A revised environmental assessment (EA) for the I-5 Rose Quarter project is due to be released next week. And based on an early look from activists with No More Freeways — who received a copy of the plans through a public records request — the project’s surface street design proposals are likely to raise many eyebrows.
This new EA is part of the project’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that the Oregon Department of Transportation must go through in order to get federal approval. To refresh your memory, the Federal Highway Administration rescinded their “finding of no significant impact” for the project back in January. This was in large part due to the addition of a major project element — the highway cover — that was added to the plans through a major compromise brokered by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. The new “Hybrid 3” concept gave ODOT an opportunity to refine their plans for how the freeway elements of the project connect to the surface streets.
No More Freeways co-founder Joe Cortright tells BikePortland the EA gives us our first look at several changes that, “make things worse for bikes and pedestrians in many ways.”
ODOT plan drawings show the southbound I-5 off-ramp making a u-turn and exiting directly onto N Williams Ave (above right). This new off-ramp would add to an already dangerous intersection that includes the southbound I-5 on-ramp from NE Wheeler Ave and Ramsay Way. It’s worth noting that N Williams is one of the busiest cycling corridors in the city and riders will now have to cross over two freeway ramps back-to-back. This seems like it would also make for perilous conditions for people walking back onto surface streets after large events at the nearby Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum venues.
The new proposed design would keep the existing I-5 southbound on-ramp at Ramsay (instead of from Weidler, like in the “before” image above left). The bike lane on Williams between Ramsay and Weidler be moved all the way to the right side of the street. This means northbound bicycle traffic on Williams will face two right-turn lanes at Weidler. Thankfully the plans call for a bike lane signal phase, but crossing in front of two right turn lanes is always stressful.
On a related note, on the east side of I-5, ODOT plans to add another right turn lane to the NE Weidler off-ramp. This means eastbound bicycle traffic on Weidler (which is the new route for the Green Loop) will cross over two turn lanes instead of one.
In addition to these surface street concerns, Cortright worries moving this off-ramp just creates more out-of-direction travel for car and truck drivers, and ultimately creates more opportunities for conflicts with other users due to additional turns required to access surface street routes. This is most clearly evident in the route drivers would take to reach the Moda Center parking facility. From the plans, it appears drivers using the southbound I-5 ramp would then go north on Williams, drive two blocks to Broadway then go west to Vancouver to take another left to reach the parking garage.
Drawings in the new EA also make it official that the Clackamas Overcrossing — a carfree bridge that would have gone between Clackamas Street in the Lloyd Center with Ramsay Way near Moda Center — is no longer on the table. (Note that many bike advocates felt it was nothing more than a greenwashing effort to begin with and there isn’t cycling demand at that alignment).
Cortright says No More Freeways has found shaved corners with wider turn radii at over a dozen locations and the closure of two crosswalks (“which ironically connect to the widely-ballyhooed covers” he points out).
The public comment period on the new EA will begin November 15th through January 4th (2023). There will also be a virtual public hearing on December 14th. Save these dates if you want to influence this project.
Another opportunity will come as staff from ODOT and PBOT share a presentation about this project at tomorrow’s (Tuesday, 11/8) PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting.
Below is a PDF of the full plan drawing obtained by No More Freeways through an ODOT public records request: