ODOT modifies I-5 expansion plans to prevent Esplanade impacts

An artist’s rendering of what the wider I-5 might have looked like from the Esplanade.
(Source: Graphics by Cupola Media/ No More Freeways PDX)

“The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has determined that this project would not have a significant adverse impact on the human or natural environment.” That’s the key statement from FHWA Oregon Division Administrator Phil Ditzler after reviewing the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s I-5 Rose Quarter project.

ODOT shared news of Ditzler’s decision, known in federal transportation planning parlance as the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), on Friday November 6th. It’s a big step for the project because it marks the end of the environmental review phase and gives ODOT the “all clear” to move into design.

In order to get the FONSI, ODOT had to make one significant change to their plans: They will no longer widen the I-5 viaduct over the Eastbank Esplanade. This move will save our beloved Esplanade from a future of even more darkness, noise and pollution due to the proximity of the freeway. You might recall we covered this issue back in March 2019 when activists sleuthed a passage from the EA calling for a “permanent easement” along the Esplanade along the western edge of I-5 where it swoops eastward onto I-84. It took considerable arm-twisting by Portland architect and transportation advocate Iain Mackenzie for ODOT to share details about their plans. Once he got them, Mackenzie was able to reveal that the wider freeway footprint would have resulted in a shadow over the Esplanade, potential new support structures, and closures to the path during construction.

Advertisement

Federal environmental rules protect public parks, so ODOT’s plans put it in hot water with the City of Portland who threatened to not sign off on the project if it negatively impacted the Esplanade.

In the end ODOT modified the project and has decided to not widen the freeway for a 1,200 foot segment immediately east of the Eastbank Esplanade between the I-84 off-ramp to the Morrison Bridge/SE Portland/Oregon Museum of Science and Industry off-ramp. “With these changes,” the ODOT EA comment summary reads, “no substantial impacts to the Eastbank Esplanade, or to fish and other species that use the Willamette River, are expected.”

ODOT Project Manager Megan Channell told The Oregonian the decision was an example of how they’ve listened to community feedback. She also said the resulting narrower freeway shoulders are likely to lead more crashes and make bus-on-shoulder use less likely.

I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project Finding of No Significant Impact and Revised Environmental Assessment (PDF)

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

24 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Allan Rudwick
3 years ago

Even as someone who is closely following the project, I don’t quite understand if they are going to widen the freeway on the other side or if they are just not going to widen this portion of I-5.

Peter W
Peter W
3 years ago

> [and this is] an example of how they’ve listened to community feedback

… and if they listen just a little harder, they’ll apply the same non-widening decision to the rest of it.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter W

It’s not ODOT that needs to listen, it’s the governor and state legislature. ODOT staff are simply following orders – if they don’t widen, they risk loosing their jobs.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Well, they’d better make sure their jobs are tight!

cmh89
cmh89
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter W

“We didn’t know that adversely impacting the most popular MUP in the state would be a negative, so we listened and changed!”

If they are so out of touch that they needed community feedback to understand putting a freeway OVER the Eastbank it just shows how out of touch the planners down in Salem are.

 
 
3 years ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

Seems likely that the new car lane going southbound on I-5 will probably be an exit only onto I-84 instead, with the freeway remaining two lanes between the I-84 ramps. I view this as a welcome development; the freeway certainly doesn’t need three lanes in each direction between the two sides of the interchange.

Chris
Chris
3 years ago
Reply to   

I didn’t think they were adding a new lane in this section. Just the exit only lane and wide shoulders that busses and emergency vehicles could use. Was trying to confirm that but couldn’t find any plans or diagrams that showed this section in detail.

 
 
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris

I think they were going to extend the exit only lane to the Morrison Bridge ramp. And that’s what got scrapped; it now ends at the I-84 ramp.

Momo
Momo
3 years ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

Basically they’re dropping an auxiliary lane from the I-84 ramp to the Morrison Bridge ramps.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
3 years ago

I thought this boondoggle died months ago?

Chris I
Chris I
3 years ago

It still sucks.

Fred
Fred
3 years ago

JM, that last sentence is maybe missing a word or two? “the resulting narrower freeway shoulders are likely to lead [to?] more crashes and make bus-on-shoulder use less likely.” Also I wouldn’t mind an explanation of what “bus on shoulder” means. Thanks.

Chris
Chris
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred

C-Tran in Vancouver has “bus on shoulder” on some sections of SR14. It sounds like a cheap way to do a transit-only lane but can only be used when traffic speeds drop below a certain point.

https://www.c-tran.com/bus-on-shoulder

Momo
Momo
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred

This portion of I-5 would probably be a terrible candidate for bus on shoulder anyway. The best places for it are where you have express bus service using a freeway for a long stretch with few ramps. This section would constantly be interrupted by ramps, causing bus/car conflicts, and the buses are getting in and out of the Central City anyway.

Gary B
Gary B
3 years ago

So in order to get a FONSI they made the project achieve less with respect to its stated purpose (crashes and slowdowns due to lack of shoulders). So the critics and ODOT agree it’s a mostly useless boondoggle now. And then we’re still going to do this why, exactly?

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
3 years ago

No need to widen this section of I-5. It will have plenty of capacity when it becomes I-84, and we tear down I-5 from its junction with I-84 to (and including) the Marquam bridge.

Momo
Momo
3 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

What a lovely thing that would be. Make I-405 the new I-5, all freeway traffic goes over Fremont Bridge, remove the Marquam Bridge and I-5 and I-84 ramps from the Central Eastside. *swoon*

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
3 years ago
Reply to  Momo

That’s the dream.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago

They do, because the legislature told them to.

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
3 years ago

ODOT Project Manager Megan Channell told The Oregonian the decision was an example of how they’ve listened to community feedback.

No, it’s an example of them not caring about the community and continuing to ram these projects into our neighborhoods after pretending to listen.

CaptainKarma
CaptainKarma
3 years ago

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this freeway.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  CaptainKarma

If the decaying corpse of Gorbachev arose to tear down the freeway, well… that would be awesome, in the most literal meaning of the word.

Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Good god! You’re right! But it would still be awesome.