Is ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter plan compatible with ‘Albina Vision’?

Posted by on February 21st, 2019 at 3:34 pm

Current concept drawing for Albina Vision show several large buildings and roads over I-5 (lower left) — all of which would be impossible if ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project moved forward as planned.

“Taking on ODOT for buildable caps over I-5. I used to be a nice, middle-aged lady. But, Albina has turned me into a fighter. I’m not backing down.
— Rukaiyah Adams, Albina Vision

There’s a storm brewing over the I-5 Rose Quarter project and it’s not just coming from a growing number of anti-freeway activists.

The Oregon Department of Transportation wants to widen the freeway that slices through the heart of what was a thriving community in the 1950s. The agency hopes to add several lanes and expand the freeway’s footprint in an attempt to speed up traffic and reduce congestion. But there’s another vision for the area that is more about living and less about driving.

As we shared in 2017, the Albina Vision wants to recreate the lost grandeur of dense, walkable and bikeable neighborhood that once flourished before I-5 and other developments destroyed over 700 homes and many businesses. That vision also includes a significant amount of housing — much of which would be built on top of I-5.

One of the main things standing in the way of that vision is ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project.

ODOT concept drawing shows two smaller covers that could only support a park or plaza.

The $500 million project, which is now in a federally-mandated phase of public comment on an environmental assessment, calls for two covers (a.k.a. caps or lids) over the freeway: One over the Broadway-Weidler couplet and the other at Hancock and Dixon streets. ODOT planned these spaces to be merely caps and not a tunnel because the latter would be much more expensive and complicated (requiring them to dig down and lower the existing freeways lanes, build a sophisticated ventilation system, and so on). Because a more beefy, continuous tunnel would trigger more stringent federal engineering and environmental regulations, ODOT’s highway caps would only be able to hold a few trees and benches (for the rare individuals who relish the opportunity to relax above a loud and smelly freeway).

That’s where the disagreement lies.

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Red circle marks map element labeled as, “Infill development I-5 bridges”.

Having “buildable caps” is a central part of Albina Vision’s plan to restore the historic neighborhoods and street grid. Instead of unused spaces, Albina Vision wants to put that new real estate above I-5 to work as infill development. Their concept drawings and show several, multi-story buildings and roads directly above the freeway. A map on the Albina Vision website labels the area above I-5 as “Infill development”. ODOT’s cute little caps wouldn’t be nearly strong enough for those type of structures.

The two key leaders behind the Albina Vision, former Portland Parks & Recreation Director Zari Santner and Meyer Memorial Trust Chief Investment Officer Rukaiyah Adams have been steadfast in their demand for buildable covers.

Santner told a crowd of policymakers on the first day the vision launched, “… If the freeway is there and it’s not removed, it needs to have a lid.”

And Adams has spoken even more strongly about the lids telling Bridgeliner in an interview this week that, “We can’t move I-5, but if we put buildable caps there so that the streetscape is continuous for pedestrians and bicyclists, then that stitches the community back to the eastside neighborhoods, and that’s pretty critical.”

Adams doubled-down on that demand in a in a Tweet posted this morning: “94 acres in cntrl [Central] city on a transit hub. Could build thousands of affordable units,” she wrote. “Taking on @OregonDOT for buildable caps over I-5. I used to be a nice, middle-aged lady. But, Albina has turned me into a fighter. I’m not backing down.”

It’s generally accepted that agencies don’t like to move forward with an element of a major plan if it precludes the fulfillment of another plan. Does ODOT respect the Albina Vision enough to make a compromise here? Would Mayor Ted Wheeler and his colleagues in City Hall allow a major project to move forward if it deals Albina Vision such a serious blow? We’ll be watching this closely.

UPDATE, 2/22: Portland architecture critic and Business Tribune columnist Brian Libby’s latest piece is all about why we should make Albina Vision a reality. Right now.

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

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39 Comments
  • Avatar
    Ivan Boothe February 21, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    > “We can’t move I-5…”

    Sure we can. Re-sign I-405 to I-5, re-sign the segment of I-5 from Fremont to I-84 as part of I-84, dismantle the Marquam and the eastside freeway (and coincidentally allow for a better interchange between I-405/I-5 and the Ross Island Bridge), build some new neighborhoods and a shiny new eastside waterfront.

    But of course that’s just a quibble. More power to Rukaiyah Adams! Tell us when and where to show up to support Albina Vision.

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      Carl February 22, 2019 at 2:40 am

      Even better, Re-sign I-205 to I-5, and remove I-5, I-405, and I-84 in the city center.

      We need to move the Overton Window on these freeway “improvement” projects

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    Jeff G February 22, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Who is paying for this much more expensive option? In theory I’d agree, buildable caps sound like the best option – but is it financially feasible?

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    • Avatar
      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 22, 2019 at 8:59 am

      Right now Albina Vision is just a vision. There is no money attached to it.

      Where there’s a will there’s a way. The current ODOT plan would spend about $250 million of the estimated $500 million total dollars on widening the footprint of the freeway because people can’t slow down and drive more safely and ODOT wants to increase the freeway capacity and speed (and the money will be raised by selling bonds that we’ll all be paying interest on for many years). ODOT is also spending billions of other dollars on other dubious freeway and highway widening projects around the region and state. There’s plenty of money for the stuff ODOT wants.

      Also worth considering that there’s major opportunity for a private partnership with the Albina Vision plan (hi Trail Blazers and Legacy Hospital, this is a chance to make amends!) that could help with funding.

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        Jeff G February 24, 2019 at 12:56 pm

        So the argument is that we should stop progress in the hopes that some idealistic vision with not one cent behind it will magically come to fruition? I’m all for pie-in-the-sky thinking, but this is just silly. Even the progress made in the LC district in the last decade has happened in spurts, and some of the planned projects have stalled. Saying there is a ‘major opportunity’ is fine, but that doesn’t make it so.

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        • Avatar
          Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 24, 2019 at 8:31 pm

          No. That’s not my argument. I just don’t think we should do bad things like making it easier for more people to choose the worst mobility option.

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    • Avatar
      Chris I February 22, 2019 at 9:34 am

      It should be all of the drivers who helped destroy this neighborhood in the first place. Tolling on I-205, I-84, and I-5 should do the trick.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 22, 2019 at 10:02 am

        I occasionally drive through that area, but I didn’t help destroy it. Which drivers are you referring to?

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        • Avatar
          Chris I February 22, 2019 at 10:36 am

          You benefit from the destruction every time you drive through there. As do I. We also spew pollution into the adjacent neighborhoods.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 22, 2019 at 11:50 am

            Benefitting from and causing or being responsible for are very different things. The benefits are so diffuse… Anyone who buys a product that passed along that corridor arguably benefits.

            In any event, I would happily pay more gas tax, especially if it were in the form of a carbon tax.

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        • Avatar
          Middle of the Road Guy February 23, 2019 at 8:07 pm

          HK, Intersectionality literally has to do with intersections and interstates – haven’t you heard? It’s your fault no matter what.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 23, 2019 at 8:09 pm

            Luckily for me, it’s not.

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      Gary B February 22, 2019 at 9:53 am

      We’ll pay. As we should. It’s a portion of the external costs that “we” chose not to pay 70 years ago when we decided to take this property to build the freeway, MC, and hospital. It’s a standing debt that hasn’t been paid, not an optional additional expense to a new project.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 22, 2019 at 10:10 am

        If anyone was not paid for their land, I would absolutely support paying them or their descendents what they are owed (including interest). I hope any such people come forward and make their claim.

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        • Avatar
          Gary B February 25, 2019 at 10:23 am

          As I said, external costs. Land owners were paid for the taking. Neighbors were not paid for the destruction of their community. Surely you don’t think the full impacts of a freeway running through a neighborhood are compensated in an imminent domain action?

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 25, 2019 at 11:07 am

            So I am clear, are you saying that when the government takes an action “for the greater good” that adversely affects an existing community, the government should pay compensation to… someone?

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            • Avatar
              Gary B February 26, 2019 at 1:51 pm

              If taking it to its extreme ambiguity assuage your conscience, then go for it. But what I’m saying that I’d like to see the impacts of projects be addressed beyond the “4 corners” of the government action, in this case the property lines. I’m not hypothesizing every government action and every person on earth somehow touched by it–such slippery-slope retort is a nonsensical distraction. Environmental assessment (NEPA) has grown from its strict, original practice to consider much more broadly the impacts of government actions. I think the same could and should happen for eminent domain. As with most real-world laws, it’d be an exercise in reasonableness.

              In this particular case, it’s not difficult to see that a neighborhood was devastated by the various government takings (freeway, MC, Emmanuel). I think compensation to the remaining community in some form would have been appropriate then. Since that’s no longer feasible, I’m saying that executing the Albina Vision plan is a reasonable bill for taxpayers to pick up.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty February 26, 2019 at 2:14 pm

                I think it already is ambiguous.

                I do agree that government should consider the side-effects and consequences of its actions outside of strict parameters of a project, and I agree the effect on “community” is important. But it sounds like you are proposing restitution to a “place”, even if there are very few inhabitants living there who were there when these projects were built.

                I do not think places are “owed” anything. If Albina Vision is a way of making a section of Portland a better place, then sure, let’s consider it alongside similar projects. But I would support it only on its merits, not to repay some past debt to a place.

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      • Avatar
        Middle of the Road Guy February 23, 2019 at 8:08 pm

        depends how you look at it. One needs to assess the benefits that have accrued over time through the use of that land, as well.

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        • Avatar
          Chris I February 24, 2019 at 8:40 am

          How much do you estimate a human life is worth?

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 24, 2019 at 9:41 am

            Google it. This exercise has been done many times.

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  • Avatar
    Gary B February 22, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Rukaiyah Adams is a bad ass. This profile from a while back stands out in my mind.

    https://www.wweek.com/news/city/2017/03/08/rukaiyah-adams-traveled-from-northeast-portland-to-wall-street-now-shes-come-home-to-fix-her-city/

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    bikeninja February 22, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Is that the only two choices we get? A do-nothing freeway expansion that will be obsolete before it is completed or another cluster of apartments, condos and coffeeshops . As the age of easy energy comes to an end ,land near our real best future transportation avenue ( the river) will become too important to use for housing and hair parlors and will have to return to its original use as workshops, warehouses and heavy manufacturing. The era when we could move these things to the outer edges of the burbs depended on cheap truck transport but as we adapt to make the most of increasingly scarce and expensive energy sources and minimize our impact on the climate we will have to bring those things back to the waterfront. And no, battery trucks will not let us keep the current arrangement intact.

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    • Avatar
      Sigma February 24, 2019 at 10:11 am

      This is nonsense for so many reasons, but here’s just one. If we disallow close in housing to be replaced with heavy manufacturing (Powered by and making what, exactly, in this post carbon apocalypse?), how will we get those products to the places were people live out in the suburbs? I guess we’ll all be rowing boats on the river to get there?

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  • Avatar
    Toby Keith February 22, 2019 at 11:35 am

    We should just ask the wealthy Californians coming to area what they want to see.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 22, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Urban freeways should be removed. In a rapidly warming world, spending one dime to make it easier or faster to drive through the middle of a city borders on the immoral. Sadly PDX and OR are seeing lots of talk, but little walk on global warming; not an encouraging sign .

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    • Avatar
      Middle of the Road Guy February 23, 2019 at 8:09 pm

      Why not focus on fuels, instead?

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      Alison Cheng February 24, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Really curious to know what you think commerce and the large population of individuals to use Portland as a pass through(not to mention those who can’t use transit/walk or bike) are supposed to do? Drive through neighborhood streets?

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    • Avatar
      Middle of The Road Guy February 25, 2019 at 9:28 am

      Maybe we can just remove half of the people, instead.

      Cheers, Thanos.

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      • Avatar
        Dan A February 25, 2019 at 2:23 pm

        We can remove 10% by separating unlicensed and uninsured drivers from their vehicles.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty February 25, 2019 at 2:27 pm

          I think this is a no-brainer, but I can hear the screams about equity now.

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            Dan A February 25, 2019 at 3:36 pm

            Forcing people to raise their uninsured motorist protection in response to the high number of uninsured drivers and hit and runs is an equity issue for me.

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    B. Carfree February 23, 2019 at 10:57 am

    If the freeway is tunneled, can we just skip the fancy and expensive ventilation system and allow those who produce the toxic fumes to biofilter them with their own bodies?

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      Middle of the Road Guy February 23, 2019 at 8:09 pm

      We can just push them towards the Tubman School.

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    gilly February 23, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Is the vision plan adopted policy or just a vision? For it to have any affect I would think the city should have adopted it as a formal policy and started laying out goals/plans for capping the freeway. Metro should probably also have added capping the freeway as a goal of the future transportation plan so that federal funds could be set aside and used.

    The next concern is that caps are an easy thing to cut if costs get out of control. The risk is that the cap is cut entirely if there is a push for a much more expensive ‘buildable’ cap. Maybe made a phase 2 set for some future date when funds become available.

    The land over the freeway would be state owned and very expensive to have put in place. I think they would have a responsibility under state law to sell it at its true value and would probably be built up with high end condos or office space. I don’t think it would be a responsible use of affordable housing funds.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty February 23, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      My understanding is the caps are being added as a matter of course during the construction to provide a staging area; they are unlikely to cut.

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    chris m February 24, 2019 at 11:56 am

    This seems like a good idea, no idea what the costs of the buildable caps are though. One concern for me though is that event spaces like the Memorial Coliseum, the Moda Center and the Convention Center are actually the enemies of quality neighborhoods. They attract a lot of people for very specific reasons for very short periods of time, and end up crowding out nearby day-to-day businesses. They also are huge single buildings and not at a human scale at all. So you have to figure out how to deal with those structures, otherwise they will drain all the vibrancy out of the development plan.

    It looks like this plan anticipates reconnecting the street grid perhaps (?) which would be good. And it is an ideal location for affordable housing since it has excellent access to transit and jobs, not to mention the symbolic importance of trying to build a community in the same place that “urban renewal” destroyed a community. Of course without the buildable caps it is difficult to stitch the street grid back together, hence the point of the OP :).

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 25, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Yes, where will all that freeway traffic go? Away! we hope. Indeed people who now choose to drive through the middle of our city will make different choices about where to live, work and how to get around. We desperately need different choices if science is only half right on global warming. But on average folks move or change jobs about every five years, so it should not be too hard. And if only I-5 were removed from the east bank of the Willamette, we could build the equivalent of a whole new city there with tons of jobs & housing on land lost to the freeway. Or like Frankfurt a Main, we could create a riverside park with museums!

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    Roberta Robles February 26, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    I think the header is misleading, and if you read her opinion on the Rose Quarter, all she got out of the negotiation is caps, when what should have been required is cleaner tunnels. She was also negotiating from the position that they don’t care about the widening aspect, ODOT was going to do it anyway, they just want improvements that are normal urban planning standards. Accept ODOT is using it to greenwash the climate outcomes for widening. Lets just build Albina without the widening. #buildAlbinanotfreeways

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