We Can’t Stand By While Highways Are Widened

How I-5 was planned and built through Eliot in the 1950s and why we should not widen it

At a recent meeting, my Co-chair, Jimmy Wilson, asked me a pertinent question: “Where were white folks standing when Interstate-5 (I-5) was run through North Portland in the 1950’s?”  I decided to dig through archives to find out, visiting the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) website and then spending a significant amount of time on the Oregonian’s historical archive (found through Multnomah County Library). I also tried to find some other local news sources like the Northwest Clarion but unless I go find someone with an extensive microfilm archive and dig through it manually I don’t think I would find anything.

Eastbank Freeway Construction through the Broadway-Weidler Interchange in 1962. Photo courtesy Portland City Archives

In Northeast Portland, the intersection of Urban Renewal policies and Freeway Construction Policies combined to remove the heart of the Black community’s housing stock (over 800 units from the Eliot area alone) between 1955 and 1970. The Eliot and Lower Albina neighborhoods were decimated to make room for I-5, but even larger pieces were removed to make Memorial Coliseum and its parking lots. Later, Emanuel Hospital’s expansion dreams and the I-405 off-ramps removed even more of the community’s buildings and dislocated its people.

I was struck by the sheer pace of highway planning and construction during the late 1950’s through the Portland region. Planning or construction of all of the highways we now know within 5 miles of Eliot happened within 5 years. The roadway engineers had a seemingly limitless budget during those days, and they had tremendous power to reshape the city as well. They knew that highways became clogged with cars a few years after they were constructed through a process we now call “induced demand.” The highway engineers knew that I-84 (“the Banfield Freeway”) would soon become congested and had plans for a “Fremont Expressway” taking an east-west route through Northeast Portland and another “Mount Hood Freeway” taking an east-west route through Southeast Portland. Those routes will never be built, and from what I can tell, many of the existing highways should not have either. Uprisings over the removal of so many housing units prevented the later highways from being built, but not before Eliot and North Portland received the scar of I-5. These routes have served to increase the geographic footprint of our region and helped make everything more quickly accessible by car.  In doing so, these highways have also increased the dependence on the car for transportation throughout our region, increased the average distance of trips and increased the basic cost of living of citizens of the Portland Metropolitan Region.

The Interstate System was funded through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 which authorized $25 Billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway system over a supposedly 10-year period. In the act, a Highway Trust Fund was created that paid for 90% of highway construction costs. This meant that state highway engineers could dream up huge plans and only needed a 10% match from local governments to build highways. This amazing subsidy may have helped highway builders of the time become desensitized to the value of the buildings they were destroying in the name of “progress.”

I found that there were other options considered for the “Minnesota Freeway” that we now know as I-5 from I-405 to the Washington border.  However, the main other option was the “Delaware Freeway,” a route more along N Greeley and N Delaware Avenues, one which would have removed slightly more houses and been slightly more expensive to construct. This option would still have taken the same path through the Eliot Neighborhood. The opposition to the Minnesota option was disorganized and didn’t coalesce around one specific alternative, which contributed to it being ignored. There was a bridge built at N. Ainsworth across the highway to mollify the principal of Ockley Green School, which would have had its district separated by the highway had that bridge not been built. To this day N. Ainsworth is one of the calmest places to cross I-5 in north Portland.

After this research, I thought to myself, okay, what about the section of highway that actually runs through Eliot?  It turns out that this was a bit challenging to find out about because it was actually considered a part of the “East Bank Freeway” even though this stretch between I-84 and N. Russell Street was not along the river.  This route may have been chosen by planners at the City of Portland signing off on plans prepared by the Oregon Department of Transportation. From the news of the day, it appears that the people living and working on the east side of the river were not substantially consulted in the process, even though hundreds of families would be displaced for the highway project. The first mention of this highway running through Eliot in The Oregonian was from January 1959, and in February and March there were some articles talking about the number of buildings to be torn down. At one point they were referred to as “Ancient Buildings.” By December, the right of way had been cleared. This is unbelievable to me:  Less than 6 months from the first timely public mention of the highway going through this area to the mayor approving the demolition, and 12 months from the first mention of the highway to complete demolition. A cursory note of the design of the Broadway, Williams, Weidler, Flint and Vancouver overpasses was made, as was a note that 29 other streets would be “terminated” or turned into dead ends.

During the demolition process, salvagers would pay prices as low as $5 for the right to salvage parts out of houses that would be demolished for the East Bank Freeway Route. One hundred and eighty households with 400 people were displaced by one count; another count I read included 250 households. Is it possible that those with the power to demolish buildings might not have been particularly concerned with those they were displacing?  To me, this is obviously the case. One article I read talked about the shocking record of non-litigation by homeowners on the route. Either property owners thought they were getting a fair deal by the Oregon Department of Transportation, or they had no leverage in the courts to make it worth the legal troubles.

With the power of hindsight, we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past. ODOT is planning to widen I-5 underneath the 5-bridge intersection we now have around Broadway, Weidler, Vancouver, Williams and Flint Avenues. During the 1960s, there were a series of highway revolts across the country, resulting in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1959 governing roadway construction. As a result of this, the current proposal by ODOT to widen I-5 around the Broadway/Weidler Interchange, rebuild all of the roads that cross the highway, and provide some minor and questionably valuable “ community benefits” has been in the planning and engineering process for the past 10 years. During the time since the planning process started, the process of “approving” this project has been orchestrated in a way that no elected body has had a simple vote on whether they wanted to build this project or not. There have been several votes about what type of environmental review process to do, about whether we want to pass a huge transportation funding bill including this project, and about whether to approve buying land for the right of way of the project. However, no politicians have ever been asked to vote on whether to actually build this project.

The project is not particularly popular. Roughly 90% of the public comments about the project have been in opposition to building it, including the Eliot Neighborhood Association’s comments at every step of the way. The effects of highway construction are generally worst for those that live and spend their lives closest to the freeway. The local residents are subjected to detours, construction noise and pollution during the construction process. In addition, after project completion, the increased traffic on local streets and the highway will make quality of life for those living around the project worse. That increased traffic is all but guaranteed while widening highways. There is a nearly 1-to-1 relationship between the number of highway lane miles and traffic, whatever name you give to the lanes that you are building. If we look closer at what “local benefits” the project would have, we can see that just tweaking the street grid above the highway will have minor impacts at best. A new pedestrian crossing between Winning Way and NE Clackamas street was intended to be an asset, but highway planners have put such a curve in it that it will not shorten any journeys with its meandering path above a noisy highway. The Hancock-Dixon overpass will not substantially connect streets that are not served with the current Flint overpass we have now. Even the new “public spaces” created by the project will be small and triangular, possibly the site of camping since no accommodation for productive buildings on them is being made.

The only real change the project would make to the surrounding area would be widening the highway, a car-capacity increase that will barely change travel times through the area. It would also serve to put more cars into our local street network, which has led to renderings showing even wider streets through the area than we have now. This would increase road noise and reduce the value of land around the project area. Although trumpeted as a “traffic and safety project” it serves neither. Safety on other ODOT-managed streets is a much higher priority than in this corridor, which has not seen any deaths in a decade. Only congestion pricing has proved to improve traffic in urban environments, and we should be pursuing that sort of system instead of putting down more concrete.

Before this project started, drawings of how to reconstruct I-5 in a wider configuration with “minimal” impacts to traffic above were generated. This project has always been about a wider I-5 through the Broadway interchange, and everything else is just window dressing. It is not too late. Any benefits this project might have could be achieved at a much lower cost through other means.  We can still stop this $800 million boondoggle, which is clearly a continuation of the shameful history of highway construction in Portland’s inner neighborhoods. It is not too late.

Letter from the Chair: Co-Chairs That Work Together

Our co-chairs Allan Rudwick and Jimmy Wilson recently sat down for a discussion about priorities for the coming year. We came away with a few things. Firstly, we are committed to being co-chairs because we want to work together. Working together means taking the shared experiences of our lives and using them to guide where we are going.

Co-chair Jimmy Wilson expressed a vision to help the homeless community. “As a city, we have been in a ‘housing emergency’ for 5 or so years and we don’t have much to show for it.” It was further discussed what it would mean for the Eliot NA to do something about it.

Co-Chair Allan Rudwick expressed concern about the desire to see vacant land in the neighborhood turned into useful places for people to thrive. This means a bunch of different pieces, working with the city and landholders to actually motivate building on vacant land. Some of that is just
reaching out to landowners, some of it is working with the city.

In addition, Co-Chair Allan Rudwick’s desire is to see something done about Diesel pollution. “We have a problem in Portland and in Eliot in particular with the number of unfiltered Diesel trucks rolling down I-5 in particular and other streets in the area. This is leading us to breathe more Diesel Particulate (aka Black Carbon) than other neighborhoods farther away from major truck routes. There are some solutions that seem obvious like requiring filters on trucks.” Cochair Jimmy Wilson mentioned that the problem of diesel particulates has been an issue for a long time and people have complained heavily in the past to no avail. This new effort may have legs but it should recognize those that came before and tried.

It is the sentiment of the co-chairs that “we are second to the community. We aren’t attending meetings just for fun, we’re doing it to try to make this a better place. Whether it is picking up trash, feeding people, or keeping a space for local residents to get help with their issues, we want the people of the neighbor to know that the Eliot NA Board is here for them. “We are trying to support the strong citizens in the neighborhood. Sometimes that is advice on how to get in touch with the city, sometimes it is financial grants but always it comes from a place of respect and understanding that everyone is trying their best.”

Further, we are out here trying to make the world better for the next generations.

Our time is now, but if we can’t clean up pollution and build a great place, what are we leaving for the young people? There is no personal glory in this job, but there is satisfaction with helping people make a difference.

LUTC Meeting Minutes 2019-11-11

DRAFT- not yet approved

submitted by Allan Rudwick

In attendance: All Committee members: Brad, Monique, Zach, Phil, Allan, Jonathan

Public: PSU student Andrea was observing. Judge showed up too

Developer for page and Vancouver NW corner – 2 representatives: Alicia and Casey

Ali Sadri- Legacy Health

706pm
2306 n Vancouver
Zoning: CM3d – plan to use community design standards. may submit before end of the calendar year.
Proposal: 43 units. 1 loading zone. Mostly studios and 1br. 3 2br
Concerns: Neighborhood feel, street appeal important. Main entrance not gloomy. We would like more larger units less studios. Also want the building to address the street better. If they get below 40 units they can get rid of the loading zone

Ali from Emanuel (7:40pm)

Emanuel IMP ends 2023, but rules aren’t changing much
New building still going up. Planning on 16 OR. Quicker turnaround.
Core and shell of the building are very flexible. This will allow them to build spaces in the new building and then when finished move units over from older spaces. One highlight is a modernized burn center

Evergreen topic: Land between Vancouver & Williams. Ali & Emanuel want to rezone land they hold and change the development rules on their campus (which we support) but can’t due to city or something. Setbacks are holding everything back. Allan proposed getting some meetings with the city to get things going forward. Ali said he would attend if the right meeting can get set up.

Monique asked about air quality concerns with I-5. Hospital doesn’t care about air quality, they filter everything a ton already

Parking summary: car dealership wants to build a big building. Neighborhood not excited about it. Will continue letter-writing and staying on top of things.

Safer 7th: need to reach out to Nick Falbo and see what is going on and when we can start construction

Another devleopment proposal- we want them to come in for a future meeting – N Flint and Hancock.

6-0 passed: Motion to approve minutes
6-0 passed: Motion to keep land use committee

LUTC Meeting Minutes 2019-10-14

submitted by Allan Rudwick

In attendance: Almost all Committee members: Brad, Monique, Zach, Phil, and Allan

Steve gemmel (EarthquakeTech)

7:05pm: EarthquakeTech street vacation.
In general memebers mentioned that they would want to see more community benefits from street vacation, however the location of this request makes us think that no one is actually using the street anyhow. The committee generally supportive of the street vacation due to the location.

We were invited to an open house November 14. The will be a talk (by a speaker who has previously done a TED talk). At 2310 n Kerby

7:45 Other topics:

Toyota expansion

motion 5-0 to oppose the parking garage dealership expansion & write letter (even though it is just a pre-app conference)

Residential Infill Program(RIP)/better housing by design (BHBD)
RIP is taking forever, BHBD about to go to council for a vote.

Motion 5-0 to write a letter to supporting BHBD and anti-Displacement effort

Lloyd to Woodlawn greenway. Members going

Topic for Next month
2306 n Vancouver

LUTC Meeting Minutes 2019-04-08

DRAFT- not yet approved

Minutes submitted by Allan Rudwick (recorder)

Started at 7pm. In attendance: Committee: Brad, Allan, Jonathan, Public: Monique, Zach. Developer: Marc, architect- didn’t get name. Kat from PSU.

– 3019 NE MLK development. (60)

  • 2 buildings – one on MLK and one behind with a pathway on the north side. Each building would have 2 1-floor units per building, 1 double-height unit on top.
  • Members were excited that something might be built on the site.
  • Design seemed to be relatively well done given the amazing amount of site constraints
  • Bike parking seemed like it was being forced onto the front of the building in a strange way that has no examples elsewhere
  • Street side ground floor unit- could it be a live/work space?
  • Full disclosure: developer currently lives next door to Allan.

– Other updates? (parking permit, N/S Neighborhood Greenway on 7th or 9th Ave, improving intersections around Tubman, revamping Rodney greenway, state housing bills) (15)

  • short discussions, nothing major to report

Motion: Add 2 members to the committee. Passed 3-0 (this has been ratified by the ENA Board)

  • Monique Gaskins, Zach

8:25 Approve Minutes (5)

  • minutes approved 3-0

LUTC Meeting Minutes 2019-03-11

Minutes submitted by Allan Rudwick.  A bit of stream-of-consciousness note taking since the meeting was a lengthy discussion.

About 20 people were in attendance.

Presenters: Doug Siu (ODOT), Stacey Thomas (ODOT Consultant HDR), Aaron Brown (No More Freeways PDX)

From Committee: Brad Baker, Allan Rudwick, Jonathan Konkol

7:05 Rose Quarter I-5 Expansion + Questions 

Decades of planning – state has tried multiple times to widen this part of I-5.  The presenters claim it was built too small originally and especially with I-405 going in it became a problem.
They mentioned the 2010-12 planning workshops which Eliot NA was a stakeholder to.  Allan mentioned that Eliot attended all meetings and voted no
If built (they use language that implies it is guaranteed). There will be a 4 year construction window, with phases so not all roads will be closed at all times.
There are 3 major highways connecting in the area.  I5 and 84 were built in the 60s, I-405 early 70s.
In 1987, the ‘Greeley-Banfield’ proposal would have further decimated the city grid.
A modified greeley-banfield proposal existed from 1990-96 and was abandoned due to public pressure.
In 2007, ODOT commissioned a design workshop.  In the 2010-12 timeframe “70 designs” were considered. (Editorial- Allan submitted at least 6 of these with MS Paint).
The presentation uses the word “Improvements” many many times. However just because something is changing doesn’t make it an improvement.  (Editorial- Allan thinks this word should be used more carefully.)

Public comment: “Isn’t this project a continuation of i5 cutting through neighborhood” and not a healing in any way.  Public comment is cut down- only constructive comments and clarifications to the presentation will be encouraged until later.

Currently: Heavily used area by all modes of traffic.

New structures will be “Seismically resilient” although current ones are not near the top of the list of risks.
Highway covers will provide more space for bicycles and pedestrians

This project is projected to save 2.5 million hours of travel annually within project constraints area. Details in traffic operations section of EA documents.
“Vision zero” project will improve safety for all modes through the area.
Hancock Dixon overpass will change the way streets are connected and remove the Flint overpass.
Video shown with a “Drivers view” of the area.
Freeway lids: Why the hole in the cover? Ventilation and emergency access. This is still the overview phase.  “A lot of design to get to still.” (Editorial: often the design phase public is told that the project is already past the point where we can make changes.)
Pollution is going to be “the same” with giant lid and ventilation – just possibly shifted a few feet based on where gaps in the lids are. If we had a “tunnel air wouldn’t be filtered just moved outside the tunnel.
New construction would be to a 9.2 earthquake standard or better.
Most pollution is from Diesel pre-2008 trucks.
Owner of trucking company below Bridges on attendance
On the lids: we can have trees, parks. “Anything we want”
Buildings on them versus what type of buildings? Possibly we could have a 1-2 story building but probably not a 6-story one.  Possibly 3-story in some spots
Can’t dig out i5 due to disruption to traffic.
Lots of non local traffic on the freeway. Need access control to keep people safe. Buildings need access.
Certain properties affected by this project. Block by block impacts are different.
Ownership model… ODOT would let city of Portland own & manage buildings if they were built on top.
All of this is to say that “green space” is most likely. Specifically “Parks” surrounded by lots of polluted air.
ODOT and City worked together on process – this was “not an ODOT managed process [in 2010-12]”
Public Comments: Air quality modeling. Tubman students not supposed to go outside currently.  Will this be worse with this project?
Noise concerns – this will make things louder for us.
Brilliant ideas wanted for how to use LIDs
Caps for construction staging – Doug said this was not true, there are cheaper ways to do staging. This is different than what other project staff have told us in the past
Public Comment: Other Freeway caps: Seattle freeway park? LID i5 group working on it currently.
What assumptions are made about Regional VMT with and without project? Consultant will get back to us.
Environmental phase over a year. 1000+ comments
How do we see this as different? Goal is to not displace unlike previous versions. Findings are of “no significant impact” – this is a leagal term.
Jobs: Investment in small businesses to work on project. Construction and design firms.
Auxillary lanes – pitched as a net win.  They have been successful along 217 and I-5.
Economic benefits to area? No Cost Benefit Analysis has been done.
This is a National Environmental Project Assesment (NEPA). Needed for federal matching funding.
Currently they are defining scope, design criteria
Public Question: Does the “No build” traffic modeling include other freeway projects. Answer: Master model that includes lots of other regional freeway projects. Some trends included, some not. Tolling not included.
Air quality and noise, environmental Justice
Project area, each category gets its own area

Problems trying to solve:
405 SB to 84, many vehicles getting on i5 just to go 1 exit
Project will be fairly neutral for travel times on local streets. Some slightly faster, slower. Report is blaming bicyclists for traffic slow down due to new signal phasing.
Neighborhood. Are speeds being lowered for safety or anything? A road diet on N Wheeler proposed near the Moda center.
There are no projections with congestion pricing modelled.
They are “separate projects”. This doesn’t factor that in to that one.

Public comment: No build scenario… Is there a seismic upgrade?
Consultant: Paralyzes whole state if any link goes down?
Public comment: Amazed by Thompson water issues, dirt seems to be unstable under columns of I-5 north of project area by Thompson.
Project is trying to create space for pedestrians and cyclists on each block
No additional transit with this project
Project was coupled with North-Northeast quadrant plan. Supposedly integrated with city’s plans
Public concern: Ramps steeper than standards. Why are we putting in. When it’s not an improvement. Short answer is output of previous planning. 9% due to existing grade. Can’t give final grade but aware of grade challenges
MUP is to fix grade challenges
Air quality trends… Are the blue lines matching current data? National graph shows improvement but local may not
Difference is so small not to be an impact to human health. Slightly shorter distance. Benefit? Shouldn’t consider as benefit
Benefits exist outside of project
Hoping for existing regulations to help pollution
Which freeways did we should we locally look too show this is a good idea
Local projects 217 to 205
Capital highway to 217 i5 South
Seen operational improvements exceeding expectations for aux lane projects
Neighborhood effect? Threshold for human health?
Construction vehicles, dust control.
During construction, traffic down Flint. Flint causing pedestrians to get hit already. Traffic volumes measured at wrong time? Chaos in front of Tubman
A lot of potential traffic in front of school
$12M on air quality at Tubman already
“Traffic management plan and control plan”
In talks with PPS
Goal of project, taking traffic away from Flint
Portland versus ODOT. City supposedly at table
Why should these kids beat burden if i5 construction
Do boosters of project want their kids at Tubman? Guessing their kids aren’t going to Tubman. There’s going to be an impact, we need to mitigate

When we get to next phase, everyone gets to put in their comments. Conversations are active with PPS
A long time to work this out

“Not acceptable to send that volume through a school zone”
Next phase is design if all goes well.

No more freeways presentation
Dozens of buttons tomorrow
$500 m
4 major platforms
Air quality
Induced demand
Environmental Justice
Worst census tract for air quality
Climate change

Driving is too energy intensive
Invest in transit
40% emissions in Oregon for transportation
We need to drive less
Safety
No traffic fatalities in a decade
ODOT owns much more dangerous facilities
No datasets included in EA document. Response from ODOT: will Fulfill request. We’re  already 23 days in. [since this meeting, documents came out]
FHWA said they would prefer the numbers not be released. Don’t want to release information that is modifiable. Trying to get to this quickly. EA provides methodology and outputs.

What is the Delta VMT (Vehicle Miles Travelled projection)? Information to be sent to us.
Harriet Tubman PTA in opposition
PPS had over promised and under delivered on Tubman so they are swamped with other efforts.

Comments now make a difference. Eliot has posted ways to comment online.
Comments affect legal standing to sue in the future.

Public Comment: Pastor lunch that ODOT talked to – Had no more freeways talked to them? They are just a small group of volunteers but they would talk to if we connected them.
Other freeway widening projects increasing VMT in state. Goal needs to be VMT reduction for Climate reasons.

Does ODOT have prioritization of non car modes? They look for opportunities. Most things are affecting city jurisdiction. Need to make improvements. What kinds of things would help that are under ODOT’s jurisdiction? We have issues in transportation planning with solos. Funding streams. Colors of money make it hard to spend on transit.

ODOT can prioritize non car

If no more freeways is successful, what’s next
Ultimately personal opinion swaying. Idea of auxiliary lane seems different than through lanes

NMF: Within Urban growth boundary, shouldn’t widen anything before congestion pricing

Would you call a plumber to fix a leak or buy a new $500 Million sink first? No congestion pricing in model is fatal flaw to this project- should do congestion project first.

We have to stop motordom. It’s so nice to be outside of a car.

Freeway industrial complex is benefitting from this project

Motion to approve Minutes: Approved 3-0

Motion: Write another letter regarding I-5 Project (still in opposition)