NE Quadrant Planning Update

The NE Quadrant Plan has two primary purposes; to evaluate options to enhance I-5 performance (meaning expand) between I-84 and I-405, and to update the Central City Plan (including revising zoning as necessary). This is a lot of work for both City and State staff and for the Citizen Advisors (CAC) from each of the neighborhood association and other stakeholders. As a result, the process has frequent meetings of separate “transportation” and “land use” subcommittees of the CAC that discuss options in-between roughly monthly CAC meetings and quarterly public Open Houses.

There have been 11 CAC meetings to date. The next is the 19th. A wide range of freeway/interchange options have been reviewed by the CAC and the list has been reduced to a small number. Those have been briefed to the Eliot Board and described in the Eliot News previously. The options range between “no-build” to a range of proposals that require the replacement of two or more of the current I-5 overpasses (Broadway, Weidler, Vancouver, and Flint) along with revisions to the I-5 on/off ramps to improve the flow of auto, truck, pedestrian, and bike traffic. None of the proposed options has been acceptable to some or all of the stakeholders. The neighborhood representatives (Eliot, Irvington, and Lloyd District as well as the Rose Quarter and landowners in that area) have been outspoken in opposition to the disruptions that would accompany the demolition and replacement of two or more overpasses along with the curtailment of the new streetcar service for the duration of construction. They have also been united in opposition to proposed new overpasses at Clackamas and Hancock that would allow vehicle traffic to the east. Eliot has proposed relocating freeway ramps as far away from Broadway/Weidler as possible, since those ramps are the source of the congestion the State wants to address. That would require new elevated ramps, the “braided ramp” option. Elevated ramps are expensive and the City is concerned about how they would appear from downtown as freeway ramps are unattractive. Accordingly, this option was discounted.

At the last Transportation meeting (Dec. 9th) Staff were asked to look at hybrid options that included elements of each of the options that had support, including the discarded “braided ramp” option (south of Broadway only). Staff did some additional study after the meeting and wisely asked neighborhood representatives to give them some feedback before doing any further work. After all, if the new hybrid options were unacceptable to the neighborhoods, City support may be jeopardized. Because the time for Staff analysis was limited, the presentation was sketchy, although Staff did conduct a large number of computer simulations of how various options performed. The results of that effort point to two options that have a number of features that not only address most of the neighborhood concerns, they also significantly improve freeway performance, provide new amenities to the area (more “park” land) and reduce expected construction time and disruption (at least for vehicles).

Admittedly, it is difficult to visualize these new proposals but each has the following features:

  • A “braided ramp” option south of Broadway. It turns out this is the best option for increasing through traffic, which is the primary focus of the effort.
  • A new overpass at Clackamas for pedestrians and bikes. At his point in the design process, an elevator may be necessary for pedestrian access (for ADA reasons), which means it could NOT be used for motor vehicle traffic.
  • One option has a new overpass that replaces the current Vancouver overpass. Initially, this went east/west over the freeway at Hancock. That was necessary to route the Number 4 bus along Williams. In the new plans the bus route along Williams is intact, so there is no need for a connection between Williams and Vancouver at Hancock. Instead, a new north-south alignment of Vancouver is needed. I have asked that the Hancock connection between Williams and Vancouver be “demoted” to an “option” from a requirement to address Eliot resident concerns about increased traffic into Eliot.
  • A “lid” over the freeway associated with new overpasses. Both options have a lid that bridges the entire area over the freeway between Broadway and Weidler. Some of the area will be new roadway, while at least half of it will be available for park-like uses (or at least landscaped). The second option has a similar lid at the new Vancouver/Hancock overpass. These lids have two purposes. The primary purpose is for construction staging. They will reduce the need to build temporary vehicle overpasses during construction, and thus reduce construction duration and cost. Afterwards, they will provide a park-like amenity for the area.

These new proposals will be presented to the CAC and Staff hope to get agreement to focus future efforts on refining them. Based on what was described to me, these are surprisingly good options, assuming the proposed freeway improvements are necessary.

The justification of those proposed improvements is that this section of I-5 is one of the top 60 “bottlenecks” in the nation as identified by the trucking industry. Obviously, they have a bias. They have identified the need for a new bridge across the Columbia River (the CRC) as in the top 200, just for reference. Data presented by Staff indicate the majority to truck traffic in this section of I-5 is local deliveries. These are unlikely to be displaced by steadily rising fuel costs, unlike traffic across the Columbia, so I have more faith is this “top 60” evaluation than that for the CRC. In addition, the traffic merges and lane changes required in this area of I-5 require sudden vehicle movements, stops/starts, etc. that lead to accidents, although Staff wasn’t able to present much in the way of hard data on accidents in this particular area or analysis of how they would be reduced through the proposed improvements. They did simulate traffic flows with the improvements and there were many fewer traffic slow downs, which is what they want.

I asked Staff about prospects for this work to actually be funded. Because of the high rank of the project (top-60) they expect Federal funding will be forthcoming. They do not anticipate (or expect) any local funding will be necessary. In other words, it all depends on Congress. Because of how the option was evaluated, the entire project, including the “lids” and ped/bike improvements, are tied to freeway safety improvements, so there is less reason to think those “non-motor vehicle” elements will be dropped. That would be an unacceptable risk for the neighborhoods I think.