The Oregon Department of Transportation is proposing a $500 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. 40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions come from transportation; it’s the only sector of our economy where emissions are growing, and all experts believe the only way to decarbonize our transportation sector is to significantly reduce vehicle miles travelled, particularly within the Portland Metro Area. Spending half a billion dollars on freeway widening when we have barely a decade left to make transformative changes to stave off the worst of climate change is intergenerational theft, and robs us of the opportunity to meaningfully invest in biking, walking, and public transportation.
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 $500 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. We have organized testimony at numerous hearings at local, regional, and state government agencies, including the City of Portland, ODOT hearings, Metro, and the Oregon Transportation Commission. We helped turn out over 2200 comments in opposition to the project during the Environmental Assessment public comment period in the spring of 2019, and our coalition debunked the blatantly false traffic projections ODOT used to justify the project.