Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Guest Opinion: A year of bad headlines for freeway expansion

Posted by on February 18th, 2019 at 9:48 am

— Written by Shawn Fleek (OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon), Mary Peveto (Neighbors for Clean Air), and Anaïs Tuepker (350PDX).

In 2017, the nascent No More Freeways coalition published an editorial in The Oregonian asking elected officials for an honest reassessment of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)’s plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Rose Quarter Freeway in North Portland.

Since then, headlines over the last eighteen months have only confirmed that this is a gravely misguided project.

I-5 with Harriet Tubman Middle School in the background.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Last March, the Portland Mercury reported ODOT’s own consultants concluded the Rose Quarter freeway expansion wouldn’t have any discernible impact on congestion. This finding may be counterintuitive, but it is a textbook example of the concept of “induced demand,” a phrase transportation planners use to describe the phenomenon in which more lanes of freeways only lead to more eager motorists electing to drive. The Mercury also reported that, despite requests from advocates and elected officials, ODOT has refused to study whether decongestion pricing initiatives could solve the corridor’s gridlock by itself, without wasting hundreds of millions on a widening project that does nothing to reduce congestion.

Secondly – as a result of induced demand, our community will suffer from worse air quality and pollution. In May, the Willamette Week detailed the alarmingly poor air quality at Harriet Tubman Middle School. Researchers suggested students should avoid outdoor recess, and yet ODOT plans to literally expand I-5 into the backyard of the newly-reopened school. The latest studies on air pollution are grim – poor air quality is linked to lung disease, poor student performance, heart disease, dementia and diabetes. ODOT speaks to the importance of healing the Albina neighborhood’s scars from urban renewal, but it is impossible to heal these scars by further polluting air near children’s classrooms. Speaking of public health, ODOT has tried to sell the freeway widening as a safety project. But last October, Willamette Week punctured these phony claims, concluding that the stretch of freeway in question hasn’t seen a traffic fatality in over a decade. Meanwhile, ODOT’s regional arterials remain shockingly dangerous and deadly.

Advertisement

Finally, squandering half a billion dollars widening a mile of freeway is an egregious form of reckless climate denialism. We’ve all felt the unease that permeates our communities when our neighborhoods are cloaked with the wildfire smoke that has draped itself through the Willamette Valley three of the past four summers. October’s IPCC report warned that phasing out fossil fuels in eleven years was essential to avoiding the destruction of society as we know it. Last month’s reporting by The Oregonian suggests that even with passage of pending carbon legislation, Oregon won’t hit carbon reduction targets without fundamentally reducing emissions from private automobiles. It is frustrating to watch self-proclaimed environmentalists in City Hall and Salem champion freeway expansion when 40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions come from transportation. The hurricanes, fires and floods are only growing stronger. Expansion of this freeway represents a complicit willingness to ignore Oregon’s responsibility to future generations and the planet.

Future headlines will only make it more self-evident that spending billions on freeway expansions across the region is a wholly inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars given the daunting challenges Oregon faces. We encourage Oregonians committed to cost-effective governance, our children’s lungs and the planet our children will inherit to join us in submitting testimony to ODOT during this Public Comment period.

— Shawn Fleek is the Director of Narrative Strategy at OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Mary Peveto is the Executive Director of Neighbors for Clean Air, and Anaïs Tuepker is the Lead for Organizational Resilience at 350PDX. Learn more at www.nomorefreewayspdx.com.

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

58
Leave a Reply

avatar
18 Comment threads
40 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
27 Comment authors
Roberta M Roblesshara alexanderMatt S.maxDsoren Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Bottom Line: Who’s getting paid off, who’s getting the kickbacks, who’s family relations are getting the build contracts? These are the only things that make common sense given the futility of this project.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

A lot of people make a lot of money off planning and building these projects. That is a fact and I think it’s worth understanding how the Highway Industrial Complex creates an inertia for these projects that can be stronger than the actual merits of the projects themselves. In this case, ODOT lists 66 people – mostly private consultants – who helped prepare this EA document:

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

If I was given the power to spend the money I’d choose to to spend it to fund the (likely) entire 2030 Portland Bicycle Plan instead of reconfiguring 1 mile of freeway that results in no noticeable improvement.

I’m very much a person of logic and I just can’t make any sense out of the decision to try to push a project like this through. The only benefit must be to only those directly involved in the project, as pointed out by the many activist groups and media outlets.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

If ODOT wanted less traffic on I-5 they wouldn’t have installed electronic reader boards letting you know if that’s a faster route through Portland. Those signs reverse the reason for building I-205 (to divert unnecessary traffic around the central city).

It’s in ODOT’s best interest to create more traffic so they can use it as an excuse to build more freeways. Building freeways is what they’re comfortable doing and is their preferred type of project.

David
Guest
David

I keep finding myself going back to safety as it seems to be the most outrageous claim (lots of competition in this report) given the lack of serious injuries or deaths on this stretch of road. Depending on the definition an argument could be made that it’s actually quite safe because of the traffic.

Over the past few years PBOT has been doing (almost) everything in their power to reduce speed limits, particularly in areas where people are getting hurt and/or dying. This work has led to the 20 MPH residential speed limits, emergency declarations on SE Stark and SE Division over the past couple years to temporarily lower the speed limit until a formal request can be submitted, speed cameras on some High Crash Corridors, and many, many applications for speed reductions (ODOT has a poor definition for appropriate speed limits but that’s a different matter). Slowing people down has been a priority because it does make roads safer and lessens the damage to people and property when a crash does occur.

If we are to believe that traffic will magically decrease after this project is complete allowing for faster speeds during high volume hours then it would stand to reason that the crashes that do happen are more likely to hurt and/or kill people. That would seem to qualify as a decrease in safety. This comes with the caveat it only works if volumes are lower which regular readers of this site are likely to dispute as ignoring reality and behavioral economics since an easier drive would encourage more people to drive through this project area thus slowing everyone down and ironically keeping them safer during that trip.

That ODOT was able to round up 66 people who were able to perform so poorly overall in writing up this EA is disappointing and not at all surprising.

matchupancakes
Guest
matchupancakes

The hundreds of million would be better spent on bringing state highways up to city/community standards of safety and maintenance with anti-displacement measures attached. Where is the funding for an improved Lombard through University Park and St John’s? Where are the funds for an inner SE Powell Blvd that Cleveland High students can cross safely and is shoppaboe to those outside of private auto? Where is an 82nd Ave free of cyclists being right hooked via turning vehicles from perpendicular feeder streets? That money exists and it is going to the Rose Quarter expansion. People are dying on the state highways in our city and ODOT is burning through state money trying to convince us that I5 widening is more important than the continuing loss of our neighbors and family members on other ODOT streets.

9watts
Subscriber

While that is true, it misses the larger point that, knowing what we know, our leaders, those running agencies responsible for this stuff, can or rather must take a principled stand rather than abetting auto addiction. Rarely do we step back and admit that smearing honey in the ears of the public is no way to run things in a time like this.

9watts
Subscriber

I really like this piece! It hits all the right notes. One would like to imagine a spirited rebuttal from ODOT, but they probably don’t have one, can’t muster the intellectual effort.

We—you and I—pay the salaries of those rascals, not to mention filling their retirement accounts to overflowing!

Aaron Brown
Guest

thanks for publishing! The No More Freeways website will have our call to action up soon.

tim
Guest
tim

most places car pollution is way lower because they burn coal for electricity. So this article is BS fake news

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

The Rose Quarter I-5 project has been at the top of the list of the Portland Freight Committee for years! Who’s that you say? PFC is staffed by PBOT and dominated by trucking interests and railroads and pushed for this project with the legislature in exchange for not opposing a gas tax increase. Definitely no guts all the way around…this project is a “poster child” for NOT walking the talk on global warming from the governor on down.

Isaac Hanson
Guest
Isaac Hanson

Wow, thank you for this write-up. I took away the following:

No ultimate effect on congestion
Already poor air quality at the nearby middle school
Safety on this stretch is already fine (for drivers)
Counter to emissions reduction goals

I will definitely be submitting a comment against this highway widening and I will continue to visit the No More Freeways site for more action ideas. Keep up the good work.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Anyone who buys anything delivered from anywhere by truck or ever uses an automobile for transportation of himself or herself is complicit. Off with their heads!

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

CRC lite

Cascadia Carbon
Guest

Induced demand is an interesting phenomenon… How about induced reduced demand? Check out cascadiacarbon.com to learn more.

Tom Howe (Contributor)
Subscriber

Check out this Portland map dated 9/13/1975 that shows the impact of freeway expansion. At that time Interstate 205 had been built up to Foster Road and the future path north of Foster is a barren swath where the housing has already been removed.

https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/ht-bin/tv_browse.pl?id=8544bc16e2157b20c2f41c83cf527049

shara alexander
Guest
shara alexander

When I sent a comment to the email they provided I got an instant answer: “Out of office until Feb. 25th.” It just adds to my feeling that they have a permanent case of “talk to the hand”.

Roberta M Robles
Guest
Roberta M Robles

AECOM, HDR and Alta Planning… say their names. These are the people accepting paychecks and green washing their bank accounts with the snotty nose rags of our sick kids. Feeling the puke come up in the back of my throat. Shame! $$SHAME!!!