This September, Portland’s City Council is holding a public hearing on the Central City Plan, which currently includes language to codify the ODOT-supported $450 million expansion of the Rose Quarter Freeway. This project will have minimal impact on Portland’s congestion woes or epidemic of traffic fatalities, and will be devastatingly consequential to 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) 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.
Click through our website to read our letter to Portland City Council that we sent on Wednesday, August 30, a list of signing organizations and individuals, our plans to testify at City Hall on September 7th, and how you can get involved.