ODOT gets additional $120 million for ballooning I-205 freeway expansion budget

Slide from this morning’s Oregon Transportation Commission meeting.

At the Portland City Council meeting yesterday where 82nd Avenue was officially transferred from state to city hands, the regional director of the Oregon Department of Transportation Rian Windsheimer said, “We simply haven’t had the funding to truly transform the roadway from that important highway function… into the city boulevard the community’s been asking for.”

The truth is ODOT has plenty of money, they have just chosen to spend it on other things.

After years of pushing from the community, ODOT finally coughed up $70 million to help make the 82nd Avenue transfer happen. For constrast, at today’s meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission, state transportation department staff asked for an increase of $120 million to pay for their I-205 project that will widen seven miles of the freeway and replace the Abernethy Bridge. (The OTC had already allocated $375 million to this project in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).)

The reason for the increase is that bids from construction firms came back higher than expected. In meeting documents, ODOT says, “The primary reason for the higher than anticipated bids are the escalation of the steel and high performance concrete unit prices… Steel cost came in significantly higher than anticipated due to fear of continued escalation and inflation due to the geopolitical risks and expected USA inflation rates.”

The project will cost an estimated $495 million.

How will we pay this extra $120 million? House Bill 3055.

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If that rings a bell it’s because many people raised the alarm about that bill when it was being discussed in the 2021 legislative session. In June 2021 we shared a guest opinion from Clackamas County resident and transportation activist Cassie Wilson. Wilson, who was recently hired by The Street Trust, called the bill a “freeway widening slush fund” that, “will rob us of desperately needed revenue for road maintenance and safety improvements while literally stoking the flames of the impending climate crisis.”

Youth climate activists with Sunrise PDX were so alarmed by the potential of HB 3055 that they added it to their list of demands for ODOT and rallied in Salem in an attempt to influence Governor Kate Brown. The bill was also strongly opposed by No More Freeways.

Despite all this, the bill pass and was signed by the Governor on July 27th.

The bill allows ODOT to increase its short-term borrowing cap from $100 to $600 million and allows ODOT to take out short-term debt that will be repaid by toll revenue or the proceeds of bonds. In short, the concerns voiced over HB 3055 have come to life just nine months after it passed.

We don’t dispute that more money is needed to pay for this project. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that these projects — that take Oregon in the opposite direction we need to go for all of our environmental, transportation, and livability goals — are very expensive and $120 million more is being spent on this project without anyone really batting an eye.

You very likely haven’t heard anything about this price increase until reading this post. At this morning’s OTC meeting no one spoke in opposition to the cost increase and it passed unanimously.

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Jared0
Jared0
9 months ago

20 minute agenda item to spend another $120,000,000.

This is the scam of how huge projects work – you underproject the cost, then get them moving, and then keep asking for more money and people feel they can’t say no.

Since Robert Moses that’s been the scam.

Don’t think this is the last time they’ll ask for more money for this project.

Austin
Austin
9 months ago

Imagine what TriMet can do with $495 million! TriMet could build two new Frequent Express rapid transit lines on TV Highway and 82nd. Or even dramatically increase and improve bus service.

Allan Rudwick
9 months ago
Reply to  Austin

the entire Portland bike plan (for 2030) was supposed to cost $600M.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

As it turned out, PBOT spent far less.

bbcc
bbcc
9 months ago

I could stomach an I-205 expansion if it was billed as a first step to absorb traffic from I-5 after we remove all freeways from our central city. I see no reason for freeway traffic to go right through the middle of Portland. Expanding both I-5 & I-205 at once makes this feel like such a gut punch.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
9 months ago
Reply to  bbcc

No freeway through Portland?? Really, and what will the businesses do?
Do what you suggest, and downtown will become a ghost town.

wheelwing
wheelwing
9 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Um, is that supposed to be sarcasm? I can’t quite read the tone. Do a little research and you might find that “on average the construction of one interstate highway through a central city caused an 18% drop in that city’s population” — there’s your ghost town.

On the flip side, “every in-city highway removal has improved economic, environmental, and social opportunities for the local community

bbcc
bbcc
9 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Most Portlanders commute downtown via means other than the freeway. The minority who need to drive alone could do so on surface streets.

I just want what Vancouver, BC has: a town that isn’t bisected by a grade-separated freeway. Maybe nobody told them that their downtown should be a ghost town as a result?

Chris I
Chris I
9 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Vancouver, BC has no central freeway. Businesses are doing just fine.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Even the Wall Street bros manage to get to the office without a freeway.

And yes, if we must waste money on freeways, how about a good idea like bulldozing.

ODOT buck sacks
ODOT buck sacks
9 months ago

How about a state measure requiring that any freeway project over $50 million be referred to a statewide vote? A provision would forbid breaking up projects to avoid the law. Time to kick ODOT in the money sacks where it hurts and save the planet.

soren
soren
9 months ago

Blaming ODOT while voting for democrats…

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
9 months ago
Reply to  soren

And Republicans wouldn’t throw money at freeways….??

ODOT and most state DOTs, seem untouchable by politics, voting, economics, reason, etc…. as long as they keep adding lanes…

soren
soren
9 months ago

ODOT and most state DOTs, seem untouchable by politics,

Brown and the legislature literally dictated highway expansion and an ecocidal laser focus on SUV/Truck/(car)-based transportation to the pencil pushers at ODOT.

Dan A
Dan A
9 months ago

LOL. How could we have possibly known they would go way over budget? Oh right, because they always do. The RQ boondoggle was also underestimated by ~$300 million (that we know of, so far). Oopsy!

Roberta
Roberta
9 months ago

I think what is often under reported is how much time ODOT staffers spend (paid for by tax payers) drafting their own bills and lobbying for them in Salem to pay for whatever they want to build. They hold the entire legislative conversation hostage by them presenting only the solutions they want to build. ODOT doesn’t report all the hours they spend lobbying elected officials. They call it ‘educating’ legislature, more like propaganda.

This is why you can’t trust anybody in Salem, especially the progressives. Especially the state unions who only care about “number of jobs” created.

This is where Karen Powers dropped the ball and refused to go to bat against this bill. Everybody but Tina Kotek voted for it. (However, as Speaker of the House she could have sat on the bill and not distributed it to committees).

Nor did I see anybody from the Street Trust going to bat against this bill. Yeah, sure it’s nice getting these fluffy articles after the fact, but when sh!t h!ts the fan in Salem you cannot count on the Street Trust OR AVT to accomplish ANYTHING at the state level beside funnel some of that money into their own coffers.

The Republicans made better allies in Salem then the above progressives in combatting the overreach of state agencies and employees in lobbying efforts in Salem. It really is a lobbying scam, paid for by tax dollars, what these ODOT staffers are doing under Bob and the attorneys on the OTC.

So really I don’t trust any of them. They will do whatever it takes to keep more money rolling to ODOT and they have teams of attorneys who really don’t care about the climate crisis nor are they required by law to make it a priority.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. 🙂

But seriously, I’m no fan of your bothsides-ism here. Yes, the Dems are guilty of ignoring the climate crisis for the sake of family-wage-paying jobs, but Repubs never met a road project they didn’t like. If they were in charge you’d have an eight-lane freeway running thru Forest Park.

soren
soren
9 months ago
Reply to  Fred

your bothsides-ism

The Logic of Lesser Evilism:

https://rall.com/comic/hillary-clinton-lesser-evilism

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
9 months ago

Can I have a trimet stop at 28th. No, but we can add a lane to a freeway for you