ODOT proposes new I-5 expansion plan that won’t move freeway closer to middle school

Posted by on April 28th, 2021 at 9:43 am

ODOT slide of the shift to the west as shown to an advisory committee Tuesday night.

“If [moving the freeway] is an option, then I want to look at moving it even further from the school.”
— Sprinavasa Brown, Historic Albina Advisory Committee

At an advisory committee meeting for the I-5 Rose Quarter project Tuesday night the Oregon Department of Transportation said they have a plan to not move the freeway closer to Harriet Tubman Middle School.

The surprise announcement comes after years of criticisms and concerns related to how an expansion of the freeway would have a further negative impact on air quality at a school already dangerously close to a large amount of toxic vehicle emissions. Just last fall, ODOT resisted demands by Portland Public School Board members to commit to healthy air quality.

The announcement also comes two weeks after a coalition filed a lawsuit against the project and a rally was held at the school to draw attention to it. One of speakers was Tubman alum and ninth-grader Malina Yuen. “We can literally see the smog in the air during recess,” she said. “This freeway is constantly on our minds, and it is in our lungs, and it is a direct threat to the heart of the Tubman community.”

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One day after the rally, OPB reported that previously undisclosed ODOT plans called for the expanded freeway to be even closer to Tubman School than previously thought. Portland Public School board members told OPB the proximity of the freeway might require them to close the school down.

The original plan.

I-5 Rose Quarter Project Director Megan Channell shared the new plan at the outset of the Historic Albina Advisory Board (HAAB) meeting. “As a follow-up to feedback that we’ve received from the community, as well as Portland Public Schools over the past few years, I wanted to let you know that our team is starting to evaluate a design option that is shifting the northern part of the project,” Channell explained. “We’re looking at an option that does not move any closer to Harriet Tubman Middle School to minimize the technical and construction concerns there and exploring this option will also be responsive to a number of comments we’ve heard from this committee specifically as well, around community concern around the proximity of the project to that site.”

The existing plan was to add a new 14-foot wide northbound lane and a 12-foot wide “safety shoulder” to the east side of the freeway, bringing drivers and their emissions 26-feet closer to the school than they are today. The new proposal would not expand the freeway to the east at all and would instead build a new lane and shoulder that would add 24-feet to the west side of the freeway.

“If [moving the freeway] is an option, then I want to look at moving it even further from the school,” said HAAB member Sprinavasa Brown in response to Channell’s announcement. Brown said if a new alignment will improve air quality, she wants more information on how a shift of 50 or 100 feet would impact environmental outcomes.

Brown was also curious why the announcement was just now being made. “What changed? Why is ODOT considering moving this now when at the beginning there seemed like there was no opportunity to move it?”

Asked for a response to that question by BikePortland today, project spokesperson April DeLeon-Galloway said ODOT first identified “technical challenges” with the original plan last year. Specifically, they had concerns about a planned soundwall that would have been built adjacent to the school.

“In late January, following an initial analysis… we were able to better understand those challenges from both a design and constructability perspective, and directed the team to do further evaluation of an alternative alignment,” DeLeon-Galloway said.

ODOT is at “very early stages of that evaluation” and are already in contact with Portland Public Schools and a business on the west side of the freeway that would be impacted by the new alignment.

The next step will be to share concepts with advisory committees in late May and garner more public feedback in June. By mid-July, the project design team will recommend a preferred alternative.

The lawsuit filed by No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air, and the Eliot Neighborhood Association doesn’t ask for the freeway to be moved. It asks for ODOT to do a more thorough environmental analysis. That argument be stronger now even given this major shift in the proposal at such a late stage in the planning process.

In related news, youth activists organized by No More Freeways will take part in a “Strike for Transportation Justice” outside ODOT headquarters in northwest Portland today from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.

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

Can’t ODOT just give it up already. Get rid of I5 from the I84 to 405 junctions and reclaim the land for the people.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Them the project turns into widening 405. It can’t handle the traffic volume.

squareman
Subscriber

Maybe we need to get rid of traffic through methods other than giving it more space to multiply and expand.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

What would be those methods? This is the main freight corridor for the entire west coast.

squareman
Subscriber

I-205 was specifically built as the bypass for shipping carriers around Portland so that truckers who didn’t have Portland as a destination could fully go around. Try again.

ivan
Guest
ivan

Keep shifting it that direction, ODOT. Shift it all the way to 405, and then call it I-5.

maxD
Guest
maxD

ODOT could literally just close the on/off ramps to Broadway as the beginning and end of this project. That would free up a lot of space for redevelopment. traffic movements on I-5 and on the adjacent surface streets would be much simpler and safer. No lane widening, not lame “lid” no hundreds of millions of dollars and a massive carbon cost. There are are plenty of local alternative routes and connections for freight. I am guessing it is primarily the MODA center/Convention Center interests who want to keep this exit, but they can and should be served by transit. Take away the exits and redevelop the parking garages!

drs
Guest
drs

ODOT: Hire this person. Put them in charge of the project!

X
Guest
X

Yes. Every ramp you close North of the Morrison Bridge will take a minute off peak travel times to the Columbia River. Use the space to plant trees next to HTMS and for queuing/metering/merging on the remaining ramps. If I-5 traffic is less of a hassle, people will use it instead of NE MLKjr or Interstate. In turn, traffic on those streets will be less fraught because people will be using them for local trips instead of pushing their way North on the surface streets.

The I-5 Freeway Widening Boondogle should be dumped in its current form. It’s going to cost a cool $Billion, snarl traffic with construction slowdowns for about 5 years, and save no lives. The projected freeway decks will do exactly nothing to unify Albina.

Momo
Guest
Momo

Bingo.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Anyone know how this new alignment would impact the esplanade trail?

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I wonder if ODOT has let Shin Shin Foods know that it’s planning on condemning their property?

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

Maybe ODOT should foot the bill for a new middle school further away from the freeway? I hear there is an empty lot off Vancouver that was taken years ago to build some hospital.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

PPS is the entity who reopened Tubman when they knew full well there were Air Quality issues. ODOT is getting the blame for PPS’s decision.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

So ODOT effectively condemned that PPS property in 1966 when they built the freeway next to an existing school? Did they compensate PPS for this devaluation of property?

joan
Guest
joan

Yes, it would have been far better for the kids of inner N/NE Portland to be some of the only kids in Portland without a dedicated middle school. That definitely would have been a win for equity.

Dave
Guest
Dave

There’s also the barely used and run down orange building the school district owns.

drs
Guest
drs

Thanks for continuing to cover this.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Regardless of the freeway project or not, this school should be moved. Very dumb to locate a school next to a freeway.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It was very dumb to reopen the school when it was known there were air quality issues.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

buildwithjoe,
I was referring to a WWeek article (A Middle School Prized by Portland’s Black Community Would See Its Poor Air Quality Worsen With a Rose Quarter Highway Expansion” – July 4, 2018). Be sure to let Nigel Jaquiss know he’s a liar also.

joan
Guest
joan

There was nowhere else. I was one of dozens of parents and folks in PPS who looked for an alternative site. There were none.

rick
Guest
rick

The school was there before the freeway.

GR
Guest
GR

The school was there first, which brings to mind some obvious questions regarding the intentions of the freeway designers of the 1950s/60s

Ted G
Guest
Ted G

I am not sure what benefit comes from judging decisions made 50 years ago based on the knowledge we have today. There was much wrong with the planning and construction of I-5 through N Portland, but I cannot imagine air quality was on anyone’s mind.

joan
Guest
joan

Dave, Eliot Elementary was built to serve Albina kids before the Oregon Highway Department ever realized they were going to build a highway there. It’s no coincidence that freeways impact Black communities. That’s by design. The school was there, and ODOT built the highway because it knew they could get away with things that would never work in white communities. Now they’re doubling down.

Champs
Guest
Champs

I lent support to my neighborhood association’s vote to oppose the Rose Quarter Expansion, but if it was just a matter of will, consider Lents or Maywood Park and ask yourself why plans to build freeways there went through but not in Ladd’s Addition or Alameda.

Realistically, there needs to be a plan for when history repeats itself and the Highway Department gets what they want. I hate their dirty air and unsustainable spending, but I also hate walking away with nothing, and it’s all you’re going to get with the small thinking of that lawsuit IF you win.

My picture of victory looks very different. It’s Emanuel Hospital swapping land with PPS and PP&R so kids can breathe cleaner air. It’s ODOT truncating its unnecessarily long I405 ramp and putting roofs over the heads of people living next to it in tents. It’s Albina Vision getting their buildable caps. It’s give. It’s take. It’s how business used to be done.

Also, if city leaders nominally oppose this project and cut off city funds to support it, then why is PBOT still pleading poverty? It’s as if every dime earmarked for razing my neighborhood vaporized just as soon as they could be spent improving it instead.

I'll Show Up
Guest
I'll Show Up

When you mentioned Lents and Maywood Park, I thought you were going to talk about how privilege in Maywood Park saved their neighborhood while the freeway rammed through Lents.

Maywood Park had the means to fight the freeway. Actually, the incorporated as a city to fight the freeway. That move made it so ODOT had to skirt their neighborhood rather than go through it.

Lents didn’t have the resources to self-incorporate as a city. So, they lost and Maywood Park won.

https://cityofmaywoodpark.com/2009/03/tiny-citys-roots-date-to-freeway-flap/

squareman
Subscriber

A good chunk of Maywood was still lost. What they did succeed at however was getting ODOT to lower the level of the freeway, reducing the noise significantly.

EP
Guest
EP

I was surprised to hear that Maywood taxes ODOT for the highway through their city (b/c no exits), and uses that yearly fee to fund maintenance, sheriffs services and such. I have not confirmed this but it seems to make sense.

squareman
Subscriber

Here’s a more full story of the Interstate battle and outcome that Maywood Park fought than is presented on their own page which states they lost “about 80 homes”. Maywood Park lost 87 homes – that’s a lot closer to about 90 homes. https://www.opb.org/artsandlife/article/maywood-park-oregon-portland-history-interstate-205/

I'll Show Up
Guest
I'll Show Up

Thank you for the education, squareman. Truly appreciate it. I do wonder how many homes and businesses in Lents were demolished. My hunch is that it was a lot more than 80. It is interesting that the things Maywood Park got were a deeper freeway and an ongoing revenue stream for their neighborhood/City. Still takes a lot of resources to make those two wins happen for them, I’d imagine.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Lents was annexed into Portland in 1913. I-205 was built in the 1990s, about 75 years later.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I love the ideal of moving the school on to some of the land Emanuel owns and bulldozed for no reason. Add buildable caps over the entire project and maybe we have something that benefits all. Deal making.used to be the way things got done.

G Holan
Guest
G Holan

“It’s give. It’s take”. Don’t take this personally Champs but your comment seems more like “Give me what I want” rather than give and take. We all need compromise on this matter and in life in general. Extremism doesn’t get us anywhere good.

drs
Guest
drs

The give is giving extra vehicle lanes to people that live on the other side of the Columbia River so they can commute into Portland faster while avoiding Oregon taxes. The give is letting ODOT have their little freeway widening project. What else did you want?

Champs
Guest
Champs

Squabbling over a fait accompli wastes time and money we could put into better things. If that’s an extreme take, then I don’t know what compromise is anymore.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

“I hate their dirty air and unsustainable spending, but I also hate walking away with nothing, and it’s all you’re going to get with the small thinking of that lawsuit IF you win.”

So First, the purpose of the lawsuit is to require an EIS, not to end up with nothing. ODOT has used a lot of questionable data and essentially disenfranchised the people who represent that area (eg disbanding of the advisory panel).

I also want AVT to have a large stake in the decision-making process in order to completely rebuild what was once the Albina Neighborhood. One of the most feasible means for giving organizations such as AVT the power to influence ODoT’s decisions is via this lawsuit. The community and Portland at large will get nothing out of the project as it currently stands.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Now that’s absurd; it’s just going to impact other businesses, apartments and the PPB headquarters building on the west side of the highway. This is grasping at straws, and we are payiung these peoples’ salaries!

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

sorry about the typos, it is Portland Public Schools Admin building that will be impacted on the west side of the Hiway, and not PPB’s.

Jim
Guest
Jim

OMSI is close to the freeway, no complaint from them.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

I don’t remember them having an outdoor playground.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Are all comments now held for moderation, or just mine?

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

I don’t think the project extends as far as OMSI.

buildwithjoe
Member

Ahh “Jim” ..Could you put more detail into your point. It sounds like you are defending ODOT> The complaint here is about the length of exposure to young lungs. Most OMSI visitors have just a few hours of exposure a year. (Under 10 hours) Compare that to this: The students of this school have thousands of hours of exposure. The school came first and then ODOT clearly did not care to pay to move the school then nor now.

https://youtu.be/jFma76bkUVc

I made this video so you Jim can understand some complexity. I bet Jim and some of these other users are sock accounts for ODOT staff.

squareman
Subscriber

First: Harriet Tubman School has been a school since 1952
Second: The interstate was completed in 1966.
Last: OMSI was established in 1994.

What’s your point?

Fred
Guest
Fred

You nailed it, squareman. Tubman didn’t decide to locate there AFTER a freeway was put in; instead ODOT rammed a freeway down their throats. Also if Jim ever spent any time at OMSI he’d know the freeway is actually quite far away and the Marquam Bridge is high above OMSI – nothing like the sitch at Tubman where the semis will be belching smoke from their unfiltered pipes right into the school windows.

Momo
Guest
Momo

This is getting a bit desperate. First they said the whole project would fit in the existing right-of-way. Then that was shown to be a lie, and they admitted they would have to acquire part of the school. Now they’re shifting the other direction and having to acquire multiple properties, and maybe have to tear down entire buildings. At some point they lose original argument, that this was “just” a safety and operational project in existing right-of-way. It’s clearly not! It’s a very significant freeway expansion that is adding auxiliary lanes that are so long any sane traffic engineer would admit they are just adding more lanes. An auxiliary lane is a lane that connects one on-ramp to the next off-ramp. It’s not a lane that connects an on-ramp to an off-ramp three interchanges away. Otherwise, I could say I want to connect an on-ramp in Portland to an off-ramp in Salem, and claim that’s just a very long auxiliary lane and not another through lane.

buildwithjoe
Member

.
Please Senator Lew Frederick (503)986-1722

He’s on the transportation committee and answers to all of Oregon on this.
He is on record as saying this $800 million will improve safety.

Safety goals are an ODOT lie.

There has not been a single driver death in this project area in a decade. On March 25th a wrong way driver came up the Greeley Ave ramp. That’s not the project area. 2 people died as a result. I know that ODOT will lie and use those 2 dead people as part of their “safety” data. I’ve posted a link to the crash news below.

Ask our North Portland senator to put in writing why he supports this freeway expansion. He has refused that when I asked.

https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2021/03/2-killed-in-wrong-way-crash-on-i-84-in-portland-officials-say.html

.
Please Senator Lew Frederick (503)986-1722

EZBZ
Guest
EZBZ

Can someone tell me what this has to do with bicycling in Portland? Why does bicycling have to be somehow diametrically opposed to driving? I do both. I enjoy both. I pay taxes for the state and city to make both safer and more efficient. The state and localities have put a ton of resources in making Portland more bike friendly, shouldn’t drivers expect them to similarly improve the roads with the gas taxes they pay? The arguments I’ve heard against this project are either myths (induced demand) or easily mitigated. Can’t we go back to being progressive and stop with all this reactionary nimbyism?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Freeway expansions are progressive?

This project will degrade the existing biking conditions and increase pollution for all users. It is also going to cost close to a billion dollars when this is all said and done. As a driver and a taxpayer, I am opposed to this waste of taxpayer dollars.

X
Guest
X

I ride a bicycle through the project area several times a week. This project will:

-wipe out existing bike routes and build steeper, indirect ones
-slow every trip through the area (bike, car, transit or walking) for years while construction goes on
-prolong our dependence on car travel
-reward ODOT’s tunnel vision around project planning

ODOT thinks every problem can be fixed by putting more concrete on the ground. As a taxpayer I know that gas tax does not pay the entire cost of roads. I don’t want to pay more for projects that won’t fix the problems they are meant to solve.

Brandon
Guest

Fellow driver and regular bike rider here… More freeways is not progressive, and there is plenty of data to support induced demand. Albina is not my backyard, so it’s not NIMBYism at play, I just think $1B could solve a lot of real problems in Portland, and another lane of carbon producing freeway is not an improvement to our city. I pay gas taxes too, and I don’t want them wasted on this, there are plenty of potholes on dangerous streets controlled by ODOT. I don’t think this is good resource allocation, there are cost effective ways to reduce traffic, and significantly more effective ways to improve safety.

Fred
Guest
Fred

It has a lot to do with cycling, EZBZ.

Two major points for me:

1) The project will remove the Flint Ave bridge, which is for many cyclists the most stress-free and safest way to cross I-5 from North Portland. In its place ODOT promises to build a circuitous nightmare route for cyclists. They obviously think they can get away with it – as long as it removes 30 seconds of travel time for WA commuters.

2) We cyclists are constantly told we can’t have basic infrastructure b/c there’s no funding. And then ODOT is willing to blow a BILLION BUCKS on an “auxiliary lane” (translation: freeway widening). I live in SW Portland and take my actual life into my hands every single day b/c ODOT can’t be bothered to create a continuous bike lane on Barbur to downtown. “We have no funding for that but we do have a billion dollars to shave a few seconds from the commute times of Washingtonians.”

Any citizen, let alone cyclist, who isn’t outraged about this ODOT boondoogle just isn’t paying attention. I’ve waited in traffic on I-5 and it’s not that bad.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

I’ve lived in Portland for over 30 years and work in and commute to Albina, mostly by bike but occasionally by car, and this project is not pro-cycling, ‘progressive’ or good for the local area or overall benefit of the ‘community’ in any way, shape or form.

Congestion pricing and viable options for people currently commuting by/driving in SOVs are much better solutions; we’re never going to build or engineer our way out of traffic congestion with more roads and there won’t be any more gas tax revenue once everyone is driving an electric car, I see more and more of them every day.

Brent
Guest
Brent

All the other responses are great and I agree. A massive mega project like this sucks up $1 billion, time, and energy that could used elsewhere, perhaps some of it to improve cycling and walking infrastructure.

I hate the traffic jams and the seemingly poorly design bottleneck at Rose Quarter just as much as everyone else who gets stuck there. But is a better driving experience there worth $1 billion? Maybe. It’s certainly worth a discussion.

Instead, ODOT and most leaders overseeing the design and communication of this project have generally refused to listen to legitimate concerns or alternative suggestions. That’s why it may seem like opposition is so strong or “reactionary.” If ODOT did more real outreach and stopped trying to ram this project through, I think the opposition would be more willing to work with them toward shared solutions.

Finally, I agree that many arguments against this project could be (easily?) mitigated. However, ODOT has generally refused to even entertain those solutions in their mad rush to start digging. (This shifting the expansion away from the school is a rare exception.) Generally, it just takes more money. At the very least it takes designing for the future implementation of those solutions. As an example, maybe ODOT could include design elements that would make it possible to easily reinforce the already planned caps, and to add more caps in the future toward the goal of eventually having buildable caps along the entire stretch. Even if the budget for those caps don’t exist now, we could build them later.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

ODOT thinks the solution to spewing more pollution nearer a school is… still just spewing more pollution too near the school?

What. Is. ODOT. Smoking.

Amit Zinman
Guest
Amit Zinman

How about you move the existing lanes to the other side, away from the school? You can still do the expansion, just create a dedicated bus lane, a dedicated wide bike lane and the rest save for pedestrians.