is well-informed on the issues) has said, “It should be noted that the project does not actually “widen” I-5… [what it does is] connect the I-405 on-ramp to the I-84 offramp without a merge required, and vice versa in the other direction.” Furthermore, Beeblebrox justified the project yesterday by saying, “The fact we’re getting handed state money that otherwise would go to a true freeway widening project, and instead it’s going to a small operational improvement and a ton of surface improvements should be celebrated, not opposed. This really is a model for how urban freeway projects should be.”

Even The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) is giving this project plenty of breathing room. Even though they, “Agree with many of the concerns raised by opponents of the project,” they don’t oppose the project. The Street Trust has decided to not sign the No More Freeways coalition letter to City Council. In a blog post today, the group said, “To remain consistent with the compromises reached with legislators and stakeholders in the bill, we have chosen not to sign on to this coalition’s letter.” And echoing PBOT and Beeblebrox’s optimism, The Street Trust says, “We would love to see this project successfully set a new precedent for how we address urban highways in Portland.”

It feels like we’re putting a lot of trust into ODOT. Should we?

Faced with massive opposition from Portlanders and the City of Portland (my how times have changed) to their Mt. Hood Freeway plan in the 1970s, ODOT tried adding other elements to make the project more palatable. “Among the proposals were increased landscaping and bike paths along the route as well as parks and community centers built over the freeway’s ‘air rights’ and a ‘transitway’,” reads the Wikipedia entry. “These efforts, however, were not enough to sell the project.”

And we know what happened with the CRC: All ODOT wanted to talk about was “the bridge” and plans for a bike path and light rail that would connect Portland and Vancouver. ODOT made enough promises that major environmental and transportation nonprofit groups — including The Street Trust, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and others — didn’t fight it (or in the case of the The Street Trust, only fought it after enabling it for years with their involvement on advisory committees). This was despite the reality that the CRC was a massive freeway project that would have built huge on and off-ramps for miles in both directions at great cost to our region’s finances and health.

And here we are with I-5 at the Rose Quarter: It’s either going to be a “precedent” setting, “innovative” and “place-making” project that sets a new standard for urban freeway project — or it’s just an example of how much better ODOT has gotten at green-washing, bike-washing, and safety-washing yet another massive investment in automobile-oriented infrastructure.

Stay tuned for more coverage. We value your input. Thank you.

(NOTE: We will address more issues with this project in the coming days including the role of congestion pricing, what we know about the project details, the financing, and so on.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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

  • Ted August 31, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Thanks Jonathan, for covering this important issue. The comparison with the CRC is a worthy one. Many of us crying foul on this project see the parallels and understand that while it technically may not involve freeway widening, it will only encourage and bolster continued automobile dependence, fueling induced demand. Nick Falbo showed it best with his original CRC induced demand video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g00Orb2_dw

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    • Paul H. September 1, 2017 at 8:51 am

      There is a long history, not unknown in the US but more prevalent in Europe, of journalists who are clearly coming from a certain point of view but are not slaves to their political theories at the expense of empirical evidence. They try to explain the world from their mindset while allowing for evidence-based changes of mind and acknowledging the potential need for (gasp!) compromise in the name of progress.

      I think Jonathan does that sort of journalism. He has a clear point of view that values active transportation, equity for all (and especially those facing longer social odds), and cities that prioritize people over machinery. That said, I’ve never seen him belittle someone with different priorities. He understands that listening and negotiation are necessary civic virtues.

      So I’m very interested to read his upcoming assessments of this project. I suspect that there is no one, certain locally and perhaps nationally, who is better able to identify the key issues.

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  • bikeninja August 31, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I think they missed the boat, instead or renaming themselves the Street Trust they should have cut to the chase and renamed themselves the Highway Trust.

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    • Chris I August 31, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      noun: hyperbole; plural noun: hyperboles

      exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

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    • rick August 31, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      sad times

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    • soren August 31, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      It’s hard to get a nonprofit to understand something when their government-funded FTE depends on them not understanding it.

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      • Todd Boulanger August 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm

        Yes – good point…THUS the importance of membership dues (and other financial support) for advocacy groups that it would help to outweigh funding supplied by the agencies it may have to advocate against / give advise against pet agency projects.

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  • rick August 31, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    More cars means more ruts, more metal-studded tires, less room for an I-5 bike path. Is there a single bike path in Oregon or Washington that parallels I-5? More asphalt and wider car bridges increases the cost of maintenance.

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    • Chris I August 31, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Does anyone want a bike path that parallels I-5 in north Portland? That would be one of the last places I’d think of.

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    • El Biciclero August 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Sure—it’s called “The Shoulder of I-5”, but it’s only legal to ride there along certain stretches, like over the Boone Bridge.

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      • Champs September 1, 2017 at 8:23 am

        At least in the metro, the shoulders are legal anywhere south of 217 on I5. This and other freeways are detailed in the ODOT bicycle handbook.

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    • nuovorecord August 31, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      ‘I-5 bike path’ – Necessary because the I-205 bike path isn’t shitty enough?

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    • B. Carfree August 31, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Bear Creek bike path from Central Point to Ashland parallels I-5 for fifteen miles or so. (It may have a gap at Talent; been years since I rode there.)

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  • bikeninja August 31, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Oregon is a special place (at least for a little bit longer) because Oregonians pushed for things that were the opposite of what the establishment wanted. Urban growth boundaries, the bottle bill, public beaches and the stoppage of the Mt Hood freeway were not supported by the construction industry, trucking, the real estate complex or the chamber of commerce. I think this freeway boondoggle is a chance for us to stand up and show we deserve our legacy. If more and wider freeways are the answer then we should all move to Atlanta or Dallas because those places must be Nirvana.

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    • B. Carfree August 31, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      Gospel. Amen.

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  • Andrew M August 31, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I’m a little disturbed that many of the commentators here appear support no highway projects, even ones that are primarily designed to prevent dangerous accidents. To the extent that this project will make it easier to drive cars through Portland, it is primarily through preventing accidents and their resultant slowdowns.

    Yes, I’m sensitive to the equity argument and yes there are many many many areas in Portland that need additional safety treatments for vulnerable road users.

    However, if this is a use it or lose it situation with the money, I’m a little saddened that most commentators would rather forego a safer and more humane area near the Rose Garden for bicycles just to prevent even safety-enhancing (and likely life-enhancing) treatments for cars.

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    • emerson August 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Which highway project is designed to prevent serious crashes?

      Fender-benders and low-speed collisions are typically not fatal and do not typically produce serious injury.

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      • emerson August 31, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        Between autos, of course.

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      • Andrew M August 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

        As a note, most bike-car collisions do not produce fatal injuries yet areas where these types of non-fatal collisions typically occur, even if low-speed, are rightly discussed here on Bike Portland as in need of a fix.

        Of course fatal injuries are worthy of much greater scrutiny than regular accidents but just because someone ‘only’ got life changing back injuries or an amputated leg means that the road conditions are not worth of fixing??

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        • Keviniano August 31, 2017 at 9:53 pm

          I heartily agree that non-fatal injuries count also. If it were the case that there have been no fatalities on this stretch but an outsize number of injuries compared the to rest of the metro area, then I think that should definitely be taken into consideration. Is there any evidence to support that?

          My uninformed gut says that injuries track with fatalities. If so, the cost of improving this stretch is wildly disproportionate to its value in improving safety.

          I’m all for some facts that prove my gut wrong.

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    • soren August 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      how many of the 44 people who died (on Portland’s roads) last year died on the short stretch of I5 that is slated to suck up hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation bonding.

      how many of the 44 people who died last year died on our high crash road network?

      how many of the 44 people who died last year died in east Portland?

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      • eawriste August 31, 2017 at 4:02 pm

        Exactly. Money should be targeted first based on data regarding safety, and then data on most people moved regardless of mode.

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    • Anonymous August 31, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Lots of commenters here will oppose anything that has to do with cars. They use the magic words, “induced demand” and assume they’ve just won the internet.

      I never see any solutions to the problems that freeway projects like this aim to alleviate. “Just ride a bike.” isn’t a solution for someone who has to commute 12 miles each way over rivers and hills. That kind of response is arrogant, ablist, and classist. Some people are not physically capable (ableism); some people are not able to spend the amount of time that it takes due to other responsibilities, jobs, kids to take care of (classism).

      The “best” ideas that they can come up with is to artificially make driving so miserable that the only choices are to move to wherever you work (impossible in this city if you’re poor) or spend 3-4 hours per day commuting via TriMet.

      The comment section here is not a good place to go if you want to have a reasonable discussion about real-world problems.

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      • David August 31, 2017 at 3:15 pm

        Let’s not pretend that part of the problem is that people think “[housing is cheaper]/[schools are better]/[my friends are all] in [insert distant suburb here] even though I work across town but I can drive so it’s not that bad”. Bicycles are not going to be a panacea if everyone has to commute 10+ miles to work.

        This is, to an extent, an efficiency problem. People have located themselves, en masse, in an inefficient manner such that as a society are saddled with the burden of providing infrastructure for people to continue to do so. By externalizing the costs of this inefficient housing situation we will continue to run up against these sorts of problems because when you get rid of the large part of the commute traffic there is plenty of capacity.

        For those who don’t have a choice due to finances or other reasons this is why we need more robust transit options. When you have infrequent bus service with routes that don’t have enough coverage of course people will drive.

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      • KTaylor August 31, 2017 at 3:17 pm

        I hear what you’re saying, but we’re living in a time when what is reasonable or realistic is having to change rapidly. A huge chunk of money is on the table to shore up a dying way of life — one so decadent it’s amazing it’s been able to retain its hold on all of us for as long as it has. Riding a bike isn’t the only alternative to driving alone in a car, and with public investment, those other options can be made more convenient and attractive to people currently driving alone. Will they like these modes better than driving? Probably not. It’s hard to beat the convenience of driving from door to destination in your own private vehicle, especially when most of the cost is offloaded onto taxpayers.

        Also, to address the idea of cyclists as some kind of wealthy elite who don’t have to deal with real-life struggles, I started getting around by bike and bus in 1990 because I had no money and could not afford a car. Some of my bus rides involved three transfers and dial-a-ride or shuttle service. It’s not plush, but it can be done, even now. My current bike commute is 10 miles over a very steep hill. I’m 46 years old and weigh 350 pounds. I don’t have kids, but I do have a full-time job and a business, and up until a few months ago, I was leading a non-profit. So what I’d say in response to the notion that *most* of those people on the road *need* to drive is that I don’t think the vast majority of them have bothered to look into other ways of getting around. Or they have tried transit and didn’t like how long it took, or tried carpooling and didn’t like having to work around someone else’s schedule, or tried biking or walking and didn’t like how slow it was or how sweaty it made them. Which makes driving alone a choice – and a bit of a luxury – one I am tired of subsidizing.

        I understand how frustrating it is to feel like someone doesn’t see your side of this issue – that’s something I, and many of the commenters you complain about, deal with every day in a car-centric culture.

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      • Ryan August 31, 2017 at 3:42 pm

        I too have been irritated at a few on here – and really, it is only a few – who seem to always put forth the idea of making driving less convenient. I feel like the best ideas/solutions would be to make other modes more convenient without making driving worse. Unfortunately, we don’t really have the space and/or money for that in all cases. Removing a driving lane on Division to make it a bus-only lane (and add more buses) would kinda suck for people that drive that road a lot, but maybe they would see how much easier it would be at that point to take the bus. You get enough people to come to that realization and suddenly we’re moving more people more quickly without using any more space, and making that same space safer by removing vehicles.

        Also, when I just look at the number of fatalities directly attributable to auto use each year, I start to understand the argument more of simply making driving less convenient regardless of whether it’s being offset by some other mode. If people have to drive more slowly, they’re less likely to injure others or themselves if they’re involved in a collision. Why is it that we lose our minds if a terrorist attack kills a dozen people or so every year yet feel it’s just a normal risk of life with the many thousands that die each year due to automobile usage?

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      • Toadslick August 31, 2017 at 4:52 pm

        Hello! I’m one of those people that opposes any money toward improvements for cars.

        My rationale is this: right now, cars have everything. As a driver, you can pick any two points in this city or beyond, and know that you will be able to safely and comfortably take a direct route there, parking included, with zero planning. On top of that, the most direct local routes, with the least amount of elevation change, are given almost completely to cars. Take Foster, Sandy, Hawthorne, or Barbur for example.

        When I walk, bike, or take transit to an unfamiliar destination, I usually have to cross-reference multiple maps or applications, and spend a significant amount of time planning a non-direct route to avoid dangerous roads and intersections.

        It does not have to be that way. BRT, more frequent and safer crossings, and a thorough, connected bike network would go a long way toward making non-driving a more convenient option for most people.

        Until that is the case, I don’t see why any more money should go to the mode of transportation that is already, by orders of magnitude, the most convenient, most comfortable, and most subsidized.

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        • Toadslick August 31, 2017 at 5:03 pm

          Also, while I’m being idealistic, buses should be fare-less and funded entirely by gasoline taxes.

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          • John September 8, 2017 at 10:35 am

            Automobile drivers pay for their cost of their transportation.
            They purchase a car, car maintenance, registration, Insurance, gasoline, Parking Fees. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from people who ride the bus?
            In my opinion, the bus riders should pay for their cost of transportation also. I believe it is only fair.
            Instead, they expect a free ride at taxpayer expense. A bus costs $375,000. The driver gets about $30,000+/yr in salary + $30,000+/yr in Benefits. Add Gas, Tires, Maintenance, etc. It is not a free ride. Yet, bus riders expect automobile drivers to pay for their (Bus) transportation costs as well???? You expect automobile drivers to pay for their own cost of transportation, and your cost of transportation as well?Obviously you are a bus rider, so Why do You think You have the right to take money out of other people’s pockets and put it in Your Pocket?
            All biases aside, I believe everyone should pay the (Full) cost of their choice in transportation, whatever one they chose.
            Personally, I ride a bike as often as I can (50%). And drive my car the other times (50%).
            For those who want FREE bus service…I just don’t get it. I often see empty buses (95% of the time)with no passengers (regardless of the time of day or night). I often hear Liberals complain for more bus service, but I just don’t see the ridership to support it, or any significant numbers of people who would even use it.
            In my experience, sometimes there are bus riders, but I see a bus that holds 60 people with only 0 to 5 passengers. This is not economical at all. The system doesn’t even come close to paying for itself.
            I’m all for effective and economical public transportation: Light rail, ride-share, bicycles, etc. But my experience, Bus service isn’t one of them. The last time I saw a full bus was when I was riding it –when I was in college in my twenties (over thirty years ago).

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            • David September 8, 2017 at 10:57 am

              “Automobile drivers pay for their cost of their transportation” – John

              Only if you omit the cost of building and maintaining roads and disregard the externalities. I don’t have an exact number for how underfunded roads are based on “user fees” (registration, gas tax, etc.) however they do not cover the amount of wear inflicted by each vehicle, and every time I see the number cited it’s not particularly close (around 50%). Also from perusing this site you have certainly seen the many articles where there are free parking spaces that could be turned into bike lanes but it doesn’t happen because some property/business owner values the free parking spot (it’s always over free parking not paid), and that parking spot is really just paying for the convenience of leaving your private vehicle in a space that you do not own.

              The externalities are more complex and insidious. How much do you value good air quality versus bad? During this past week there were quite a few people forced to stay inside and/or don masks as our air turned (more) toxic. Then there’s the healthcare element, sitting down for extended periods is being recognized as unhealthy and the fact that driving encourages this is not accounted for. Do we even want to discuss the value of human life and the ~50 people killed in this city each year or ~32k across the country? How about those with lifelong injuries caused by cars (as driver, passenger, being in another vehicle, or bystander) What about property damage caused by irresponsible driving or the societal cost of congestion, or how living in spread out communities with cars causes many people to not know their neighbors? Some of this is priced into auto insurance (property damage and harm to people) but it otherwise is a cost borne by a society that largely doesn’t understand the compromises that have been made over the past century or doesn’t see them as a problem.

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            • Dan A September 8, 2017 at 11:45 am

              “Automobile drivers pay for their cost of their transportation.”

              Sorry, after this comment I didn’t bother to read the rest. It’s time for you to do a little homework.

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      • B. Carfree August 31, 2017 at 6:01 pm

        Ableist? Twenty percent of Americans are disabled, and Portland’s generally younger, more active population probably means that it is much lower here. If the 80%+ who were able-bodied would leave their cars at home and either take transit, ride a bike or ride an e-bike, then those who have mobility issues would be able to get to their destinations in a timely fashion.

        Let’s face it: it’s been long known that we can’t all drive door-to-door everywhere quickly. Cars just take up too much space. Funding more space for them is a dead end. A smart society would be funding alternatives like public transit and cycling.

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      • Jim August 31, 2017 at 9:48 pm

        Your comment “artificially make driving so miserable” is completely ludicrous. You write as if, left to its own devices, the world “naturally” creates the right conditions for people to drive around on 1-ton metal sofas. There is nothing “natural” about our driving culture. It is a system of technology and infrastructure created by people, propped up by untold violence and destruction.

        Similarly, your comment on “arrogant, ablist, and classist” is ridiculous and angering. By “class” I assume you mean “money”. I am too poor to own a car. What does that make me? Regarding ablism, if fewer able people drove single occupancy vehicles we would have far more capacity to enable others to get around. The claim of arrogance perhaps takes the biscuit. The current system is destroying us, there are proven alternatives. Arrogance is assuming we can ignore all of the signs and statistics indicating that we are driving off a cliff.

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      • Dan A September 1, 2017 at 8:57 am

        Speaking of ‘ableism’, you’re not considering the 1/3rd of the population that can’t drive.

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      • Roland Klasen September 1, 2017 at 10:22 am

        I agree with your post but an ebike will easily commute 12 miles each way over big hills using as little or much rider energy as desired. It’s not for everybody but it is a viable alternative to driving, especially when the weather is nice.

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    • bikeninja August 31, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      I think this safety argument is a red herring. For 5 years my shop was right next to this chunk of I5 and there were rarely accidents there, mostly because the traffic is slow for most hours of the day. If Safety were truely the concern they would do something about the destruction derby called Hwy 26 between 217 and 405.

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    • Keviniano August 31, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Doesn’t congestion actually improve safety by slowing down traffic? For the highway portion at least, I thought this project was about increasing throughput, not safety. ( As PBOT has highlighted, safety is a goal for the improvements to the surface streets.)

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      • Andrew M August 31, 2017 at 3:29 pm

        The way to increase throughput is by decreasing the incidence of auto accidents (which really slows traffic down) and dangerous weaving that the current setup encourages. Throughput is a goal but so is safety.

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        • Chris I August 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm

          Until I see stats on injury/fatality crashes for this stretch of I5, that argument doesn’t hold water. From what I can tell, there have been no fatal crashes on this stretch. Marine Drive has had several this year, by comparison.

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          • Stephan August 31, 2017 at 10:35 pm

            Andrew, the way to effectively decrease traffic-related injuries and fatalities is to compare several projects that all use the same amount of funds (say, $500 Mio) and then pick the one that reduces the most injuries and fatalities. I would be happy to support this project if it comes out as the most cost effective one. However, half a billion dollars is a lot of money that could be spent on very meaningful infrastructure changes to decrease injuries and fatalities.

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        • Dan A September 1, 2017 at 5:33 am

          First you’d need to prove that this setup is more dangerous than, say, Highway 26 after 7pm, when it’s wide open. In my experience the amount of speeding and wreckless driving goes way up as the overall volume of traffic goes down. You could probably just look at fatalities on Hwy 26 over a few years and determine when they are most likely to occur.

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  • John Liu August 31, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Can we discuss how tolling would work? This is because one argument is that we should put tolling in place first, then assess the remaining congestion. Doesn’t make sense to spend huge money to address congestion that may not exist in future.

    But I would like to understand if tolling would be practical.

    Where would the toll booths be placed? I assume I-5 and I-205 at the Oregon/Washing border before the first southbound exits in Oregon. What about further south? I-5 at Wilsonville? There are surface streets that would allow a toll there to be bypassed, so would there have to be more toll booths as you head north on I-5 and then I-205? How about I-84 and I-26?

    How would the tolls work? FastPass transponders and “cash” lanes, like in the Bay Area? Or something different?

    How would we address equity concerns? I suppose there could be a program for low-income persons to get discounted FastPass accounts.

    How much money would the tolls raise? Can tolls make these sections of freeway/bridges self-sustaining? Can they generate additional funds for other uses?

    How much would the tolls reduce traffic volumes? What does the data from other cities show, what happens when tolls or congestion fees are introduced, are those cities really comparable to Portland?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 31, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      Hi John,

      Part of the issue here is that no one knows how a pricing/tolling plan would work because ODOT has never done one. There’s a lot more on pricing I want to share but will do so in a separate post.

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      • emerson August 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        I’m eager to hear what you have to say on this. Other places have implemented tolling. The opposition to tolling here seems to be NIMBYism and a fear of change.

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      • Todd Boulanger August 31, 2017 at 2:00 pm

        ODoT is currently hiring for staff to work on tolling (per my memory)…

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    • soren August 31, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      language matters. congestion pricing is not tolling.

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      • Keviniano August 31, 2017 at 2:04 pm

        I’ve been using the terms interchangeably. Isn’t congestion pricing just tolling at peak times?

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        • soren August 31, 2017 at 2:46 pm

          tolls are typically charged at all the times. congestion pricing may only affect a subset of traffic, may only operate on certain days/hours, and can be specifically targeted at those who can afford to pay.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 31, 2017 at 2:48 pm

        I asked an expert on the topic, Joe Cortright, to tell me the difference between “congestion pricing” and “tolling”. He said they’re used interchangeably. For our context here in Oregon right now… They are using the term “value pricing”. Let’s be careful to keep eyes on the prize and not get too bogged down on semantics at this point.

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        • Stephan August 31, 2017 at 10:27 pm

          I am with you that we should focus on the big picture but as an economist myself, I want to emphasize that tolling versus congestion pricing may have very different behavioral effects. Tolling could be much less effective in reducing congestion because it does not specifically tax congestion. I would like to see congestion pricing be implemented first instead of these projects but think it is important to be clear from the onset that this should be a policy that is effective in reducing congestion by specifically increasing costs of congestions for people driving cars. It troubles me that ODOT does not seem to have a clear understanding of the difference.

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    • Paul August 31, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      I wonder if it would be feasible somehow to do citywide tolling, not just on freeways, but anytime you drive inside Portland you get tolled. That would solve the issue of moving traffic from freeways to other streets.

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      • J_R August 31, 2017 at 3:18 pm

        A gas tax is a fairly good approximation of citywide tolling. IF it’s high enough. Even Portland’s 10 cent per gallon citywide gas tax is on the low side if one’s objective is to have a meaningful impact on the amount of driving. Look to European countries if you want to see the effect of a meaningful gas tax.

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        • Paul August 31, 2017 at 4:22 pm

          A high gas tax would be great, but it wouldn’t work in just Portland. A lot (most?) of the people on the roads are coming from other places in the metro area (or beyond), and if the gas prices in Portland were a lot higher than elsewhere nearby, they would rarely choose to buy it inside Portland. So it would end up being a tax on Portland residents only, at best.

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        • Chris I August 31, 2017 at 8:29 pm


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    • Beeblebrox August 31, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      First of all, no one uses toll booths anymore. You put a transponder on your car, and the moment you get on the freeway you get charged. If you don’t have a transponder, they take a photo of your license plate and send you the bill. The charge may or may not be demand-based, may or may not be distance-based, may or may not be income-based, and it may or may not be applied to every lane. Lots of things to decide. But guaranteed there will be no actual physical toll booths.

      For equity, I would love to see a low-income discount, similar to the discount that TriMet is developing or the one recently implemented for Biketown. Basically, if you qualify for food stamps, you qualify for a toll discount.

      There’s definitely a whole issue of people avoiding the tolls using other arterial streets, and the solution to that would probably be a cordon pricing system around the Central City to make it so you don’t really save money by avoiding the freeway.

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      • B. Carfree August 31, 2017 at 10:40 pm

        If no one uses toll booths anymore, someone really needs to tell CalTrans. I just drove trucks and cars over the Benicia/Martinez bridge several times and stopped at the toll booth to pay my money on half the trips. (Used a transponder on the other half.) I had plenty of company at those booths.

        If you meant that no one would set up a new system that relied on toll booths, I absolutely agree. Well, depending on whether an incompetent agency was involved (ahem, ODOT), I may agree.

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      • eawriste September 1, 2017 at 7:20 am

        I’d love for you to explain this to the NJ turnpike tollbooth cashiers.

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      • paikiala September 1, 2017 at 9:49 am

        not so much a transponder anymore, now it’s and RFID tag you adhere behind your center rear view mirror. BC has them for all their new bridges.

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    • Bay Area rider September 1, 2017 at 6:06 am

      Here is some info on how the $2 congestion surcharge on the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge worked out initially.http://its.berkeley.edu/btl/2012/winter/bridge%20toll

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  • peejay August 31, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Maybe it’s because we’ve been fooled too many times before. Maybe it’s because $500M for safety could be spent way more effectively. Maybe it’s both.

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  • David August 31, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    There are so many issues at play with this project. The one I keep coming back to is how can I trust The Street Trust at this point? Remember these are the same folks who begrudgingly accepted a bike tax for increased Safe Routes to Schools (which they administer to a large extent) and bike path funding. Now they’re saying, we’re not happy about the highway construction but look at all of this other stuff that we’re getting which improves things for these other modes (sound familiar?).

    After seeing how $2 million almost derailed a much needed project in SW (Capitol Hwy) that had 20 years of lobbying, I’m leery of a project that is going to cost a couple orders of magnitude more while people are dying in East Portland and those in SW are pretty much trapped in cars (yes, you’re not trapped but options are pretty limited) because there is minimal infrastructure. If the city/metro is going to be raising hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation the first place to spend those funds based on safety or congestion is not in the Rose Quarter and that’s where the resistance is originating.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 31, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    The key PROMISE of the Interstate Highway system was to pull regional trips off of older state highway arterials…now if this project can do this without inducing new trips on the surrounding City street network, such as reducing/ retiring MV capacity on out of date/ safety deficient arterials (replaced by bikeways and pubic space) then lets talk…
    …Plus how about direct underground access to the Rose Quarter garages from the interstate facilities?

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  • Todd Hudson August 31, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Will this *actually* address the horrible bike connectivity between the Lloyd District and downtown? It’s needed. Current connections are take (1) Broadway, and it’s umpteen stoplights and unprotected lanes; (2) Lloyd Blvd to the Steel Bridge, which means crossing five lanes of traffic to access the sidewalk that takes you across that little railroad Bridge; or (3) get to the Burnside/Hawthorne/Morrison bridge via the always-packed-with-cars 12th Ave bridge over 84 and a safe north-south route that doesn’t exist.

    It’d be nice if there was a better option. Sometimes compromise isn’t a bad thing (even though it is in this comments section).

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    • Beeblebrox August 31, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      Yes, in fact. The project includes a new ped/bike-only bridge connecting NE Clackamas St to the Rose Quarter across I-5. It also moves the on-ramp away from Winning/Wheeler. Broadway would presumably be improved since it would be completely replaced. Plus a new Hancock bridge would be built, providing a lower-traffic street crossing north of Broadway if you want to avoid the whole interchange.

      By the way, PBOT is planning to build the Sullivan’s Crossing ped/bike bridge over I-84 at 7th Ave in a couple years, so that connection will get better too.

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      • Todd Hudson September 1, 2017 at 8:15 am

        I’m skeptical that a 7th Ave bike/ped bridge will happen in a few years. Maybe 5-10, based on the city’s performance in following through on what they talk about doing. They haven’t even started the feasibility study for it (has it even been funded yet?).

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        • paikiala September 1, 2017 at 9:47 am

          ‘a few years’ is the normal Federal funding timeline for costly projects like a bridge.
          Ideas are proposed.
          Then approved as a project proposal.
          Then listed for funding request on a 5-year plan.
          Then approved for funding.
          Then planned, public outreach, designed, public feedback, revised and finalized.
          Then approved by the Feds.
          Then funded, bid out, and constructed.

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  • Ted Buehler August 31, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    ““It should be noted that the project does not actually “widen” I-5… [what it does is] connect the I-405 on-ramp to the I-84 offramp without a merge required, and vice versa in the other direction.””

    Um, that’s called widening the freeway.

    And it still wouldn’t help.

    It’s not the merges causing the delays. The problem is not a bottleneck at the Rose Quarter.

    The problem is that in the last 5 years transit/ped/bike mode share hasn’t grown, and the entire freeway system is saddled with more cars than it can carry.

    The Rose Quarter bottleneck created by “merge delays” and such don’t really matter 22 hours of the day. Either
    1) There’s not enough traffic to make merging difficult, or
    2) Downstream bottlenecks in any direction make traffic crawl through the Rose Quarter and it wouldn’t matter if it was 12 lanes wide.

    The only time it might make a difference, having that extra lane each way, is four 15 minute period, at the shoulders of rush hour. Like 7:00 – 7:15 am, 9:00 – 9:15 am, 3:00 – 3:15 pm, and 6:00 – 6:15 pm.

    Watch Google Traffic at this time of day, like right now (3:38 pm) and you can see the whole system is clogged, it wouldn’t matter one bit if there was an extra lane from 84 to 405, because all traffic in the downtown freeway system is jammed anyway.

    Based on my observations of Portland’s freeway congestion, you could watch that map from 7:00 – 9:30 am, and 3:30 – 6:00 pm, and there would be very few instances where the Rose Quarter section of I-5 is causing a bottleneck. And there’s no money or political will to widen all segments of the downtown freeway system.


    If we’re serious about safety, fix the high crash corridors.
    If we’re serious about maintaining infrastructure, replace the Marquam Bridge so the road system will function after an earthquake.
    If we’re serious about economical solutions to gridlock, incentivize transit, bicycling and walking.

    Ted Buehler

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    • wsbob September 1, 2017 at 12:11 am

      Ted…what distance, how many feet of 1-5 do you figure this project will be widening? Much more than 5000′ feet, if that? From some of the comments to this story, I’m getting details that I hadn’t heard before, about pedestrian and bike use amenities that will be included in this project.

      I’m just coincidentally learning about specifics of the project and comments to it, so far. With only that info at present, I can’t say at this point that I think the project, for the money, is a great and needed improvement to travel infrastructure including the interstate highway through Portland. The project though seems to be much more about community building than it does about simply making it easier for people to drive. I guess I need to take a closer look at exactly what changes to I-5 through the RQ, this project will involve.

      So far, this project seems not to have anything close to the devastating consequences to neighborhoods that the proposed Mt Hood Freeway project from back in the early 60’s of last century would have. The MHF would have been a monster coursing east-west through the heart of SE Portland. The RQ project in comparison, basically just enhances vehicle flow through on I-5’s existing right of way.

      Is the price tag too much for the gains to be made? Maybe. On that basis, a lot of people in the state might have reservations about funding the project. I think though, that they also probably expect the city and the state to be working to minimize infrastructure problems that keep I-5 from handling traffic as well as it could with some improvement.

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  • AMA August 31, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Ok. I was in the extremely skeptical “hard no” camp and now I’m just extremely skeptical. Let’s see real plans, starting with congestion pricing and some dedicated funding for the bike ped components put in to some sort of escrow, and I could be swayed.

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  • Beeblebrox August 31, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Comparing this project, in which probably more than half the funding goes to the lids and surface street improvements and the freeway “improvements” amount to a single short aux lane and shoulder in each direction, to a huge 16-lane monstrosity CRC or Mt Hood Freeway where the ped/bike/transit elements really were minor after-thoughts, is truly mind-boggling. If you throw around the term “green-washing” at everything, it loses all meaning.

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    • Steve B. September 1, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      Probably? What are you basing that on? Do you have a source?

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  • David August 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    We look to the Dutch for cycling inspiration quite often, but I haven’t seen much analysis of their highway systems and how those efficiencies might be applied to the US. What I do know though, is that their approach to highway design is to minimize merging to maximize flow and reduce crashes. Crazy to think about Dutch highways, but they’re there and they’re heavily used. Yes, even in the Netherlands about 45% of people still drive as their primary mode of transportation. And for the most part they do it (much more) safely.

    So what’s my point? The current I-5/I-84/I-405 area is a poorly designed cluster-F that could benefit from a streamlined configuration. I don’t think the Dutch intentionally design inefficient highway systems in the hopes that more people will ride bikes. No, they just design everything really really well. Make we could take a lesson from them again here.

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    • paikiala September 1, 2017 at 9:42 am

      As I understand it, the Scandinavian countries began Vision Zero for a different reason than in the US. Their impetus was freeway and high speed road crashes outside urban areas. Then they progressed to the urban core. Even in Portland, most of the fatal crashes are not the vulnerable users, but people in cars. Ignoring them will not achieve zero traffic fatalities.
      Reducing weaving by reducing freeway on-ramps is a good method to reduce freeway crashes. Barring fewer on-ramps, lengthening the merge tapers helps reduce speed differential – one of the leading components of crashes on controlled access roadways.
      Barriers separating opposing traffic is also a time tested solution.
      Lower speeds are an area many political leaders seem hesitant to pursue, though the safety gains are known.

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      • Dan A September 1, 2017 at 10:38 am

        Crashes, or fatal crashes?

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      • David September 1, 2017 at 11:58 am

        That might be true, but I mentioned the Dutch because I think they actually do a better job at safety and roadway design (and the numbers support it) than VZ Scandinavian countries. The Netherlands isn’t Scandinavian and they have a different approach than VZ, one that focuses more on forgiving roadway design as a principle rather than an end goal of zero deaths. Overall, their take is much more: “People will always make mistakes. Let’s make the roadway as forgiving as possible when they do.”

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  • John Liu
    John Liu August 31, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I decided to take a WAG at how much money could be raised by tolling the entry points to Portland via I-5/205.

    Average weekday daily crossings of I-5 and I-205 bridges combined is about 297,500, that is both directions. Traffic on I-5 south of Wilsonville is about 90,000 average annual daily traffic, that is also both directions. Assuming you toll only the direction entering metro Portland, and that traffic is equally heavy in both directions (?), that is about 194,000 vehicles daily through the toll. At $5/vehicle, charged weekdays, about $251 million/year. Haircut that a whole lot, to account for toll evasion, discounted tolls, induced volume reduction, etc, there still might be $150MM-ish/year available. That doesn’t include potentially tolling on I-26 or I-84.

    Just a WAG but throwing it out there.


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    • eawriste September 1, 2017 at 7:45 am

      Interesting estimate. My hope is that congestion pricing/tolling increases in cost as you go toward downtown, much like MoveNY’s http://iheartmoveny.org/ pragmatic plan. In areas where transit is poor, and incomes are lower (generally further from downtown), I would support lower tolls. For example, relatively higher tolls may exist south and north of downtown on I-5, I-84 east of Hollywood, and Hwy 26 prior to the tunnel. Mitigating cut through traffic, exemplified by PBOT’s efforts on Michigan Ave etc. will be a central issue to the success of congestion pricing.

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  • Champs September 1, 2017 at 9:03 am

    If there is funding in place and there are no large campaign contributors to object, there’s no point standing in the way of this fait accompli.

    Most of us weren’t around for the freeway revolts. Conventional wisdom says they were driven by common sense, but a cynical read is that the unbuilt Moses Plan freeways made the mistake of being routed through the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and lost to NIMBY forces with a voice. And that’s how SE Portland got rid of dangerous urban highways forever, so long as you ignore 39th, 82nd, Foster, Powell…

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    • John Liu
      John Liu September 1, 2017 at 11:49 am

      Most of the proposed freeways that were stopped in the 1960s/70s would not have gone through Portland’s so-called “wealthiest neighborhoods”. See map (green is the proposed-but-killed freeways):


      For example, the infamous “Mt Hood Freeway” would have obliterated the Division St area to 52nd, then the Powell St area from 52nd. Back in the 1960s, these were far from the city’s “wealthiest” neighborhoods.

      Only the proposed-but-killed “Sellwood Freeway” and “Multnomah Expressway” might fit your description.

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  • Peter W September 1, 2017 at 11:18 am

    The only way a “non-widening” widening of I-84 I-405 connection could be described as “innovative” or “place-making” is if it were part of a plan to remove the I-5 connection from I-84 south and with it that monstrosity known as the Marquam Bridge, designating I-405 as I-5 and capping it downtown, and using the reclaimed eastside space for housing and parks.

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  • Annag September 1, 2017 at 11:52 am

    My idea of a compromise would include 1 or 2 of the following:
    – ban/high fee on studded tires
    – dedicated bus lanes on some routes
    -diverters on side roads paralleling 1-5 to mitigate those avoiding tolls
    -safety infrastructure in east pdx, sidewalks, safe crossings etc.
    I could go one but these are just a few. Any takers ???

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  • eawriste September 2, 2017 at 6:41 am

    The St. John’s bridge cost approximately the amount of this project. If ODOT wishes to increase mobility for freight and regional commuting perhaps they could study the feasibility of another 2-lane bridge across the Willamette just south of Sauvie Island. This could make the St. John’s bridge a local travel only bridge with separated ped/bike infrastructure. The new bridge could serve as a regional connector between Vancouver and Beaverton/Hillsboro. This would alleviate a lot of SOV and freight traffic through the center of Portland.

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  • eawriste September 2, 2017 at 7:05 am

    Another use of $450 million:
    ODOT could install cable median barriers on state roads for PBLs. These cost approximately $125,000 a mile. This means on approximately 40 miles of road, they could create separated paths on Hwy 26E, Hwy 30, Hwy 99E, and Hwy 99W for example.

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