Opinion: 16 years after Portland’s ‘urgent’ Freeway Loop study, where has our boldness gone?

Map of Portland’s inner-city freeway loop. The 2005 Freeway Loop Advisory Group study proposed relocating the dashed segments into tunnels. (Source: the 2005 Freeway Loop Study.)

The year was 2005, and the tone was urgent.

“Clearly, the I-5/405 Freeway Loop needs immediate attention.”

“To keep the I-5/405 Freeway Loop viable, planning and design for improvements must begin now.”

“We are at a very critical juncture. It’s time to move forward.”

The blue ribbon Freeway Loop Advisory Group (FLAG), appointed by former Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Oregon Department of Transportation Director Bruce Warner, was tasked with finding strategies to surmount the increasingly apparent flaws of the inner-city’s post-World-War II freeway plan. The FLAG included representatives from ODOT, the Portland Business Alliance, the Oregon Trucking Association, TriMet, the Oregon Transportation Commission, and Metro.

This group—hardly a bunch of radicals— noted that “freeway construction, combined with urban renewal projects, divided and destroyed neighborhoods in the name of a modern transportation system.” To begin to remedy this, and to insure a prosperous future for our region, they proposed the very bold plan of removing the Marquam Bridge and relocating the southern and eastern portions of the Freeway Loop into tunnels. “Complex transportation projects can take at least 15 years from initiation to completion,” which is why they urged the planning to begin “now” (the study tends to bold the twelve occurrences of the word “now”).

Sixteen years later, where has our boldness gone?

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