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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 Pulitzer Prize-winning 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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47 Comments
  • Avatar
    Alicia J February 5, 2020 at 11:23 am

    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.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 5, 2020 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Alicia. I disagree. I mention the pulitzer just to remind folks that this isn’t some fly-by-night news operation and that they’ve done – and do – real reporting that has impact.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 5, 2020 at 11:45 am

        Their reporting on weed is second to none.

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          Middle of the Road Guy February 5, 2020 at 2:09 pm

          Every dang week there’s another article. It’s laughable.

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            John Lascurettes February 5, 2020 at 2:38 pm

            With over $85M paid out annually in taxes collected from cannabis sales in Oregon, it’s a newsworthy subject.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty February 5, 2020 at 3:35 pm

              “Oregon now sells 117 strains of pot that start with the letter “P”. Last week, we smoked every one of them. Here’s what happened!”

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                John Lascurettes February 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm

                That’s ten more weeks of letters for making stories out of. :p

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty February 5, 2020 at 9:30 pm

                That’s what happened — they forgot how many letters there are in the alphabet!

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                John Lascurettes February 6, 2020 at 9:22 am

                Pot does that you your memory.

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                John Lascurettes February 6, 2020 at 11:58 am

                And apparently my grammar.

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        JeffS February 5, 2020 at 11:45 am

        “news organization”
        lmao

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          JH February 5, 2020 at 12:19 pm

          An interesting point was brought up about the standards needed to be called a news organization after Brazilian President Bolsanaro’s government indicted Glen Greenwald. It also applies to Jullian Assange and the Willamette Week.

          One of the things oppressive people try to do is convince you that people who are obviously journalists or news organizations don’t deserve protections because “they aren’t REAL” journalists.

          That’s nice while you agree with them. I don’t like Mr. Assange. I think Mr. Greenwald has issues. But what about Jonathan here? What if people who don’t like him consider him not to be a news organization / advocacy blog?

          The WW are a ews organization. Decrying them as not being one only allows them to be silenced by the government without rights that news organizations should have.

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      Matt February 5, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      The Oregonian won its first Pulitzer in 1939 so now forever we must call it the Pulitzer winning Oregonian even if it’s completely unrelated to the issues of 1930s Oregon lol.

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    Zach February 5, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Let’s tear down I-5.

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      Middle of the Road Guy February 5, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      Let’s vote on that.

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      nuovorecord February 5, 2020 at 3:29 pm

      It’ll happen eventually, when a 9.0 Cascadia subduction quake puts the Marquam Bridge into the Willamette.

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    JR February 5, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    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.

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      David Hampsten February 5, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      You’re not wrong, but there’s more to it than that.

      Most highway projects are funded from several federal sources, a mix of state sources, and a certain amount of local match. Oregon often has a unusually high rate of federal funding due to its influential congressional delegation. Federal funding not only comes with a lot of strings attached, but many federal grants are also time-limited – if they aren’t used with a certain time period, they get transferred to some other state DOT with a less controversial project and more local match – there’s always one out there. Chances are the Rose Quarter project, be it $500 Million or $1 Billion, probably won’t cost Oregon taxpayers anywhere close to that amount, probably not even half that – but the longer the delay, the more likely Oregon taxpayers will lose the federal grants and have to pay more locally.

      There’s also internal pressures within ODOT to redirect the funding to other projects both in Region 1 and also other parts of the state with less controversial projects. The longer the wait, the more likely state legislators will be able to siphon off funding for their favorite highway projects.

      There’s also an ever-present danger of “regime change” both for Oregon and for the federal government. The current conservative Democratic state government could be replaced with bicycle-riding left-wingers intent on killing all state freeway projects. Or worse, a new president intent on funding high-speed rail over highway expansion. So the sooner the freeway project gets started, the less likely such disasters will impact the employment of Oregon’s fragile highway engineers.

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        Aaron Brown February 6, 2020 at 12:01 am

        to be clear, this proposed Rose Quarter freeway expansion would be funded entirely through state funds raised by HB 2017

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          David Hampsten February 6, 2020 at 10:03 am

          Not quite. It’s normal for any jurisdiction to identify ‘local’ sources of funding first, then apply for federal funding afterwards to supplement or even replace local/state funding.

          According to the ODOT website: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=19071
          “Partial funding for design and construction phases was provided in HB 2017. The legislature authorized $30 million per year, beginning in January 2022, for the Project based on the estimated project cost of approximately $450 to $500 million (in 2017 dollars). “

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        Matt S. February 9, 2020 at 7:59 am

        Or the employment of union carpenters.

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    Whyat Lee February 5, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    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.

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      paikiala February 6, 2020 at 8:58 am

      Glass half full: the depiction shows no shading of the actual trail and any cars that depart the freeway now are likely to land on that trail, but not so much after.

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        q February 6, 2020 at 10:12 am

        1. Are you viewing shading of the trail as positive or negative? I view it as negative, as is blocking views of the sky.

        2. Has a car EVER “departed” the freeway in that area and landed on the trail? It sounds like you’re saying that the wider freeway has the advantage of protecting trail users from falling cars. Is that true?

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          SERider February 7, 2020 at 10:29 am

          On the flip side, “shaded” trail also means cover from rain.

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            q February 7, 2020 at 9:03 pm

            Ignoring all the other aspects of the project, would the rain protection outweigh the negatives–less daylight, less view of the sky, possibly much of the landscaping dying from lack of sun and rain, etc.? Personally, I’d choose the rain. Plus, I don’t see much value in rain protection for what’s just part of a route for the vast majority of people who ride or walk that stretch.

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            Chris I February 9, 2020 at 7:12 am

            Sounds great for camping.

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        q February 6, 2020 at 10:36 am

        And if you’re going to mention unlikely things such as protection of path users from falling cars being an advantage of the widened freeway, you probably should note that in a strong earthquake, the current freeway would drop down next to the path, but the new one would fall onto and crush everyone on it.

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    quicklywilliam February 5, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    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.

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    Redhippie February 5, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    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.

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      Middle of the Road Guy February 5, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      You’ll find that certain political persuasions tend to justify their policy positions with red-meat triggers. For conservatives, it’s illegal immigrants, darker people and taxes. For Liberals, it’s evil corporations, white males/patriarchy and climate change.

      Just look at the political messaging and the most common occurrences of topics.

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      X February 5, 2020 at 4:20 pm

      Shantytowns may be an eyesore but they are not dumping benzene, etc, into the air that we all need to breathe to remain alive.

      Operating motor vehicles is not a victimless free choice. It’s the moral equivalent of peeing in the pool. And, I drove a car yesterday and probably will again on the weekend.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 5, 2020 at 9:00 pm

        Well, for God’s sake, please use the bathroom before you do!

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        joel February 6, 2020 at 8:08 am

        we can say shantytowns are not peeing in pool, however i think they are peeing in the river for sure in a few places.

        EIS on shantytowns please. I think the freeway, and the shantytowns and many other things have an impact, even bikes riding too fast past small kids on the esplanade(just putting it out there for balance)- sure there are a lot of things, and we try to prioritize them by strength. it would be cool if EIS’s could also generate other focuses. they often are based around one topic from one perspective, but do not look at it from the views of other perspectives- example- taking all the stakeholders whether people, creatures, the land, ecology. They kind of star out using the main focus. like what impacts this.

        Example- the freeway will impact the beauty of the bike path, the freeway will affect rainfall, plants. The freeway will create more dry areas for camping. The freeway will be better for cars.

        But EIS is limited on the data that can be manipulated. what about going one step beyond to see more data- example how will all the other things react- like- trigering an impact study on the bike path, plants, campers, cars…… i just feel sometimes the EIS is not as wholistic as it tries to be. it is a great tool, but i feel sometimes it does not embody what it should.

        i do think it would be a cool idea for the city to do an EIS on urban campers. They can be good and bad just like everything else. how to make it better is the question.

        ps- my personal feeling is no freeway expansion,and id also like to vote to get rid of those bumps on the esplanade before the steel bridge if its possible.

        -joel

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      Toby Keith February 7, 2020 at 8:31 pm

      I would think the homeless advocates would be in full support of this. More covered camping for their constituents. Keep that money flowing.

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        q February 7, 2020 at 9:05 pm

        Why would you even say that?

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          Matt S. February 9, 2020 at 8:07 am

          Because the homeless situation is so pervasive that it’s impacting ever discussion, regardless of topic. My local Nextdoor is rife with homeless this, campers that, the government isn’t doing enough. It’s crazy times in Portland.

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            q February 10, 2020 at 1:48 pm

            Everyone knows about the situation. I wasn’t questioning that. I was questioning why you’d write such a mean-spirited comment. Why would you say “homeless advocates would be in full support” of spending almost a billion dollars on a freeway widening of questionable value when a fraction of that budget could make a huge difference for homeless people? And why would you demean homeless advocates by saying they’d think having more people sleeping outside under a freeway is positive?

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              Matt S. February 10, 2020 at 3:39 pm

              This article was about the freeway and here we are talking about people without homes…

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    Glenn II February 5, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    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.

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    Steve Smith February 5, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    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.

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    q February 5, 2020 at 11:50 pm

    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.

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    Winter_Sun February 6, 2020 at 11:42 am

    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.)

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    GlennF February 6, 2020 at 12:04 pm

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

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    maxD February 7, 2020 at 10:28 am

    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

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    Matthew in PDX February 7, 2020 at 12:30 pm

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

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      rick February 7, 2020 at 1:27 pm

      This ODOT project needs to be cancelled. A real lid over I-5 should be built instead like other cities.

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