Metro President Peterson wants us to say ‘yes’ to regional megaprojects

Photo of Lynn Peterson talking into a mic and text that reads: "We can't let 'no' get in the way of progress."
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland, 2018)

The 2022 Oregon Active Transportation Summit hosted by The Street Trust kicked off online this morning and the featured speaker, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, urged attendees to support three megaprojects currently being planned in the region — and all of them include wider freeways.

Three projects Peterson mentioned in her speech this morning. (Source: ODOT)

Peterson was speaking from Vancouver, Washington where she’s attending a work session as an Executive Steering Group member of the Interstate Bridge Replacement project, a joint effort of the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation to expand five miles of I-5 on both sides of the Columbia River.

That was one of three specific projects Peterson touched on in her keynote which was billed as a “state of transportation in the region” address.

Peterson has a long resume in the transportation field that goes back over 30 years — from being a traffic calming intern for the City of Portland in the mid 1990s, to stints with land use planning nonprofit 1000 Friends of Oregon and TriMet before getting into politics as a City of Lake Oswego councilor in the early 2000s. Her most recent government job prior to Metro was as Director of the Washington Department of Transportation (a job that ended in a brazenly political stunt by detractors of the governor who appointed her).

There were two major parts of her speech that caught my attention this morning.

First, she made a very compelling case for why ostensibly non-transportation issues are central to fixing our transportation issues. And second, she articulated why she thinks it’s time to support the I-5 Rose Quarter, Interstate Bridge Replacement, and I-205/Abernethy Bridge projects.

In a section of her speech where she said our region doesn’t have enough funding to address our mobility infrastructure needs, Peterson connected that “lack of resources” to the need for a regional funding bond measure and widespread safety fears. “Voters must feel safe in options before they vote to pay for them,” she said. Peterson focused primarily on concerns cited by many people (as many as 76% of people in the region according to one poll she cited) that they don’t feel safe riding transit — especially Black people and other communities of color. “We do not meet our climate goals without addressing these fears. We do not pass the transportation funding measure without addressing these fears,” she said.

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“Voters must feel safe in options before they vote to pay for them.”
— Lynn Peterson, Metro Council President

Then Peterson said transportation advocates should use a much broader lens if they want to get their issues over the finish line. For Peterson we need to “restore the social contract” and take a holistic look at community health before there’s any space to address transportation challenges. She said as long as there’s economic injustice, housing instability, and fear of moving through our communities, the majority of people won’t be willing to change the transportation status quo.

Metro is doing its part by buying and restoring natural areas and parks throughout the region like Newell Creek Canyon and Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. Peterson likened these parks as part of Metro’s effort to “rebuild the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy.” “If we want to be successful in funding our transportation priorities, we have to build the base of the pyramid first.”

Peterson also said progressive transportation activists will continue to be disappointed with progress unless they find ways to compromise with folks who disagree with them.

Citing a recent poll where people were asked if Metro should prioritize traffic relief investments that put climate change mitigation first, or whether they should do whatever it takes regardless of climate impacts, the result was split 45% to 45%. “And I remind you that we have to get to 50% for a ballot measure to pass,” Peterson said.

When it comes to the three regional megaprojects that include freeway expansions, Peterson expressed her support for moving them forward. After listing all three projects, she said, “You might hear this list and worry that the floodgates are opening for more driving. Know that we have a powerful tool at our disposal, one that I know can mitigate that concern: and that is congestion pricing.”

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Peterson didn’t say in her speech this morning that she would oppose these projects if they didn’t include some type of toll or congestion pricing program first, but she has said that in the past. And whether ODOT ever actually launched a pricing program on their interstates remains uncertain (a Metro vote to implement tolls on the I-205 project was recently delayed).

What Peterson was clear on, however, was that she’s ready to say “yes” to these three projects and that people who oppose them are getting in the way.

“We can’t let ‘no’ get in the way of progress. Too many nos means Washington again pulls out of the I-5 bridge conversation… Too many nos drives up the cost of the Rose Quarter project making anything more than a bare-bones I-5 crossing infeasible. And too many nos makes it harder and harder to get a regional transportation funding measure passed.”

If a majority of the region can get to “yes,” Peterson believes the Interstate Bridge project can be “right-sized for how we want to live now and into the future and meets the Metro Council’s equity and climate goals,” and the I-5 Rose Quarter project can lead to a “Restored Albina neighborhood that doesn’t see Interstate 5 as a canyon but instead as an afterthought buried underneath the community.”

Another reason Peterson might have yeses and nos on her mind is that voters will face the same decision about her bid for another term as Metro president when ballots arrive next month.

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David Raboin
David Raboin
2 months ago

No. The I-5 mega project will only lead to more car dependant sprawl on the Washington side of tbe river. The congestion pricing scheme will fill the piggy bank for the next car-centric mega project and the state’s transport agencies will grow more powerdul and entrenched.

Jared0
Jared0
2 months ago

You didn’t include the highway engineer portion of Lynn’s work history (in Wisconsin). She’s got highway building in her blood since the start of her career.

She’s always put her political career above addressing the climate crisis.

The sad thing is she gets it – congestion pricing works. But she wants to spend tens of billions of dollars building stuff that doesn’t work, instead of spending those dollars actually making the system seismically safe, safe for people walking and biking, and more equitable.

Saying yes to the mega-projects is saying NO to safe, clean transportation choices. That’s the NO that’s getting in the way of progress.

Adah Crandall for Metro President!

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago

Here’s my no . . .

NO MORE BOND MEASURES!!! Taxes are already too crazy high!

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago

Yeah, this is not good policy making. Progress is only a positive if it actually benefits people. Almost everyone in the 50s and 60s championing freeway + “urban renewal” did so in the name of progress – but most of those decisions were still wrong.

If there are too many “no’s”, the answer is not to just do it anyway. There are plenty of better ways to spend a billion plus dollars than the Rose Quarter freeway project, it would almost certainly be better to spend the money elsewhere (or reduce the scope of it to a freeway cap).

Chainsaw the taxes!
Chainsaw the taxes!
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

The 50s and 60s freeways were not wrong at the time, and we do need wider freeways in Portland still today.

Don’t you worry about no’s – if they put a hefty tax on the bond measure, the local smart folks will vote for it. They do it every single time. They never learn. Must be too many apartment dwellers who don’t have to pay property taxes and think it won’t affect them.

ANY TAX on the ballot in PDX METRO will pass. ***Moderator: edited out last word***

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

Like the SW Corridor project and associated transportation goodies that resoundingly passed in 2020. Oh wait . . . LOL

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago

The freeways in the 50s and 60s were absolutely wrong at the time. The Interstate Highway System is a disaster in every single metro area in the country, with maybe a few exceptions.

It has destroyed the fabric of every city it cuts in half, it has caused entire generations of Americans to be wholly dependent on the car industry to live any semblance of a normal life and by driving suburbanization, it has made every city in the country less financially stable.

People who live in a subsidized suburb want it both ways – they want the pleasure of living in a detached home with a big yard and space from all the hustle and bustle of city life. But they also want the high level of service (sewers, utilities, internet, roads, transit, etc.) that people in cities enjoy. But this is not actually possible – cities can support higher level of services because they have a more profitable tax base – denser developments allow for higher revenue for governments, which leads to more services.

And really this financial argument against suburban sprawl and highway projects is barely relevant when compared to the damage that urban planners and highway departments caused to neighborhoods while building urban freeways. In just the last three decades, 200,000 people have lost their homes to highway expansion (https://www.latimes.com/projects/us-freeway-highway-expansion-black-latino-communities/). In the midst of an ongoing housing crisis, it is ridiculous to think that continued sprawl and the same thing we did the end up here will help us in the long run.

Columbo
Columbo
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Yes, 20,000 may have lost their homes due to highway expansion, but 20,000,000 were able to have homes they WANTED to live in BECAUSE OF highway expansion. Factor of 1000. That’s a rough guess, may be low or high, but it’s probably the right order of magnitude.

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago
Reply to  Columbo

Housing does not require highways or highway expansion to exist. If we need to level hundreds of thousands of poor peoples homes to serve sprawling financially insolvent suburbs, maybe we should reconsider.

I reject that everyone who lives in a sprawling suburb wants to do so. People do that because it is the only affordable option for them. The sustainable solution is to provide affordable housing options in the cities, not to build more suburbs that needlessly burden society and the environment with endlessly growing highways and car use.

eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Comment of the week.

soren
soren
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

People who live in a subsidized suburb want it both ways

One of the main reasons that people move to rentals in the “subsidized suburb[s]” is because they can’t afford to live in the gentrified inner city.

People who carry water for real estate moguls and rigged market rate development are sprawl supporters.

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago
Reply to  soren

Right after that quote, I make it clear that ” they want the pleasure of living in a detached home with a big yard and space from all the hustle and bustle of city life”, which makes it clear I am talking about homeowners, not suburban renters.

People who live in suburban apartment buildings face a ton of issues (lack of real transportation options, general affordability, lower amount of services and social opportunities, etc.).

I am not supporting real estate moguls or rigged market rate development. The complete abandonment of government owned subsidized housing has been an absolute disaster for housing affordability.

soren
soren
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Many who move to suburban area are families and multi-generational households who cannot afford to rent 2+ bedroom apartments in the city (these are exceptionally scarce) but can afford to rent a house.

The complete abandonment of government owned subsidized housing has been an absolute disaster for housing affordability.

If it were up to me the current situation would be reversed.

My “carry water” rhetoric was not directed at you per se but rather at those who believe a “captured” profit-driven housing market is capable of creating housing abundance.

X
X
2 months ago

“…we do need wider freeways in Portland still today.”

Taking that argument to the limit, if Portland were paved in all parts a person could just drive straight to their desired coordinates and park on the very spot. People would in fact travel here just to see how awesome it was. It would be fully weird although not in the accustomed way. For instance, the Burnside skatepark would have to go.

(I acknowledge that this is not original material)

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Is it possible that the idea of a freeway cap will turn out to be the poison pill that kills the Rose Quarter Freeway Widening Project? The pretense of useful space above the freeway led to the ask for buildable caps and the notional half billion dollar cost became a billion and, I’d guess, would ultimately reach two billion. Not even ODOT could swallow that bug. I bet they are plugging away at a version of the original design and hoping that bureaucratic inertia and a distracted public will carry the thing through.

Note to LP: No, no, and no. The projects named aren’t a good use of space on the ground, of steel and concrete, of CO2 load, of public bonding capacity or even of the traffic disruption they cause in building.

carrythebanner
2 months ago

Well, my list of candidates to consider for Metro President just got one shorter. Climate denial isn’t a viable option.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

I’ll say “yes” when the I see evidence the “megaprojects” will improve the region’s emissions profile. Until then, I’m a hard “no”.

(Sorry Lynn if this makes it harder for you to position yourself for a run for governor, but now is the time to take a stand on the issue that matters more than any other. Regarding the CRC, I’d rather hold out for a good project eventually than accept a bad one now.)

J_R
J_R
2 months ago

The Portland metro region is growing. The Clark County portion is growing fast because of the tax structure (no state income tax), affordability (lower home prices), and lower property taxes. Tolling of the I-5 replacement bridge and I-205 bridge (if it is legally permissible) will have some effect on traffic volumes (they will increase somewhat less with a toll).

However, the choice not to build any traffic capacity increasing projects (e.g. Rose Quarter) will result in more traffic using arterials (MLK, Grand, 82nd, Barbur), which will in turn cause more people to use residential collectors, which will shift more traffic to greenways and local residential streets.

Motorists are so pissed off that they are speeding, blowing red lights, ignoring ramp meter signals and stop signs.

We should definitely toll roads and bridges; we should increase gas taxes; we should increase parking fees; we should promote bicycles, walking and transit. But, we should also make selective capacity improvements and safety improvements to the sections of roads where they are efficient and safe. Saying no to every highway project will not improve livability and safety of the non-motorized.

I'll Show Up
I'll Show Up
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

Adding more freeway lanes means there’s more cars on the freeway. Sure. But, they eventually take off-ramps. More cars coming in from a newly sprawling Washington due to induced demand will increase traffic on city streets.

cmh89
cmh89
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

However, the choice not to build any traffic capacity increasing projects (e.g. Rose Quarter) will result in more traffic using arterials (MLK, Grand, 82nd, Barbur), which will in turn cause more people to use residential collectors, which will shift more traffic to greenways and local residential streets.

There is an extremely simple solution to this and its called traffic diversion. You shouldn’t be able to go more than four blocks on any street in Portland that isn’t arterial, greenway or no.

And just as a heads up, not even ODOT claims the Rose Quarter builds capacity

Boyd
Boyd
2 months ago
Reply to  cmh89

Rose Quarter definitely builds capacity. ODOT just said that it doesn’t build capacity because it neatly allowed them to avoid discussing induced demand in their environmental assessment. If they hadn’t made the claim that it doesn’t build capacity, they would have had a hard time filing a FONSI with a straight face.

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

With all respect, pissed off is no way to operate a motor vehicle. Motorists anger is their problem, not mine.
Does “pissed off” excuse mishandling a gun, or committing assault? Is anybody proud of stupid stuff they’ve said or done in anger?

Take a breath before you turn the key.

Nick
Nick
2 months ago
Reply to  X

Not saying you’re wrong but it does become your problem when they hit you on your bike.

Boyd
Boyd
2 months ago
Reply to  Nick

That’s a mafia-style protection racket: I’d hate to see you get hurt. Just build us some freeway lanes and we’ll make sure that you stay nice and healthy.

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

The CRC will shift the current I-5 bottleneck south by a few miles. Check out the ODOT diagrams from the post last week. 4 new lanes across the river that will dump traffic directly onto Marine Drive. When I-5 backs up in North Portland in the mornings, people will be filtering onto Marine drive, and then onto all of our North Portland streets. The CRC is going to make life in North Portland hellish during commuting hours.

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

That’s a bit of an oversimplified way to consider traffic dynamics. Assuming that traffic will increase to the point that cars are screaming down local roads is more or less scare-mongering for highway expansion. If freeways and arterials are that congested, the most likely thing would be people simply not driving at that time.

In reality, traffic capacity projects do little to alleviate congestion. In the case of I5 in Portland, there are far too many bottlenecks, entrances and exits and restrictive alignments to ever think that the Rose Quarter project would make an appreciable difference on congestion.

Saying no to every highway project will improve the livability and safety for people – if that money is instead spent in better places that improve their lives. Spending billions to move the congested areas a few miles up or down from the Rose Quarter is just setting money on fire to appease trucking companies and suburban commuters.

RipCityBassWorks
RipCityBassWorks
2 months ago

This sure makes me much more likely to vote ‘no’ on Peterson in the 2022 election.

Ross Williams
2 months ago

If the need is real, “No” is always a temporary answer and it often leads to a much better “Yes”. You can see that with the light rail lines to Clackamas County. A good creative solution to I5’s real problems will eventually come out of a determined “No” to bad solutions that will simply make the situation worse. Part of the problem now is that the region said yes to the ill-considered decision 20 years ago to widen I5 at Lombard. That generated extra traffic both at the bridge and at the Rose Quarter.

While I understand the appeal of congestion pricing, I don’t think it really fixes the problem. It assumes that there will always be enough people who are price sensitive and will change their behavior in the way you want in order to save some money. And it assumes that the only problem exists when too many people use the bridge at the same time. But even more free flowing traffic is a problem both for the climate and for people who live in Portland.

The idea that if someone can afford it we should let them do it is not going to solve the climate problem. As an extreme example, you aren’t going to get Bill Gates out of his private jet by raising the cost. But you don’t need Bill Gates wealth to not let a toll inconvenience you.

Lynn Peterson is doing what good politicians do, trying to bring people to YES so we can move forward. As activists we can demand the project we want or no project at all, but leaders eventually need to get to 50%. That involves compromises. I certainly trust her more than most politicians to make that judgment. But just because she thinks a compromise is the best that can get done doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can and should still say “No” if we aren’t satisfied.

Peter W
Peter W
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

^ Comment of the week.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago

“Metro is doing its part by buying and restoring natural areas and parks throughout the region like Newell Creek Canyon and Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. Peterson likened these parks as part of Metro’s effort to “rebuild the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy.” “If we want to be successful in funding our transportation priorities, we have to build the base of the pyramid first.”

This is the right idea, but like her stance on freeway widening, it is off-base. Metor DOES need to provide more access, but Chehalem is an example of grossly under-delivering recreational opportunities. That park could 3-4 times the number of trails. Community members were asking for places to picnic, hike/bike in camp spots. Metro is super-focused on habitat restoration, which is good thing in and of itself, but should not be prioritized over providing access to nature within or near the UGB. With the highway mega-projects- size is everything! Expanding our freeways to double their capacity or more for SOV’s will have huge, permanent negative health impacts on all of the neighborhoods within a half mile of the whole corridor. Plus the sprawl, plus the climate change, etc.

Douglas Kelso
Douglas Kelso
2 months ago

“We can’t let ‘no’ get in the way of progress. Too many nos means Washington again pulls out of the I-5 bridge conversation… Too many nos drives up the cost of the Rose Quarter project making anything more than a bare-bones I-5 crossing infeasible. And too many nos makes it harder and harder to get a regional transportation funding measure passed.”

I’m not seeing the problem with saying “no” to bad projects. Seems to me the only way to get good projects is to kill the bad ones first.

As for congestion pricing, we should just do it. Right now. See if that really is enough to manage peak traffic. If so, we can skip the megaprojects altogether, and we’ve just freed up $billion$ in future spending that we can put into something useful.

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

If more freeway lanes are a unmitigated good, could we put one through ODOT HQ? And repeat as necessary? I mean, if it’s good for other peoples’ neighborhoods, it should be good for their offices?

A surface parking lot at 123 NW Flanders would make Portland a better place!

qqq
qqq
2 months ago

“You might hear this list and worry that the floodgates are opening for more driving. Know that we have a powerful tool at our disposal, one that I know can mitigate that concern: and that is congestion pricing.”

That seems like odd logic. In other words, “Let’s spend billions expanding the system to accommodate more vehicles. Then if we get too many vehicles, we can charge people for using it.”

Why not just use this “powerful tool” now, and eliminate the need to spend billions on expansions?

ivan
ivan
2 months ago

“… people who oppose them are getting in the way.”

I sincerely look forward to continuing to get in the way. #GoodTrouble

“…the I-5 Rose Quarter project can lead to a ‘Restored Albina neighborhood that doesn’t see Interstate 5 as a canyon but instead as an afterthought buried underneath the community.'”

I think a good way to cap the freeway and restore Albina is to cap the freeway and restore Albina.

SD
SD
2 months ago

The measure of success for Metro and ODOT leaders has been the successful execution of mega projects, which is ultimately why ODOT is so horny for highways. The question of choosing the right project or having real positive outcomes has been less import than just building stuff. If Lynn was a true leader, she would work to shift this paradigm and the old perverse incentives that don’t fit today’s needs.

Ross Williams
2 months ago

There already is congestion pricing. Anyone who is stuck in congestion is paying the full price for the congestion they are helping to create. This reality has two results. “Congestion pricing” lets those who can afford it pay in money instead of time and frustration. Those who are willing to pay in time and frustration will no longer have that choice. There are a bunch of people who aren’t willing to pay in time and frustration now and avoid congested times. Congestion pricing will let them pay money to avoid shifting their trip.

Of course there are other costs of congestion that the folks creating it don’t pay the full price for, like global warming and air pollution. But whether congestion pricing actually will reduce those costs is questionable. If it encourages people to move to auto-dependent Clark County the answer is no. Its not like the only extra trips they will be making will be across the bridge. And at the point the toll gets high enough that it discourages people from living in Washington, the political push back will force the toll down even if that means more congestion in Portland.

soren
soren
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Anyone who is stuck in congestion is paying the full price for the congestion they are helping to create.

The people in less disgustingly wealthy regions who will suffer and die as a result of ecocidal tailpipe emissions beg to differ.

The children and adults in the metro area while suffer and die prematurely due to toxic tailpipe emissions also beg to differ.

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Well, what Soren said. Every decision to operate an internal combustion device is a decision to put unpaid cost on other people. Invisible car exhaust is still there. People who by misfortune leave a car running in their attached garage, they die.

There’s evidence that reduced capacity causes some trips to just go away. Maybe it’s because some trips are not urgent and can be combined or there’s some better way to do it. We get the message a lot that motor vehicles are there to satisfy our desires. Desires are not needs.

soren
soren
2 months ago
Reply to  X

Instead of characterizing preservation of the status quo (e.g. nomorefreeways-style reformless reformism) as a win, our goal should be to rapidly and permanently evaporate traffic in urban centers.

Jared0
Jared0
2 months ago

There’s an important thing to think through about what Lynn is saying: NO is an emotionally difficult word. It drains, rather than excites.

While the “NO more freeways” people have been sharp and honest, it’s valuable to provide a viable alternative – something for people to say “Yes” to.

And when psychologically the question is framed as “do you say yes or no” it’s easier to say yes. When the question is reframed, as “Which of these investments do you say YES to?” Folks are more likely to say…

“Oh, I say YES to the one that spends billions to complete our walking network, and boosts our biking network, and improves safety, and addresses seismic.” If advocates can offer a clear package that is an alternative, and gives some clear benefits to construction industry — they might have more success.

(That’s in part what the Just Crossing folks are doing, but they might be constraining the question too much to focus on the crossing, compared to the other possible places for investment… maybe not)