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ODOT modifies I-5 expansion plans to prevent Esplanade impacts

Posted by on November 12th, 2020 at 5:06 pm

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.

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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
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squareman
Subscriber

So, if they widen elsewhere and not here, and that’s okay … do they need to widen at all? (mainly rhetorical because the answer is no).

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

They do, because the legislature told them to.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

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.

 
Guest
 

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
Guest
Chris

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.

 
Guest
 

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
Guest
Momo

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

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

I thought this boondoggle died months ago?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It still sucks.

Fred
Guest
Fred

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
Guest
Chris

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
Guest
Momo

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
Guest
Gary B

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
Guest
GlowBoy

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
Guest
Momo

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
Guest
GlowBoy

That’s the dream.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

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
Guest
CaptainKarma

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this freeway.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

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.

squareman
Subscriber

Gorbachev is quite alive. He’s 89. Reagan is long dead.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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