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In radio interview, Portland Mayor rebuts critics of I-5 Rose Quarter project

Posted by on September 15th, 2017 at 11:10 am


(Photo: Jason Bernert/OPB)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler made his support for the I-5 Rose Quarter project very clear during a radio interview yesterday. He also pushed back rather strongly against the significant grassroots opposition to the project.

As a guest on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud show, Wheeler answered several questions about the project from host Geoff Norcross. The interview came just a few hours before Wheeler would hear more testimony on the project at yesterday’s City Council public hearing on the Central City 2035 Plan. (Also notable at the hearing was that Wheeler invited seven people to testify in favor of the project, including Governor Kate Brown’s top transportation policy advisor Karmen Fore and State Representative Susan McClain.)

Here’s a recap of the short interview:

Norcross reminded Wheeler that one of the arguments against the project is that widening the freeway (plans call for a new travel lane and shoulder in each direction between I-84 and I-405) would simply induce more demand by “making it more attractive for people to drive”. “Are you concerned about that?” Norcross asked.

Wheeler’s response:

“I don’t dispute that significantly increasing traffic lanes does very little to arrest congestion. But I want to talk about what this project actually is. This has been a top priority for the governor, legislative leaders, the region and the city since at least 2012. So they’re all in. The narrative that’s out there right now that this is somehow a mega-project is sort of ridiculous. What we’re realy talking about here is a quarter of a mile, two auxiliary lanes through the Rose Quarter to make the merge safer. And about half of the funds being allocated are going towards bike, pedestrian, and transit improvements.

One of the parts of this that nobody talks about, that frankly is the most interesting to me, is capping I-5 and reconnecting the street grid for the historic Albina community. And that of course is mostly a bicycle and pedestrian play.

So I think this is being mischaracterized somewhat when people say, ‘Oh this is just a freeway expansion and it’s never going to meet its goals of congestion reduction.’ This is far from just focusing on just congestion reduction, this is an opportunity to restore one of our most historic — and not coincidentally — African American neighborhoods in this community. There’s a big opportunity here that goes to bikes, to peds, to transit and to community.”

The host then brought up Portland’s history of opposing freeway projects, namely the Mt. Hood Freeway. He also brought up how the I-5 project tore through north Portland neighborhoods when it was built.

Wheeler’s response:

“This is just the opposite of the Mt. Hood Freeway. This is one-quarter of a mile. It actually restores the very neighborhood that was the most impacted by the development of I-5 and that’s the historic African American Albina community. And that’s why people who have testified on this — who have testified overwhelmingly in favor of this — tend to be people from communities of color who understand that history.”

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Plans presented at the project open house this week. Pink lanes are “auxiliary lanes and shoulders” according to ODOT.

The host then brought up the question of congestion pricing.

“I’m 100 percent supportive of congestion pricing. I’m also supportive of the kind of transit improvements that this project could herald. If we are really serious about reducing congestion, the name of the game is getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles and encouraging active transportation or public transt as attractive alternatives. But to make them attractive alternatives you have to have the infrastructure in place that makes it work. This project does that and that’s why the governor, the legislature, Metro and the city council have strongly supported this proposal.”

“So you’re sure it will happen?” Norcross asked.

“This certainly doesn’t come to the Portland city council as a surprise. It has been in the works for many years. It has been well-vetted through many layers of government.”

“Were you surprised by the opposition?”

“No I wasn’t. Because the way the the opposition is characterizing the project simply as a freeway expansion is not the full story. If somebody came to me and said, ‘Hey Ted, do you want to spend half a billion on a freeway expansion?’ I’d say ‘No’ and ‘Hell no!’ But that’s not what this is. This is about reconnecting a community. It’s about bike, it’s about ped, it’s about transit, it’s about safety.”

Based on this interview and the fact that he invited seven people to testify in support of the project at the city council hearing yesterday, Mayor Wheeler has left no question where he stands on this project.

It’s worth noting a few things from his statements:

➤ He didn’t mention that the project will also add new shoulders (a.k.a. “breakdown lanes”) in both directions.

➤ Cost estimates for the various elements of this project are not yet known. Everyone is saying it’s 50/50 freeway/local streets but that’s an assumption.

➤ He says calling this a mega-project is “ridiculous”, yet at an estimated $450 million it’s $90 million more than the statutory definition of a mega-project as defined in Oregon law as per House Bill 2017, Section 121 (1) (on page 108).

➤ It’s unclear how two relatively small lids over the freeway will “reconnect the street grid for the historic Albina community”. ODOT has only described them as having vegetation and a former Portland Parks Bureau director said last week they’re likely to be “more of a liability than an amenity”. At City Council yesterday, one of Wheeler’s invited guests, Portland architect Matthew Arnold, testified that, “In my opinion those lids should be much larger if you really want to promote that kind of continuous urbanism.”

➤ He referred to the two freeway lids as, “mostly a bicycle and pedestrian play”. That use of the word “play” sounds like an ackowledgment that they were included in the project purely as a way to curry favor with active transportation advocates. Merriam Webster defines that use of the word as a “a move or series of moves calculated to arouse friendly feelings.”

➤ The mayor’s reference to people of color testifying “overwhelmingly in favor” of the project raises concerns. At the September 7th public hearing only four people (out of about 17 total) testified in favor of the project. Two of them were ODOT staffers (Shelli Romero and Andrew Plambeck), one was an invited Portland Planning Commissioner (Andre Baugh), and only one was an independent citizen (Terry Dublinski-Milton, who is white). Asked to clarify the mayor’s statement, his office said, “[At the September 7th hearing] handful of people of color testified and the majority of folks testified in support of the project which was in stark contrast to the people who testified in opposition. The evidence is in the recording of the council session.” (UPDATE: I’ve watched the hearing twice and stand by my assertions. It’s unclear to me how the mayor and his office can make a statement that doesn’t appear to mesh with the facts.)*

UPDATE, 3:30 pm on 9/18: The Mayor’s office has responded to my repeated requests for a clarification about this statement:

“The Mayor made a limited claim on Think Out Loud – based on his recollection of the hearing – that while there were not a lot of people testifying in favor of the plan during the first hearing, of those who did testify in favor, a majority were people of color. That’s all he said.”

➤ His claim that the project as been “well-vetted through many layers of government” is suspect. The freeway widening plan was one part of the larger N/NE Quadrant Plan and it has never been scrutinized by Portland City Council. That fact is the sole reason why Portland Planning Commissioner Chris Smith tried to get the commission to strip the project from the Transportation System Plan back in March (and he was just two votes shy of doing that).

In other I-5 Rose Quarter project news, three supporters of the No More Freeway Expansions group penned an editorial that was published on The Oregonian’s website last night: Portland leaders have a choice: increased congestion or courageous leadership.

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

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Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Map above confirms that N Flint Street bridge is proposed to be removed as part of this project; as far as I’m concerned, that’s a deal-killer right there.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

I served on the NE Quadrant advisory committee that worked on this project. The reason the lids are being built is that they can serve as temporary bypass routes during the construction, as well as support the streets over the freeway lanes. We found that out when committee members asked to make the lids larger. Anything beyond what you see would be and “extra”, and more than they actually need to construct the project. They’re not being done to enhance sidewalks or bike routes.

one
Guest

Oh, Ted. ***portion of comment deleted for inappropriate insults***
How about if you get behind the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan like you get behind this ridiculous mega project?

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/44597

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Can we call this what it is? Blackwashing.

This project will -at best- have a tangential connection to restoring the neighborhood which was lost. It ain’t comin back Ted! People have moved on. You can’t rebuild overnight something that took decades to grow and expect it to be authentic.

If he really wanted to have a positive impact on communities of color he would start first and foremost directing money to affordable housing. Inclusive zoning. Pushing a higher minimum wage. This helps ALL colors including black as they are over represented at that end.

This is just good old fashioned pork which will be mostly funneled to the already overheated construction industry.

joan
Subscriber

There is little more infuriating than white people using equity to advance their own interests unrelated to equity. The suggestion that this project is coming out a concern to do right by the displaced African American community in historic Albina is galling.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

He is right that comparisons to the mt hood freeway are absurd. That was a miles-long new road that took hundreds (thousands?) of homes and businesses. I don’t think this project even needs any new permanent right of way. Opponents who keep making this comparison risk creating a sort of Godwin’s law; no one outside the bubble will take their arguments seriously if the sky-is-falling rhetoric doesn’t match reality.

Serious question: of all the studies that prove induced demand, how many were done in an area with an urban growth boundary as tightly controlled as ours?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I also find it a bit ridiculous that since Ted , ODOT and PBOT seems to consider this project a sure thing with only token resistance in the way they have decided to spend the money to resurface the Flint Bridge ( working going on right now). It seems like a waste of money to resurface the pavement on a bridge that you intend to tear down in the near future. I wonder how much bike lane improvement could have been done with the money being spent to resurface the doomed bridge ( according to the powers that be).

benschon
Guest
benschon

Huh? Ted says people of color have testified “overwhelmingly” in favor of the freeway proposal. I counted one–Andre Baugh, who is a planning commissioner Ted invited to testify. Is there any evidence for other advocacy from the black community.

benschon
Guest
benschon

Look out for the ODOT bait and switch. As soon as cost overruns happen, which they will, bike/ped amenities will be cut. Since those are also the “reconnecting community” elements, what’s left will be a freeway expansion and nothing more.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Working with ODOT is never an opportunity, it’s a ticket to a boondoggle.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

The Flint bridge and the caps will be the first to go. The ramp from the steel bridge will be resurrected. Any caps will be covered by parking garages for the Rose Quarter. these at an extra $150million in tax money. The project will double in cost and time because of fake cost overruns for equipment storage on site.

rick
Guest
rick

Fight back.

PowerTed@gmail.com
Guest
PowerTed@gmail.com

Wow, Ted actually did something right for a change. Music to my ears while I was “driving” yesterday.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

The caps for esthetic reasons will be the first to go because the trucks will need the extra overhead clearance for oversized loads at the interchange of I-5 and I-84. of course the parking structures will be built high enough to have their supports above street level.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Great reporting and a great public service, Jonathan. Thank you.

Bike Curious
Guest
Bike Curious

Terry gets a lot of sunshine, he is a dark shade of tope.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

“Freeway Lids” as in lipstick on a pig! Now I am missing Charlie and Sam!

Phil Richman
Subscriber

Anecdotally I went for a ride with a friend of mine yesterday who happens to use ridesharing services a lot in Portland. He claims he asks most drivers where they live and 1/2 of them say Clark County. I work downtown and we have a lot of ridesharing cars circling around and in traffic.

rh
Guest
rh

Portlandia….where the Car is the King. It was great until about 4 years ago.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

I’m still trying to figure out why Ted, or anyone else, thinks the race of an opinion holder is relevant in any way.

Tired avenger
Guest
Tired avenger

If they upgrade this section now, they might decide later that some other section is also woefully incapable of rejuvenating the local neighborhood.

I’m very skeptical of this scheme since it only presents more surface area for cars to use.

I’d like to see some sort of aggressive move get people out of their cars. Congestion pricing, higher gas prices or clean up the buses – and teach bus drivers not to drive like Paul Walker. What ever it takes to get people to think of a car as a last or at least second resort.

They don’t need to abandon their cars to jump on a bike to make me happy. There’s many modes of transportation that don’t involve driving. Further, if you ask folks, they probably don’t even like driving.

What is it going to take to make walking, busing or biking attractive enough that people finally get on board with none destructive transportation.

SD
Guest
SD

I am not seeing how those “covers” will do much for anyone. I ride through that area everyday. Not many people live close by and I don’t see them becoming a destination- “Hey, lets go hang out on top of I-5.” Maybe I am missing something. If anyone is excited about the “covers,” I would love to know what they see.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Covers reconnect a space. Period. Other than for drivers, freeways are terrible, horrible graveyards. They kill property values and people. You only needs two lanes tops for freight movement. Everything else is for sprawl. If the area is so valuable. Toll it. That and 205…let the freeways fund themselves.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Keep in mind I spoke in favor assuming:

1) Congestion price first
2) the surface street improvements remain intact
3) we use this as an opportunity to study the implications of a Cascadia Subduction Zone Event, then rebuild while REMOVING the east bank highway from Mcadam to 84.

This needs to include:

Turning 405 into I 5
A purple max line PSU to Goose Hollow allowing for a Beaverton to Clackamas direct line cutting 20 minutes and a transfer off the commute
Limiting access points to downtown, could charge for entry
Adding HOV Lanes citywide
Adding a direct slip lane from the tunnels to the Ross Island thereby allowing
A Lair Hill Neighborhood to be reconnected to the central city

Then when the Big One hits we can take what little money we get from FEMA and build this smaller, streamlined highway system. Or we could just build it.

Think of the SW And Burnside Bridgehead density possibilities. Think about the glorious waterfront park from OMSI to the Morrison. It might not get done for a generation, but it is certainly cheaper than a tunnel and would remove sigificantly more lane miles than this “mega-project” will add.

I refuse to be taken out of context as this project is loaded with Orwellian Propaganda on both sides.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

In 45 years of Council-watching never have I seen a blunder like Ted Wheeler’s.

I sat in the overflow room, where one gets much better video of the proceedings, when his specially invited swish blonde Barbie ditz rambled on about the effects of tsunamis in central Oregon–no joke–and wondered how she had got to testify after the first day’s hearings, but before ordinary folk who had been derogated from the first day.

Mayor Ted thought that the testimony of Chris Smith, Joe Cortright, and others was so effective that it must be countered by official political and bureaucratic flack meisters.

The tradition of our Council’s meetings is that bureaucratic flacks are accorded first place: they get to talk as long as they want about whatever they want. Ordinary citizens are put down, forced to be last, restricted to 2 or 3 minutes. This of itself is inherently disgraceful and derogatory.

Wheeler doubled down on that.

His reaction was more than condescending to the large number of citizens who oppose his preconceived, biased, prejudiced position on expansion of freeways. He most definitely will regret it.

He at least ensured a Chloe-quality opponent for any reelection bid.

But he might not get that far. There are many politically savvy and well connected opponents to the bizarre expansion of I-5, more than enough to instigate an effective recall campaign. He gratuitously insulted and antagonized them. Chris Smith, Joe Cortright, and many others now are supercharged. They have the ability and motive quickly to preempt the possibility of a second term.

Dumb, Ted. Really, really, dumb.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

“The narrative that’s out there right now that this is somehow a mega-project is sort of ridiculous. What we’re really talking about here is a quarter of a mile, two auxiliary lanes through the Rose Quarter to make the merge safer.”

This is an interesting take on it.

At $450M, it’s definitely a mega-project.

With 2 additional lanes of 1/2 mile, it certainly isn’t a mega-improvement.

The reason the Rose Quarter is clogged up is because all the freeways that exit it are clogged up. 405 S, 5 N, 85 E, and 5 S.

Adding a lane in each direction won’t solve this problem.

The problem is that far too many of Portlands new residents are driving, and not enough existing residents are switching to bicycling.

Building out the Portland Bicycle Master Plan, on the other hand, will solve all of these problems.

My 2 minute testimony to City Council is found here:
2:51:00
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU71XYVN9_o
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/video/player/?tab=meetings
Sept 14, 2017

Ted Buehler
Co-Chair, BikeLoudPDX

Tom
Guest
Tom

Make every day Cycle to Work Day: Avoid transport woes and commute by bike. See the London take on congestion avoidance.

http://www.cyclist.co.uk/news/2230/make-every-day-cycle-to-work-day-avoid-transport-woes-and-commute-by-bike

oliver
Guest
oliver

Why are engineering/architectural plans never ever oriented correctly?

I’m baffled looking at that drawing.

Scott Mizée
Guest

[blockquote] It’s unclear how two relatively small lids over the freeway will “reconnect the street grid for the historic Albina community”. ODOT has only described them as having vegetation and a former Portland Parks Bureau director said last week they’re likely to be “more of a liability than an amenity”. At City Council yesterday, one of Wheeler’s invited guests, Portland architect Matthew Arnold, testified that, “In my opinion those lids should be much larger if you really want to promote that kind of continuous urbanism.” [/blockquote]

FYI: Matthew Arnold is not an architect (If you are talking about the Matthew Arnold AICP that I know of) I do value his opinion though as an Urban Planner and principal at SERA Architects.

Evan
Guest
Evan

It’s absolutely maddening to see a local politician making fact-free statements.

Evan
Guest
Evan

Also, those pink lines on the satellite images certainly include an off-ramp and on-ramp, which I don’t think can honestly be called an “auxiliary lane” or a “shoulder.”

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Kitty: I calls ’em the ways I sees ’em!

Many decades ago I had a charming, cultured, brilliant lady friend from a town on the west coast of Norway. Her brother was the prize student of the famous physicist Richard Feynman.

Coursing the byways of Kowloon with her was most convenient, for with the traffic stopped we could cross the streets anywhere we chose.

Ted and I have different tastes.