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Willamette Week: Mayor could use Esplanade impacts as leverage over ODOT I-5 freeway expansion

Posted by on February 5th, 2020 at 10:14 am

Significant?
(Graphic by Cupola Media via No More Freeways PDX.)

There’s a good reason why the Oregon Department of Transportation abhors delay when it comes to their freeway expansion megaprojects: Because the longer reporters and advocates have to dig into the details, the more dirt they find.

Case in point: The Willamette Week reports today that Mayor Ted Wheeler, the Portland Parks & Recreational bureau and ODOT have been negotiating over potential negative impacts the I-5 Rose Quarter project will impact the Eastbank Esplanade.

As we shared in March 2019, ODOT’s own analysis makes it clear that their plans to expand I-5 would come with negative impacts to users of the Esplanade. The additional freeway lanes would cast a larger shadow of darkness, noise, and pollution over the popular path. In today’s Willamette Week, the conservation director of Portland Audubon said, “The way the ramps would jet out over the esplanade [it would] essentially make it into something of a cave, increasing noise, increasing pollution, increasing shadowing, undermining the experience that people will have at a time when this community is prioritizing reconnecting with the river.”

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The Willamette Week story explains that because of these potential impacts, the City of Portland has added leverage to delay the project. Here’s more from their story:

For highway engineers to proceed, the city of Portland has to agree in writing to proposed changes to the Eastbank Esplanade. Federal law says that can happen one of two ways: The city could agree that allowing the highway to hang over the esplanade is a minimal change to the waterfront. Or the city and state could reach a deal in which the state would agree to make improvements to the park to compensate the city for any changes.

Mayor Ted Wheeler could order Portland Parks & Recreation to reach such a deal. Or he could refuse—and call for the Oregon Department of Transportation to take a closer look at the health effects of the freeway expansion on parkgoers.

“I hope the city will not sign off,” says Sallinger. “This is where the city needs to use its leverage.”

In December, Mayor Wheeler asked ODOT to complete a more thorough analysis of the project via an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Now he has an opportunity to put those stated concerns (which are shared by numerous elected officials and organizations) into real action.

For more details, read the full story in the Willamette Week.

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

I think it’s a bit misleading to say that the more this project is investigated, the more dirt is dug up, followed by a reference to WW’s Pulitzer. They won it back in 2005 for an article about a former governor’s sexual relationship with a 14 year old – nothing to do with this project.

Zach
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Zach

Let’s tear down I-5.

JR
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JR

I think ODOT and any other project sponsor wants to avoid delay for the most obvious reason – the longer you wait, the more the project will cost (ie. inflation is real), and the more susceptible you are to changing politics and stakeholders that will lead to design changes (and cost even more money). I can understand why some people would want to delay the project – the longer it takes, the more likely ODOT will be unable to afford the project in its entirety.

Whyat Lee
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Whyat Lee

The I-5 runs right by it already. I don’t see how this would add any more noise than is there already. It also looks like just a tiny portion of the Esplanade would be affected.

quicklywilliam
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Watch this animated gif in reverse. Now imagine if this project were *removing* such a huge eye and lung sore from our riverfront. Wouldn’t every politician in the city be hailing it as a huge livability and sustainability win?

There is no difference in impact between this imagined scenario and what is playing out today. The only difference is the perceived inevitability of doing this project, vs the enormous amount of advocacy work and political risk it would take to undo it.

Redhippie
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Redhippie

It is comical how the city says that the highway would create a negative experience when they (city) permits the presence of shanty towns along the same path. Clean up the path, then talk about loss of quality of life.

Glenn II
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Glenn II

The widened freeway viaduct says to me, on the path below, “you are a tunneling rodent, down there where you belong with the rats while only the noble exhaust-spewers see the sky.” So no, fuck you.

Steve Smith
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Steve Smith

I doubt Wheeler has the conviction, or if he does, then the courage of his conviction to leverage this and force ODOT to conduct an EIS.

A cruder way to say this: he doesn’t have the balls.

q
Guest
q

I saw that gif and honestly at first glance the freeway didn’t look any closer to the path than it does now. Then a second later the “after” view kicked in. Yikes.

Winter_Sun
Guest
Winter_Sun

Could the esplanade covering induce homeless camping on the esplanade? I ride under the SE 17th bridge along SE Powell and it’s crowded and often covered in glass shards. Would this become the esplanade’s fate? Is this too much extrapolation? (Note, this comment is not doublespeak for anything.)

GlennF
Guest
GlennF

should just eliminate that section of I5 and shove all traffic thru downtown I405
re-claim the east side waterfront

maxD
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maxD

delay delay and hopefully cancel this highway expansion. If anyone thinks this is anything other than phase one of widening all the way north into WA:
http://archive.mailengine1.com/csb/Public/show/f1o0-1qpa4d–ogib1-d6e3jbr9

Matthew in PDX
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Matthew in PDX

How many years will the Eastbank Esplanade be closed for the project? My guess is around 3 – 4.