The Oregon Department of Transportation is proposing a $450 million, 1.8 lane-mile expansion of Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter between the Fremont Bridge (I-405) and the Banfield Freeway (I-84). This exorbitantly costly freeway expansion proposal would be funded through money set aside in HB 2017, the statewide transportation package that passed through Oregon’s legislature in June of 2017.
This project will have minimal impact on Portland’s congestion woes (which are undeniably bad, and getting worse) or epidemic of traffic fatalities (ditto), despite ODOT’s claims. Additionally, spending half a billion dollars on this freeway expansion has a significant opportunity cost on our ability to invest in transportation systems that actually support Portland’s stated goals to lead on climate, provide cleaner air, support healthy communities, build infrastructure for affordable housing and invest resources equitably across the city. The project, immediately adjacent to a soon-to-reopen middle school in inner North Portland, misallocates nearly half a billion dollars (twice the revenue raised by the recent affordable housing bond, and seven times the 2016 gas tax) for a project that even its proponents ultimately admit will not achieve significant return on investment.
We acknowledge that the project includes positive aspects to the surrounding neighborhood, including a potential “cap” of the freeway and improved street grid connections torn out during a 1960s urban renewal initiative. However, it’s counterproductive for Portland to make these improvements as the expense of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on an investment in increased lane miles of freeway. Not a single urban freeway expansion in North America has ever solved the problem of congestion, due to a concept that urban planners call “induced demand.” Why are city leaders willing to spend $450 million betting that somehow, the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion will be any different?
The only policy initiative that has ever had a demonstrable impact on peak congestion is road pricing. We hope to see the City of Portland lead and work with regional partners towards adopting a deliberate, community-minded approach to road pricing before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a twentieth century solution for a twentieth century problem. Road pricing policy, if drafted appropriately, can be equitable, cost-effective, and sustainability-minded; expanding an urban freeway at a time in which 40% of Portland’s carbon emissions come from transportation can be none of these things.
No More Freeway Expansions as a coalition grew out of community concern for this proposal. Our initial letter to Portland City Hall on August 30th was subsequently signed by over 450 450 community members and dozens of nonprofits representing environmental, transportation, public health, equity, climate, and neighborhood advocates.