What is this project? The project adds a freeway lane in each direction to I-5 between the Fremont Bridge and the I-84 interchange. In the process it will rebuild several bridges across the freeway creating some potential improvements for surface streets and development opportunities.
What will it cost? The three projects in the Portland Transportation System Plan (TSP) for this project add up to $350 million. But in briefing the Planning and Sustainability Commission, PBOT indicated $450M was a better estimate. And as we know, ODOT does not have a strong track record of delivering major projects on budget. This represents a cost of nearly $700 for every resident of the city of Portland.
Who will pay for it? The funding package may include Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) funds from the recent transportation bill, a regional bond measure and/or some form of tolling. The City of Portland also estimates contributing about $10M from its own funds.
What’s the purpose? ODOT claims this highway expansion project will mitigate existing automobile congestion during peak rush hour trips and improve “traffic safety.” However, even Portland’s BPS staff acknowledge this $450million highway expansion will have no long-lasting impact on automobile congestion during rush hour, and this stretch of highway is comparatively safe/free of serious collision compared to many other dangerous stretches of streets and highways in East Portland.
Why are you opposing this project? The history of “building your way out of congestion” is fraught with failures. We believe this project will have little impact on congestion, and the safety benefit will largely be in avoiding crashes that result in property damage or minor injuries. Meanwhile, there are too many fatalities and serious injuries on other streets in the City, like 82nd Ave, Powell and Barbur Blvd (all ODOT facilities), and the expansion of the freeway will contribute to further poor air quality from automobiles stuck in traffic. These funds should be spent in places where they will make a difference and are desperately needed, especially in East Portland. There are also a variety of much less expensive projects that could provide real choices for mobility in this corridor via transit, biking and walking.
What do you want City Council to do? We’d like Council to remove this project from the TSP as part of their consideration of the Central City Plan, and pledge to study and institute road pricing before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on freeway expansion. Doing so would force a regional conversation about the value of the project.
Why is this project part of the Central City Plan? As part of the development of the Central City Plan, the City and ODOT did a joint transportation/land use plan for the N/NE Quadrant of the Central City (primarily Lloyd District, Rose Quarter and Lower Albina). While this is a good approach to planning, it started with the flawed assumption that freeway expansion is the solution to transportation issues in the area.
How would you approach the problem? The only successful solutions to congestion have been based on pricing. Instead of using tolling as the way to pay for an expensive construction project, we’d advocate for some kind of congestion pricing system as the first step to alleviate congestion before committing hundreds of millions of dollars on a freeway widening initiative with no track record of solving the problem.
What does PBOT say about the congestion problem? PBOT says most of the benefit will come from reducing the rear-end and side-swipe crashes that sometimes tie up this part of the freeway (this is known as “non-recurring” congestion). PBOT says there will be very little benefit to “recurring congestion”, the daily backups on the freeway. This means more cars every day in this area spewing air toxins and greenhouse gases.
Won’t smoothing out these on/offramps make our highways safer? How does this project fit into the City’s stated “Vision Zero” goals? While this stretch of I-5 has a moderately high frequency of collisions, these crashes are frequently fender benders are rarely “serious” compared to the significant injuries and death Portlanders experience walking, biking and driving on busy arterials and streets in East Portland. The City of Portland adopted Vision Zero in 2015, which aims to prioritize traffic safety investments to eliminate traffic fatalities, and it’s difficult to justify a $450 million highway expansion under the auspices of “safety” when the city is struggling to find funding for cost-effective retrofits to streets like 82nd Avenue, 122nd Avenue and Outer Division will demonstrably save lives most threatened by traffic violence.
Isn’t Broadway identified as a high-crash corridor? Doesn’t this project help provide alternative bike/ped connections? The ENTIRE Broadway corridor has bike/ped safety issues. The particular area addressed by this project has already several significant improvements, and crashes on Broadway immediately near the freeway have subsequently decreased. A spot treatment in this one area does not justify the exorbitant cost of the project; the city could invest in a separated bike facility on Broadway, the Sullivans’ Gulch/npGreenway trails and other bus prioritization projects to improve safety and bike-friendliness of the corridor without spending $450 million on a highway.
Why else is this Freeway Expansion a bad idea? The City of Portland’s Mayor and Councilors have repeatedly stated their intentions for the City of Portland to lead on climate-smart policy, protecting clean air, supporting affordable housing and encouraging biking, walking and public transportation. This $450 million project is a significant investment in fossil-fuel infrastructure that will produce significantly poor air quality in North Portland, including to Harriet Tubman Middle School, adjacent to the freeway, that will be reopening as a full Middle School to Portland Public School (PPS) students in 2018.
You said “tolling”! Nobody likes tolling and isn’t it a regressive form of funding, with unfair impacts on lower income drivers? The legislature has mandated that ODOT look at pricing as a tool for this project. Whether we do it first or do it last, it’s likely to be part of this project. Equity absolutely has to be part of any congestion pricing program. That could mean lower prices or some form of rebates for lower income drivers. But an important benefit of pricing first (rather than to pay off construction) is the ability to generate funds that can help pay for transportation projects (like more effective transit) that provide lower cost transportation options to communities that need them the most.
How can I have a way in this? City Council is holding a public hearing on September 7th; please consider testifying in person, submitting written testimony to the City, and/or adding your name to our letter cosigned organizations and advocates asking for Portland City Council to reconsider a $450 million highway expansion.