Let's put the East Bank freeway in a tunnel

By Ronald A. Buel of Portland, Oregon. Ron is a longtime progressive activist in Portland.

Below please find some of the language of the resolution of Commissioner Sam Adams and Mayor Tom Potter approved in a 4-0 vote last month at Portland City Council, with Randy Leonard absent on his bio-diesel trip.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council directs the Bureau of Planning, Portland Development Commission, and PDOT to examine, as part of the I-5/405 Master Plan, the long term vision for the Eastbank Freeway, and specifically, whether a tunnel can address the Central Eastside land use, economic development, urban design, and transportation needs.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council directs the Central City Plan update, under the direction of the Bureau of Planning, and Central City Transportation Management Plan update, under the direction of PDOT, to include a framework for land uses, riverfront and development for the I-5/405 Freeway Master Plan.

Importantly, the resolution calls for a public participation process, so options for tunneling and a river crossing can be narrowed down and shaped with public input. The central city plan update is the perfect venue for this "look" to continue to occur, because it can consider land use, economic development, urban design, livability, the environment AND transportation, not just highway transportation demand alone. The Mayor and Council are to be commended, in the first place, for deciding to update the 20-year-old Central City Plan. Things have changed dramatically in the City in the last 20 years, so the plan needs to be up-dated.

This resolution came at the end of a three-year process in the Freeway Loop Advisory Group, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Mayor Vera Katz to look at the loop. Vera’s presence also guided the group on several occasions. Nohad Toulan, the Dean Emeritus of the PSU Urban Studies Program, masterfully steered the group to a consensus represented by a report, and by the resolution language above.

Riverfront for People has been working on reshaping the East Bank Freeway for 20 years now. We believe putting the East Bank Freeway in a tunnel and creating a new river crossing will:

It takes a lot of courage for Portland’s City Council to support this resolution in the face of significant behind-the-scenes opposition. Where does this opposition come from and what are its tactics and beliefs?

First, there’s the Oregon Freight Association. The Freight Association refuses to recognize that the real problem it faces on our central city freeway loop is auto commuter traffic, with one person in a car. Look at the freeways in Tokyo, a city of 20 million people, where I lived for six months. More than 50% of the vehicles on Tokyo freeways are carrying freight in support of a just-in-time delivery system, even at rush hour (our numbers in Portland are closer to 10%). Where are the people commuting to their jobs in Central Tokyo if they are not in cars on freeways? Tokyo commuters are taking the world’s best urban, grade-separated train grid, much of it in subways. In addition, many people live in central Tokyo itself, near those rail lines. Portland must develop a two-part strategy of enabling workers to live in the central city by expanding housing in the Central City, and building a high-capacity transit system. Without such an effort, and with 1,000,000 more people moving to the Portland region in the next 25 years, it becomes futile to try to build a freeway system that will not be congested. It’s like trying to go on a diet by loosening your belt. For one thing, there is not enough federal transportation money to expand freeway capacity sufficiently, what with Bush’s Iraq War. We are half as dense as Vancouver B.C. and twice as dense as Seattle. To work as a central city, instead of becoming simply an interchange for regional commuter traffic, we must become more like Vancouver B.C. and less like Seattle. It’s time for the Freight Association to wake up and realize where its interest really lies.

What the Mayor and Council like to call "our regional partners" are also significant opponents of spending federal transportation money in the Central City. I am not speaking of Metro Executive David Bragdon or the Metro councilors, most of whom see the big picture and are trying to plan for it. I am talking about the local city and county politicians in East Multnomah County, Washington County, Clackamas County and, especially, in Clark County across the Columbia River. These folks want the federal transportation money in the region, dispensed through JPACT regionally and ODOT on a statewide basis, to go to a new Columbia crossing, to the Sunrise Corridor in East Multnomah and Clackamas County, to widening 217 (a favorite project of Congressman David Wu), to building the Newberg/Dundee Bypass from I-5 out toward Spirit Mountain, and to the Westside Bypass with a third crossing through Forest Park and over the Columbia River. The main result of their highway-building programs is political benefit with their constituents who face the awful, time-eating congestion on our freeway system today, congestion that is only going to get worse without a high-capacity transit system and workforce housing in the Central City. Highway building encourages urban sprawl, now that Ballot Measure 37’s passage fundamentally weakens our urban growth boundary. These suburban politicians are quite happy to build out instead of up. Bye-Bye Western Washington County Farmland. To eradicate the blight that are the East Bank Freeway and the Marquam Bridge with tunnel and/or new bridge, the Portland City Council, Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams and Mayor Tom Potter are going to have to recognize that they have a fight on their hands, that all is not sweetness or light with their "regional partners" when you seek federal transportation money. You must gather your forces, sharpen your arguments, and compete to get in the transportation funding cue.

Finally, the opponents of a new vision for the East Bank Freeway are certain businessmen who have interests in seeing the loop serve them better in the short term. Particularly on the East Side, they want a number of short-term projects to proceed. First, there is the bottleneck that is the I-5-to-Banfield interchange, particularly the weave at the Rose Garden exit from I-5. Then there’s the fly ramp off the Marquam Bridge to the South. Then there’s a North-South interchange to the freeway loop in the Central Eastside. These projects all have their own merit, and their problems. Their costs, never mentioned when one is advocating for a project, are in the hundreds of millions. We see them occurring under-ground, where it’s a lot easier, and less damaging to the cityscape, to increase highway capacity and efficiency. Indeed, capacity can be added and congestion in the loop can be significantly reduced with a tunnel system, and with minimal aboveground impact and no significant takings.

The tactics of the opponents are frequently hidden. They don’t want to face the arguments in the light of day – no good lobby effort does.

Fortunately, we have enlightened leaders in the City of Portland and at Metro who see the big picture, and want to plan responsibly and wisely for our future. Don’t buy into these opposition arguments as the Central City Plan Update ensues. Participate in the public process and help us see that Portland becomes a Great City, not just an interchange for regional traffic.

Comments

  • Anonymous (unverified)
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    Sounds great. Can we be sure to hire the same company that did the Big Dig in Boston?

    That way we can not only be over-budget, we can kill a few people as well.

  • askquestions (unverified)
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    Why is this even remotely "progressive" about this plan, in any meaningful sense of that term?

    What important social needs facing us now or in the future does this project actually address?

    And, in the absence of any serious analysis of the cost and benefits, why is this not simply another example of the whackadoodle contingent showing why we are becoming increasingly irrelevant as a region in terms of providing guidance on solving the real problems facing our nation and our region?

    And why do I get the feeling that there may be a reflection of the childish Seattle-Portland rivalry involved here, as Seattle has been going through an inane exercise for several years now of trying to put the 99W viaduct in a tunnel rather than already get on with the more fiscally sound (and for that reason increasingly inevitable) approach of just rebuilding and repairing the viaduct to save resources for more important things?

    Finally, why is it that pseudo-progressives always blame opposition to proposals like this, which have little grounding in the reality of the challenges the cities in our region actually face, on folks who ask for facts and figures?

    Here's one example: How would undergrounding an existing limited access highway in any way deal with congestion - one of the key "reasons" this Buel cites - on that highway? (Presuming, of course, that the plan is not to simply build another highway right on top of it to double the capacity of the corridor.) And why is it "hiding" from debate to ask about the costs of operating a tunnel (yes, they have to be operated because they have mechanical systems like lighting and ventilation) and dealing with the unique safety issues of tunnels relative to the existing highway?

    Here's another: Although proponents disparage the rights of those outside PDX to even comment about a PDX project, what level of federal and state funding from folks outside the region will this project require? Why should those folks not be entitled to at least examine and criticize the rationality of such a plan? (I'm not talking here about a right to veto regional projects such as this. Look again to Seattle for the growing-up lessons the Seattle pro-tunnel contingent is learning.)

    I'm not one of those mysterious unnamed "businessmen who have interests in seeing the loop serve them better in the short term". And by the way, don't you think Buel has some other "progressive" businessmen in the tunneling, construction, development, and other business communities on his pro-tunnel side? So I'm wondering what someone like Buel, whose "vision" seems anything but clear or progressive to me based on the facts, would conspiratorally claim the hidden agenda and tactics are of average folks like me who feel that the only way these kinds of loopy ideas should be evaluated is in terms of the resources they require and potentially divert from other real problems we need to solve right now?

    That is who ALL the winners and losers (and how much) are in such a massive project?

    No, if this screed is an accurate reflection of the marketing plan by the pro-tunnel proponents, I think we need to look at them as the ones with the hidden agendas, disingenuous tactics, outright intellectual dishonesty, and frankly, addled brains.

    But what's new about that in PDX?

  • Jonathan (unverified)
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    While I realize this would free up the eastside for development and revitalization (which is already happening), much of the gain from this huge public investment would be had by the people who owned the property nearby. It's almost like a reverse Measure 37 thing in my mind -- if government has to pay when regulations decrease property value, why should a few owners get massive profit from a huge public investment.

    If the question was simply: "Don't you wish the freeways had been built underground?" I'd say yes. But if the question is: "Should we spend billions of dollars doing that?" The answer is "no."

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    Why is this even remotely "progressive" about this plan, in any meaningful sense of that term? What important social needs facing us now or in the future does this project actually address?

    I haven't decided about this tunnel idea yet, but the proponents of this idea - of which there are many, and for many years - argue that the presence of the freeway on our riverbank and rushing through the heart of our city harms the social fabric of our community.

    By moving it underground (or, as some argue, simply removing the freeway and bridge starting where 405 splits off northbound to where 84 emerges eastbound) we would reclaim a massive portion of our central city.

    We'd have shops and restaurants and parks, to be sure, but most of all it'd be a walkable neighborhood with access to the river. In short, imagine the Westside riverbank blocks - duplicated on the Eastside. Compare that to the nasty mess that's there now.

    Keep in mind that we've already done this. There used to be a freeway where Waterfront Park is now. There can be no doubt that it led to massive economic redevelopment - but more importantly, to a great improvement in the livability of our community.

  • KISS (unverified)
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    Another monument to insanity..can we name it the money pit? What are these crazies smoking? Oh well they seem to get away with anything and after the voters spoke in the last election the citizen deserve everything they get. Glad I no longer live in the land of milk and money. What method of tram financing are they going to hood wink the morons..er citizens?

  • MCT (unverified)
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    And when there is a significant earthquake like the big one they say is inevitable? Imagine the multiplied loss of life in side that tunnel, and the complications of rebuilding.

    I'd have to agree we have more pressing social needs to address.

    Not to mention that the "nasty mess" over there on the east side represents jobs, revenue, and taxes.....someone has to do the dirty work. Unless you can figure out a way to do away with those offensive blue collar workers. We could send them all to college so they could buy some suits and work in the west side downtown core.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    I'd love to see a freeway built underground. Too bad it's unrealistic. Traffic here is already becoming "Seattle South" and so removing a large portion of the roadway is also unrealistic. Access to the SE side of Portland is already a nightmare during rush hour. I'd love to see a plan that would actually work. The tunnel idea is a nice idea but we have a really good example of what happens when they actually attempt it. How long has that thing taken?

  • Daaaaave (unverified)
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    Both the pros and cons of this plan remind me a lot of the plans to cap 405. Since that idea never made it off the ground as far as I'm aware and since this project looks exponently larger in scope, could someone with a better grasp on the details than I explain what the differences are and why this larger project should be prioritized over the former 405 scheme?

  • Liz (unverified)
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    I would love to have the freeway put into a tunnel. We've seen it in many, many cities and it does revitalize the area. An environmental and aesthetic improvment on the east side of the river sounds great to me. However, I recognize the cost seems prohibitive. San Francisco has revitalized their embarcadero area with very positive results. How do other states achieve success with these big vision works projects? Costs are there, but they also mean more jobs for Oregonians both during construction and after, when we draw more tourists and development in the area.

    But in terms of overall priorities for Oregon, I guess I would rather get everyone educated and healthy.

  • RKM (unverified)
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    Bury that Sucker! (and 405 while you're at it)

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    I'd like to hear people's thoughts on the alternative to the tunnel: Getting rid of that piece of freeway altogether.

    Basically, as I understand the idea... Traveling from the South, at the point where I-5 North and I-405 North diverge, you'd get rid of the Markham Bridge, and all of I-5 up to the point where it diverges with I-84 East.

    (You'd renumber I-405 back to I-5, and I-84 would extend all the way up to Fremont Bridge, but that's just signage.)

    In short, every car traveling North on I-5 through the city would no longer go over the Markham, but would go up the 405 and then over the Fremont and then Northbound. For I-5 drivers who want to go I-84 East, they go north, then over the Fremont, then dip back South past the Rose Garden and head Eastbound.

    I'm not completely sold on this idea either - but it creates the benefits of the tunnel idea, with probably 1/10 of the cost - since you're just removing a freeway and a bridge, not digging a tunnel and rebuilding a freeway.

    It would also have the effect of removing the Markham eyesore - and connecting downtown to South Waterfront and beyond.

    What do you think?

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)
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    I oppose both putting I-5 in a tunnel, and removing it. Maybe after the streets are paved in areas of the city annexed 30+ years ago. Maybe after all streets designated as "City Walkways" and "Safe Routes to Schools" have sidewalks. But even then, such a project would be highly disruptive to existing businesses, and make it much more likely the Central Eastside Industrial District will gentrify and lose many family-wage jobs by conversion to offices and housing.

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    Posted by: MCT | Nov 16, 2006 10:42:11 AM

    What you you babbling about?

    Almost ALL loss of life in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in S.F. was caused by bridge failures (Okland-Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway) and NONE have ever been caused by tunnel collapse. Heysus-Fin-Christ... I have rarely seen such ridiculous chicken-little non-think as some have posted in this thread.

    That said, the only serious question I have about the premise is, how will a tunnel improve congestion issues?

    UNless there is an increase in number of lanes with a wider tunnel than the current bridge configuration accommodates, I don;t see how this will improve traffic and congestion issues. The other main points, improved environmental and redevelopment issues are fine, but the issue of actually addressing transportation IMPROVEMENT of cross-river vehicular traffic doesn't seem to be presented here. Granted I have not looked hard at this proposal at all, and so perhaps that issue is addressed within the proposal, but I don't see it articulated here.

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    Posted by: Kari Chisholm | Nov 16, 2006 12:22:16 PM

    I don't think that really resolves anything and would actually make it worse. As it is, there are in total 4 lanes going north (2 via the bridge, 2 going up the 405) to get through the city via freeway towards Washington. Removing the bridge means you shove all that same (and increasing) traffic into two lanes which already congest because of the merge then peal off to get onto Sunset highway.

    I think it would make the problems MUCH worse to be honest.

    The real problem from a traffic stand-point is there are basically only 2 lanes going north over the river form I-5 and the 405/I-5 thunderdome merge to get the I-5 to I-84 traffic to basically cross over all the 405 eastbound bridge traffic. If the tunnel proposal increases the number of north and south bound lane capacity (say to 4 lanes each way for each feeder route).

    At least that was my take as a former daily commuter between NE Portland and Wilsonville (since moved to Tigard to make my commute less than 10 mins).

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    This is an outstanding idea!

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Kerry -

    Removing the freeway would require some changes to move all the traffic to I-405. For instance, Reducing the number of interchanges on that part of the loop would substantially increase its capacity. But it would also reduce the access points into and out of downtown, channeling traffic onto fewer local streets.

    The real problem, however, is that you are left with a railroad track which is much more difficult to move or remove than the freeway. And most of the benefits Ron talks about aren't realized with a train track running through the middle. You still can't easily connect to the river and living next to a train whistle is only romantic for a while - a rather short while.

    The larger question is whether this is the best use of limited funds. And that depends on how the money will be spent more than how it can be spent. As Ron points out, there are a bunch of projects on the region's plate that will increase traffic and congestion while encouraging even more auto-dependent development. But, depending on how it is built, the tunnel may create those same results. Adding freeway capacity in one congested location almost inevitably moves the congestion somewhere else.

    Amanda has some ideas for alternatives on how the money might be spent, but frankly it is highly doubtful it will be spent that way. Those are not projects likely to get a federal earmark. A tunnel under the river would probably require one.

    My own view is that Portland ought to be looking to the freeway-free future rather than investing in perpetuating its auto dependence. The east bank freeway would be a good place to start transforming freeways into multi-modal parkways. It would improve access to the central eastside, provide better throughput for traffic and create a quality environment for the esplanade and surrounding communities.

  • Terry (unverified)
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    I'm with Kari. Tear down the Marquam Bridge and Eastside I-5. Both are eyesores and have been forever. I'm no traffic engineer, but it seems plausible that with a few on/off ramp improvements I-405 could handle all North-South traffic.

    Freeways inevitably cause congestion, so the fewer of them the better.

    BTW, I seem to remember when this was proposed years ago, then City Council member Earl Blumenauer, who went on to make a name for himself as a "smart growth" expert, was opposed to it. He said something like, We don't need to demolish a freeway just for another downtown park."

  • Marco (unverified)
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    I agree, just get rid of it. The tunnel is a disaster.

    It's a mistake with freeways to think that you need to replace the capacity. The city will absorb it just fine, in more desirable ways. The removal of Harbor Drive from the western waterfront is a great example.

    I-5 does two things for/to Portland. It moves freight, and it allows people to live farther away and commute to Portland to work.

    The first benefit, freight, is very important to the region. Any solution should protect freight.

    The other function, the commute, actually hurts Portland. Property values would be much higher and business much busier if activity was more contained in the city.

    Suburbs may be acting rationally to promote freeways, but inner cities should consider them as a double-edged sword at best.

    Tear it down, and give the trucks a dedicated lane moving in and out of town.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Here's some points to consider about I-5 and the tunnel proposal.

    1. Congestion can be reduced in a tunnel/trench/replacement freeway without increasing the number of through lanes. Many of the congestion problems on I-5 now are caused by forced merges, short approaches, cross merges, and other inconsistencies. A rebuilt freeway should improve the access designs, preventing congestion and accidents and aiming for consistency rather than simply increased lane capacity.

    2. Safety: Tunnels are generally safer in earthquakes than elevated structures. Much of the eastbank I-5 is currently elevated.

    3. Costs compared to widening the current eastbank I-5... look at an aerial map of I-5 today, it is crossed by dozens of overpasses and is carried by many segments of elevated structure. To widen it would require significant removal/reconstruction of most overpasses and viaducts including the approaches to the Fremont bridge. Thus, it is not unrealistic to consider alternative alignments including relatively expensive ones such as a tunnel, because the fix-in-place option is expensive and disruptive as well.

    4. Bob R.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    People have been talking about moving that section of I-5 for as long as I can remember. I heard Ron Buell give his dog and pony show at a City Club Growth Management committee meeting a few years ago and wasn't impressed with the idea of the underground freeway then. He had three options, one of which was just taking out the freeway, as Kari has mentioned (though I don't believe endorsed).

    Aside from the cost, which would be staggering and of course, underestimated, here's what makes me highly suspicious of this proposal: the central east side is the last gritty, blue collar area in town. Yeah, there's clarkelewsi restaurant there now, and some trendy tile stores, but there still are a bunch of small light manufacturing businesses or specialty distributors and retailers. There still are places with affordable rents for a small business to start. We need old funky areas to function as incubators for entrepreneurs.

    Buell's Powerpoint presentation had a number of architectural streetscapes that showed cafes and mixed use buildings that looked just like the Pearl or South Waterfront. I kind of like the Pearl, but we don't need another one. We really can't afford to lose this area to creeping yuppification.

    Most the proponents of moving the freeway seem to come from the west side of the Willamette. I think they just want a nicer view from their condos or homes in the West Hills.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Most the proponents of moving the freeway seem to come from the west side of the Willamette. I think they just want a nicer view from their condos or homes in the West Hills.

    I think that is unfair. Many of the proponents, including Ron Buel, live on the east side.

    The nature of the Central Eastside is changing in any case. Many of the new businesses are more creative and less manufacturing although they still need industrial work spaces. Its not clear that it will remain blue collar oriented regardless of what happens with the freeway.

    We need old funky areas to function as incubators for entrepreneurs.

    I agree. But the reality is those areas never stay funky because the successful businesses transform them.

    I also think removing the freeway in some form is inevitable. This is a door people will keep knocking on until someone opens it. That riverfront is just too valuable to be used the way it is now.

  • a Libertarian (unverified)
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    "Another monument to insanity..."

    Exactly. Every day of my life I regret and revile this "waterfront park" which has dominated the West Bank of downtown Portland. In place of gleaming acres of bitumonous asphalt, a toxic stew of cancerous hydrocarbons leaching toxic oil and gas runoff into the filthy Willamette river, we... hide these cars in a trenched highway. For what, you might ask?

    For a PARK. And what, pray tell, does a park give us? Dog shit, I say. Homeless bums, cretins of the earth, lounging around. Couples out strolling in the daytime - when they might be chained to a desk, slaving away in a cubicle. This disgusting waste of taxpayer money - does it make money? Does it generate property taxes?! NO! To the contrary; it even costs money for upkeep!

    The stinking masses of society should be ashamed of itself for desiring such disgusting displays of lewd and shameful pleasure. For shame, for shame - For a gleaming, economically driven highway I dream.

    Bah, Portland will have its way. In years to come, Portlanders - filthy, vile, anti-business creatures, will joyously proclaim their love for the river and let their children run around in grass and trees, berift from the threat of being run over by a car.

    Apparently it's back to LA for me. I might give the city another chance once you smarten up and turn your Forest Park into a rock quarry and auto dealership. Until then...

  • Grant (unverified)
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    Keep in mind that once removing or submerging the freeway really begins to move foward, it will take a minimum 10 years before construction even begins. The EIS process in Boston began in the early 1980s.

    If I understand it correctly, Blumenauer opposed the tunnel idea so that scarce federal money could be applied to west side MAX. (in operation since 1998)

    And even if we bury the freeway, the train tracks are still there. And Haz-Mat issues make burying the train line much more complicated, if not impossible.

  • Brian (unverified)
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    a few thoughts...

    1. any expectation that the federal government will fund all or most of this project through a congressional earmark is a pipe dream. the highway trust fund will be bankrupt by 2009 and with the boomers retiring and the cost of Bush's Iraq disaster leading to record deficits, we will be lucky to just get enought money from the feds to help maintain the roads we have now. If this tunnel project is to move forward it will have to be almost entirely funded locally.

    2. the region has over $7 billion worth of road projects in the planning pipeline that have no funding for construction. we should be paring down this huge unfunded list not adding more and bigger projects. Fortunately, many of the projects are stinkers and should be eliminated.

    3. I agree with Amanda. Let fix what we already have and invest in safer streets and sidewalks in our neighborhoods.

    4. Just eliminating I-5 would be a disaster for downtown. Portlanders want their downtown to be the hub of the region economically and culturally yet they seem to resent the unwashed suburbanites who commute into the central city every day. These worker are great for downtown and we should celebrate the fact that they spend their working hours and money in downtown rather than some suburban office park. It is what makes Portland a vital and successful city. Eliminating access to downtown will simply move more jobs and workers (and their money) to the suburbs.

    5. I agree that the original decision to build I-5 on the waterfront was a horrible mistake but I can't imagine any realistic scenario to move or eliminate it.

  • DrEvil (unverified)
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    Really? I can think of two!

    1) 6.5+ earthquake flattens it in one go. Cheapest option

    2) 270 tons of TNT

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Brian -

    I am not sure where you are getting your information, but it does not appear to be very accurate:

    1) The highway trust fund is just a fancy name for the receipts from the federal gas tax. It can't go bankrupt because it only spends as much as it takes in.

    2) There is not enough to maintain the roads we have now. That is not stopping anyone from building new ones instead. Because the lifespan of these investments is so long, the impact of those decisions might not be noticed for another 50 years. Long after the politicians making them will care.

    3) There is no way the project can be built with local money. The federal match for these kinds of projects has been about 90% of the money. No one is going to come up with 10 times the local match it would take to do it locally.

    4) Eliminating the portion of I5 on the east bank of the Willamette would have almost no impact on auto access to downtown. It handles traffic trying to avoid downtown, not get there. Transforming it into a multi-modal boulevard would actually improve access to both downtown and the central eastside.

    If I understand it correctly, Blumenauer opposed the tunnel idea so that scarce federal money could be applied to west side MAX. (in operation since 1998)

    I don't think the idea was a tunnel at that time. The idea was to move the freeway further east.

  • Garlynn (unverified)
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    While the tunnel idea sounds fab... I think I'd have to side with the folks advocating for complete I-5 eradication on the eastside. I like the proposal to keep a portion of the Marquam as a sculpture, monument, perhaps outdoor park & market... and get rid of the rest of it.

    As far as I can tell, I-405 through downtown could actuall be upgraded to three through lanes in each direction, plus auxiliary lanes for the exits, if a couple of on- and off-ramps are removed. The way I see it, this could basically be one large phased project:

    1: Cap I-405, in the process removing some of the exits and upgrading it to three through lanes in each direction. (This might be a good opportunity to study making that third lane a High Occupancy Toll lane, or some other limited-access lane, though I'm not necessarily saying that these are good options -- it would just be a window of opportunity.) 2: Once I-405 has been sufficiently upgraded, remove I-5 from the East Bank. Demolish the part of the Marquam that is not slated to remain, remove the freeway from the east bank as well as all of the exits, and re-route I-84 such that two lanes in each direction flow towards the Fremont Bridge and I-5 North. Re-brand I-405 as I-5. 3: In the room created by the removal of I-5 from the East Bank, dig a big ditch and create a new underground R-O-W for through rail traffic, extending from the Steel Bridge to somewhere around Division Street. 4: Perform HazMat cleanup of the entire area 5: One lane in each direction from I-84 would flow towards a new East Bank transportation system -- either a new one-way couplet or a new parkway (ala Naito Parkway). Personally, I'd prefer to see a one-way couplet with a block of development in the middle, as I think that traffic would flow better on a couplet, and it would be better for development. The couplet/parkway would extend from the Convention Center area down to OMSI. 6. The couplet/parkway could potentially link up with a new Caruthers Crossing Bridge, which would probably have a lane (two max) of auto traffic in each direction, light rail/streetcar, and wide bike/ped paths on each side. 7. Fill in the remaining developable land with... extensions of the eastside street grid, new development, parks, daylighted creeks, bicycle/pedestrian paths, etc. Perhaps a few skinny towers, but mainly buildings in keeping with the existing character of the neighborhood, i.e. 3-12 stories or so. 8. Potentially protect the existing Eastside Industrial District through a historic/industrial/entrepreneur protection zone, or set up business incubators in some of the buildings, or explore other ways to keep the existing neighborhood funky while also allowing some new development in the land vacated by the freeway & railway.

    http://undergroundscience.blogspot.com/2006/11/vision-for-removing-i-5-from-east-bank.html

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Garlynn -

    That seems like a reasonable proposal. I would add that a natural buffer along the riverfront itself needs to be restored. Maybe there could even be a swimming beach somewhere some day.

  • Brian (unverified)
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    Ross - let me answer your points:

    1) The highway trust fund is just a fancy name for the receipts from the federal gas tax. It can't go bankrupt because it only spends as much as it takes in.

    Wrong. Congress has been spending more from the trust fund than is coming in. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the fund will have a $2 billion deficit by 2009 and the deficit will increase every year thereafter. Look it up yourself.

    2) There is not enough to maintain the roads we have now. That is not stopping anyone from building new ones instead. Because the lifespan of these investments is so long, the impact of those decisions might not be noticed for another 50 years. Long after the politicians making them will care.

    I agree. The problem is that the maintenance cost of everything we built 50 years ago is now coming due. According to the OTC, we will have to raise the state gas tax one penny a year for the next 20 years just to keep up with maintenance of what we have already built.

    3) There is no way the project can be built with local money. The federal match for these kinds of projects has been about 90% of the money. No one is going to come up with 10 times the local match it would take to do it locally.

    I agree, which is why this project wont happen.

    4) Eliminating the portion of I5 on the east bank of the Willamette would have almost no impact on auto access to downtown. It handles traffic trying to avoid downtown, not get there. Transforming it into a multi-modal boulevard would actually improve access to both downtown and the central eastside.

    Eliminating the eastbank freeway without replacing it with a tunnel will have enormous impact on access to downtown because all of the traffic coming into the central city on I-5 (north and south), I-84, and Hwy 26 will back up due to the bottleneck. People can argue whether this increased congestion is good or bad, but everyone agrees that it would happen.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    The problem is that the maintenance cost of everything we built 50 years ago is now coming due.

    Actually the problem is that we are not adequately maintaining the infrastructure we are building today. The costs are going to escalate as infrastructure that has been allowed to deteriorate has to be rebuilt instead of maintained. Any car will wear out eventually, but they wear out a lot faster if you don't change the oil.

    . People can argue whether this increased congestion is good or bad, but everyone agrees that it would happen.

    No, not everyone agrees. Only those who assume people will not change their driving habits when faced with changes in capacity think traffic and congestion levels are fixed by road capacity. Congestion levels are actually fixed by people's willingness to tolerate them.

    But that is only a minor issue with I5 on the east side. Its just not clear how many trips on that section of I5 shift to another section of freeway. If I recall correctly, the destinations for most of the traffic using that section of the freeway are quite local.

    If the traffic coming across the river destined for the east side was diffused into the local street network instead of channeled onto the Banfield it might well decrease congestion on the Banfield, rather than increase it. And any improvements to I-405 would likely reduce congestion on 26 coming into town.

    Look it up yourself.

    Always a good idea.

    Here is the 2002 CBO testimony

    "The Highway Trust Fund is an accounting mechanism in the federal budget that records receipts from fuel and other excise taxes earmarked for spending on designated highway and mass transit programs."

    Here is what it says about the state of the fund:

    "At the end of 2001, the highway account's balance was $20.4 billion, but the outstanding obligations of highway programs totaled $40 billion. That discrepancy is possible because most of those obligations involve capital projects, on which money is spent over a number of years. In other words, some of the highway programs' existing obligations will be met by using future tax receipts"

    "Over the 1998-2001 period, outlays averaged $24.9 billion a year, and revenues averaged $28.8 billion. "

    The reality is that the CBO makes projections of outcomes to inform congressional decisions. Congress is not going to stop spending money on highway projects and which projects it funds are going to be political decisions. There is obviously far more demand for projects than there is money, both nationally and locally. So choices have to be made.

    I don't think having a freeway on the east bank of the river is a high priority, but if Oregon's leaders decide otherwise they will be able to find the resources to build it. It will just mean giving up something else. That something else is unlikely to be local residential street paving, although it could include other transit, bike and pedestrian improvements. Of course it might also include giving up that new ten lane bridge across the Columbia which would be a bigger waste of money than a tunnel through the eastside.

  • (Show?)

    If the traffic coming across the river destined for the east side was diffused into the local street network instead of channeled onto the Banfield...

    Geez, Ross. I let you get the last word on why you believe the democrats shouldn't doing anything to end the Iraq war until the magic year of 2008...but I'll be damned if I'll pass on you suggesting the Banfield's horrific traffic be re-routed into my east side neighborhood! :-)

    Bad, bad idea, Ross.

    I think we've higher priorities than undergrounding I-5. And, frankly, I'm tired of ODOT hanging onto all that prime industrial land in our Central Eastside Industrial District because someday, somehow, somewhere they might need it for something. Time to move on. Besides...the view from the Marquam is amazing. Someday we will no doubt unpave paradise and remove all the parking lots, but that's not happening tomorrow. And in the meantime we've got kids walking to school in the street for want of sidewalks. It's about priorities.

  • Ross Williamsr (unverified)
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    I'll be damned if I'll pass on you suggesting the Banfield's horrific traffic be re-routed into my east side neighborhood! :-)

    Its not being rerouted into your neighborhood off the Banfield. Its being rerouted from other neighborhoods. A lot of the traffic coming across the Marquam bridge is getting off at 32nd or 39th or Hollywood and then going to neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Buckman, Irvington, Sunnyside, etc.

    That same traffic could just as easily use Sandy, Stark, Belmont, Burnside, Hawthorne, Division, Powell. It may be using different local streets, but it isn't going to add a huge through-traffic burden to neighborhoods in general. To do that now you need to use the Water street ramp and then wander around the industrial district while hoping there isn't a train using the tracks.

    Depending on where people are going you might actually have less traffic through neighborhoods. Those folks that take the freeway out to 32nd and then wind back south would have a shorter trip.

    I let you get the last word on why you believe the democrats shouldn't doing anything to end the Iraq war until the magic year of 2008

    I didn't say they shouldn't, I said they realistically couldn't. Which I suppose is the same thing.

  • Lenny Anderson (unverified)
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    Garlynn, Ross, you guys nailed it. Forget the tunnel...just tear down the freeway and the Marquam Bridge with it; replace with a boulevard that crosses on the new LRT bridge. Add a lane to I-405 and change its number. Done. The East Portland beach will be so nice. People who insist on driving will find a way, move, get a bicycle or ride transit...whatever, but why surrender the most promising real estate in the City for their 5 minutes?

  • The O'reilly Factor (unverified)
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    Let's tear down all the roads and freeways and replace them with walk/bike paths, and trolleys, and little squirrel overpasses so they don't get shmooshed when they try to cross the road. Because nobody is looking out for squirrels, except The Factor. We don't need no stinkin' trucks and buses. If it doesn't fit on your bike, you don't need it. Retail stores can use the train/trolley network between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. to restock their shelves. We don't want to encourage any manufacturing (to noisy and stinky), so banning internal combustion engines should send them packing.

    Then you could ride your bike to the nearest trolley, jump on, and then get off near your destination and complete the journey on bicycle. Since we will all be saving so much money on gasoline and car payments, we could afford to pay higher taxes so all trolley/Max rides will be free.

    We can be the first Carbon free City in the U.S. and maybe even a member of the City Council could go to Prague and Sydney to talk about how cool Portland is compared to the rest of this bass-ackwards red state dictatorship.

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