Mistakes Avoided

The Portland Mercury has a nice piece on “Dead Freeways“, planned freeways for Portland that were never built.


31 Responses to Mistakes Avoided

  1. Ron Swaren
    September 24, 2009 at 9:44 am Link

    The 1990 Transportation Plan (promoted by Robert Moses and Portland civic leaders of the time) was a “Freeways Gone Wild” concept that was justifiably scuttled due to public pressure, the mayoral campaign of Tom Walsh and grassroots opposition to the Mt Hood Freeway component. Thankfully, the construction unions, which would have gained far more jobs from highway construction than from the Gresham MAX, did not protest too much. Probably the I-205 was a needed addition, however.

    Why are we headed, once again, down the path of major construction projects? The CRC is not the only one in the pipeline. The I-5 freeway has reached such a level of congestion that additional traffic–from a reconstructed bridge or a supplemental structure–will provoke renewed calls to rebuild that route, too. The Eastbank of the Willamette can be reclaimed through other means—as other cities, such as Seattle, have discovered.

    Like the usefuleness of the I-205, we do need another route connecting Clark co. area with the greater Portland region—in particular the growing area of Washington County. Clark Co and other SW Washington residents can continue bringing in the nearly $200 million they contribute annually to the Oregon Treasury. However, I don’t think this route would require a new freeway and is also well suited for express mass transit.

  2. EngineerScotty
    September 24, 2009 at 10:10 am Link

    It’s worth remembering that at the time, gas was cheaper than dirt; there was a significant air of triumphant ascendency in the air of US politics, and much of what we now know about pollution was not known. (In addition, gas-powered motor vehicles were replacing coal-fired locomotives for many transportation applications–a mode of transit whose pollutants are far more obvious in their effects).

    But thankfully, we did not go there–at least not all the way.

  3. Aaron J. Grier
    September 24, 2009 at 10:56 am Link

    I would love to see the maps of “what would be”. I had heard of the mt hood freeway, but not the laurelhurst freeway. wow.

    also any slide show of “freeway ramps to nowhere” or aborted demolition attempts would be pretty awesome.

  4. Lenny Anderson
    September 24, 2009 at 11:33 am Link

    Origin and destination data from the 2000 census analyzed for Metro’s vanpool program made it pretty clear that relatively few employees who work in Washington county come from Clark county.
    Data from the I-5 Task Force showed that the overwhelming destination of I-5 commuters was N and NE Portland…Rivergate, Interstate corridor, Swan Island, Lower Albina, and Lloyd District.
    C-Tran needs to put Limited service down I-5 and southbound HOV lanes in Vancouver need to be restriped until such time as an arterial bridge with light rail can be built. No need for a massive highway capacity increase across the Columbia on I-5 or anywhere else.

  5. EngineerScotty
    September 24, 2009 at 11:34 am Link

    Wikipedia used to have a good list of “ghost ramps” before it got deleted as unencyclopedic. :)

    Here’s a partial list of stub ramps around town:

    1) Three of them at the northern I-5/I-405 interchange, for what would have been the “Rose City Freeway” or “Prescott Freeway”, extending the Fremont Bridge to the northeast. The Kirby Ave. ramp from the Fremont was originally to be a freeway.

    2) A short stub on the ramp from I-5 SB to I-84, and from I-84 to I-5 NB.

    3) The stub ramp on the lower deck of the Marquam Bridge, to what would have been the Mt. Hood Freeway (three other similar stubs were removed in a remodeling project). Right before it is a stub onramp, not sure what it was for.

    4) Numerous stub ramps along Front Avenue/Naito Parkway, remnants of Harbor Drive.

    5) Stubs off the freeway segment of US30 between the Fremont Bridge and the Vaughn Street exit.

    6) The Morrison and Hawthorne Bridge viaducts have a few stubs on them as well.

    Stub ramps aren’t an entirely old phenomenon, either–if you look at the interchange between I-5 and OR217, on the ramp from OR217 to I-5 south is a stub which appears to be for the planned (but as yet unfunded) second phase of the project, which would separate 217 traffic heading south on I-5 from traffic exiting 72nd avenue.

    Wikipedia does have a few good articles with Portland coverage:



    And, we’re not the only city in the state which has scotched freeway projects–see also:


    A better journalistic source on the subject (better than the Mercury article cited in the lead) is this article in the Willamette Week. Even ODOT has documented the freeway results, here (pdf)

  6. Ron Swaren
    September 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm Link

    Perhaps at the initial proposal of the 1990 plan (1970)we had not observed a lot about air pollution—but the brownish haze caused by summertime temperature inversions would soon show us. I think in the 1960’s Portland even lost some people and the suburbs were much smaller—awaiting the apartment boom for the baby boom generation, followed by singled family homes less than a decade later.

    There is a map of the 1990 Transportation plan. I don’t know how to put it on here but it is at this link:
    and the document is here:

    Lenny, doesn’t METRO 2040 growth concept shift a lot of future growth out to Washington County? Following the long Carter Recession I vividly recall being dispatched to work on the Intel projects. We had never heard of a 1.5 billion dollar factory before. That was 1988 and the area has been rapidly densifying and adding employment since then. Now we have discussions of urban reserves in the North Plains to Forest Grove area. Try to think ahead……

    Also I don’t support any major new freeway. The roadway already exists to a degree. It needs to be enhanced. Traffic flow on I-5 would return to normal with less traffic jammed into that route.

  7. Dave H
    September 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm Link

    Over the past three years I’ve been adding routes that people have formally or informally discussed adding to the system. All of these were or are at some point under consideration for being built, but some are just rough estimates.

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&gl=us&ptab=2&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=105289039606498446037.0004432fb3482e9e91231 is the link.

    The article though seems to have missed a few things, since the Mt Hood Freeway wasn’t going to be four blocks wide for it’s entire length. Some interchanges may have expanded to that size, but most of the freeway had a more narrow route planned. Not to say it wouldn’t have disrupted the neighborhoods, the article just seemed like a fairly biased piece.

    It’s funny to me though that articles keep mentioning how LA would never do that, when they did cancel a number of planned freeways. A lot of cities in the northeast as well as California canceled freeways leaving freeway segments (like highway 26 east of Gresham), oversized ramps, strip parks, oddly well-accessed DOT facilities, etc.

  8. Valb
    September 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm Link

    Just a correction. The map at the lightrailnow.org link is not from Robert Moses. That is a 1960s Portland Planning Commission map, that has been mis-identified numerous times by Willamette Week and others. Moses had nothing to do with the Mt. Hood Freeway. The red loop around downtown was a Moses suggestion from 1943, but even that had been suggested (long before Moses came to town) in earlier transportation studies for Portland. Moses also suggested an outer perimeter loop (think I-205 and the sometimes-discussed west side bypass).

    FYI, in 1955 the Oregon Highway Division released a freeway plan for Portland that included 14 freeways and numerous other high capacity roadways. They were the real freeway culprit during this era and they were the ones that outlined the Mt. Hood, Laurelhurst, Johnson Creek, and other freeways.

  9. Ron Swaren
    September 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm Link

    I remember seeing a version or map of the 1990 Transportation Plan in the fall of 1970 and it was quite a lot like that one from WW. You can tell by the uncompleted ramps…as the Mercury points out… where some of the proposed freeways would have been.

  10. Grant
    September 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm Link

    Was Harbor Drive ever connected to I-5 via the Steel Bridge? I swear I saw a photo once of what is now the ghost ramp, showing an active connection to the bridge, but I have not been able to find it since.

  11. Dave H
    September 24, 2009 at 3:19 pm Link

    Grant, Google Earth historical mode (load Google Earth and then view-historical imagery), there’s a 1970 aerial photo available. Interstate Ave and I-84 east were directly connected, but I-84 west you had to get off at what’s now the Convention Center.

    There’s one farther back even, 1952, before I-5 existed and before Interstate Ave went south of the Broadway Bridge. The coverage is limited but you can see what was part of North Portland before I-5, and the old ballpark on Vaughn, for example.

    Also there’s before Harbor Drive, with Harbor Drive, and of course the current configuration. The evolution of the Pioneer Courthouse Parking Lot. The neighborhoods in 1970 that were facing the Mt. Hood Freeway. Even the 1994 to now photos of all over the area are interesting.

  12. Jason McHuff
    September 24, 2009 at 7:59 pm Link

    The base for the Mercury article, How Portland’s Power Brokers Accommodated the Anti-Highway Movement of the Early 1970s, is online too.

    Overall, it would have been best if the Federal government had not gotten in the business of encouraging and funding the dividing and decimating neighborhoods.

    Was Harbor Drive ever connected to I-5 via the Steel Bridge?

    You might be thinking of a ramp to the ramp from I-5 to I-84, which did use to exist but I’ve read was removed due to merging and congestion issues.

  13. Lenny Anderson
    September 25, 2009 at 10:04 am Link

    Freeways have been removed in San Francisco where the “freeway revolt” really started in the late 50’s about the time a voters told the Muni to save the cable cars. The Embarcadero is gone…replaced with a boulevard with light rail; the Central has been cut short allowing for redevelopment west of the Civic Center.
    Time for Portland to start removing freeways as well, starting with the Eastbank freeway and Marquam bridge…two eyesores in the heart of the city. Commuters, freight, etc. will adjust, and we will be ready for the next wave of development/redevelopment.

  14. EngineerScotty
    September 25, 2009 at 10:36 am Link

    It’s a lot easier to not build a freeway than it is to remove one which is extant–the real story of the freeway revolts in San Fran are the numerous freeways that were never built; not the ones which have been torn down. I believe that all of the once-built-now-gone freeways in SF were ones subjected to earthquake damage at some point. (In some cases, more than damaged sections were removed, and numerous damaged freeways were repaired and returned to service as well).

  15. Ron Swaren
    September 25, 2009 at 11:10 am Link

    “Commuters, freight, etc. will adjust, and we will be ready for the next wave of development/redevelopment.”

    Why should we get ready for the next wave of dvelopment/redevelopment? It is my understanding the US population is leveling off? What would make it grow so much we would expect a “wave” of development. Certain projects here and there, yes. A Wave–I don’t know why. Could you point to a reason?

  16. EngineerScotty
    September 25, 2009 at 11:31 am Link

    Predicting future population trends–whether for the US for a specific region such as the Portland metro–is tricky business. Many proposals for future infrastructure and such are based on predictions of continued population growth in the region.

    That could come to pass; it could be LARGER than expected–or we could see our population level off or even decline.

    Extrapolating recent trends gives you one answer.

    If you assume the existence of “climate migration” (the theory that global warming will continue to occur, and that there will be migration of people from tropical climes to more temperate locales, such as Portland), we might get a higher answer.

    If you assume the dire predictions of some in the business community that if Portland doesn’t join in a great race to the bottom, that jobs will continue to leave the area (and eventually cause a migration out), we might get a different answer still.

    (Note–this is not intended to be an opening to discuss either global warming or general economic philosophy, both of which are only mentioned as part of hypotheticals).

    But will we continue to see an influx of folks, filling up new housing as its built–the current recession and housing glut being a temporary thing? Or will we see the opposite? I don’t know.

  17. Dave H
    September 25, 2009 at 4:56 pm Link

    Freeways have been removed in San Francisco where the “freeway revolt” really started in the late 50’s about the time a voters told the Muni to save the cable cars. The Embarcadero is gone…replaced with a boulevard with light rail; the Central has been cut short allowing for redevelopment west of the Civic Center.
    Time for Portland to start removing freeways as well, starting with the Eastbank freeway and Marquam bridge…two eyesores in the heart of the city. Commuters, freight, etc. will adjust, and we will be ready for the next wave of development/redevelopment.

    Those weren’t completed freeways though by any means. The Central was really incomplete, essentially just connecting Oak, Fell and Turk to the freeway a few seconds faster. I-480 was also supposed to continue to the area of the Golden Gate Bridge, but also was cut short, making its removal much less significant other than for marginally faster access to Chinatown.

    The Eastbank Freeway/Marquam are different, since they actually connect their end points. There is a lot of traffic that currently uses I-5 from I-84 to I-5 south of downtown.

    I know that people in my neighborhood (Northwest) would be worried about the overflow from I-405 using local roads instead. It’s bad enough when there’s an accident anywhere between I-5 @ the Fremont and I-5 @ the Marquam, I can’t imagine how we could improve I-405 enough to absorb the extra traffic without replacing the current route with some type of connector from I-84 to I-5 south.

    I can’t imagine much citywide support for removing it without a replacement, since the SoWa area would lose some of the little access to the East Side that’s currently available, in addition to the likely overload of all the streets near I-405 on the west side. I haven’t driven that stretch in over two years, but I still think it’d be a bad idea for the impact it would have throughout the central city neighborhoods.

  18. Nina Metaksa
    September 25, 2009 at 11:30 pm Link

    I hope the I5/99W Connector becomes one of those “dead freeways” that is never built. Has anyone else seen the topo profile of where this road is supposed to go from the southern Sherwood are to somewhere between Tualatin and N. Wilsonville onto I-5. This could be a bridge thru the Alps or a killer cut & fill escapade. Those poor folks that live within 250 feet in any direction are about to have a home on a cliff :)).

  19. ws
    September 26, 2009 at 12:48 pm Link

    Do you have a link, Nina?

  20. Dave H
    September 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm Link

    I hope the I5/99W Connector becomes one of those “dead freeways” that is never built.

    The profile I saw didn’t seem as bad as you described, but I still think a better idea is to merge the 99W connector and the Newburg-Dundee Bypass into one project (most likely a divided highway with mostly at-grade intersections, bridges only for the river and the railroad tracks), connecting 99W south of Dundee to I-5 would handle most of the needs of both projects. Add a decent local connector between the Sherwood traffic circle and Boones Ferry between Wilsonville and Tualatin and we can probably move the same number of vehicles more effectively and for less cost.

    At least the McMinnville/Dayton/farther out residents will be able to bypass Newberg/Dundee, and it might help relieve coast traffic that currently goes through downtown Salem.

    Maybe buy the ROW to eventually build more interchanges for the 99W Dundee-I5 idea, but for now figure out if there’s a cheap way to build something similar on the cheap with upgrades later if needed.

  21. EngineerScotty
    September 26, 2009 at 9:32 pm Link


    A southern connector was considered by planners and rejected. The terrain west of Wilsonville is a bit rugged, and any connector south of Newberg would involve a new bridge over the Willamette–plus Marion County wants no part of such a road in their county.

  22. Lenny Anderson
    September 28, 2009 at 11:39 am Link

    The freeway revolt began in SF when these elevated roads crossed “The Slot” and moved into the richer parts of town. Note how I-205 makes a big dip here to avoid Lake Oswego. The fact is nobody wants these kind of roads thru their community, but only wealthier ones where in the past able to slow, divert or stop the freeway machine. That’s why Goose Hollow, the old PSU student ghetto, South Portland, Albina are pretty much gone, but neighborhoods in SE and NW Portland in the 70’s had developed enough muscle to stop the Mt Hood and I-505 extension.
    Removing freeways is tough, but at some point the value of the land trumps the value of the road.

  23. EngineerScotty
    September 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm Link

    Does I-205 make a big dip to “avoid LO”, or because it was following the route of OR212 for its most western segment? Was their consideration of a routing through LO (and presumably then Milwaukie) rather than the present route through West Linn and Oregon City?

    Certainly, wealthier communities are more able to avoid freeways–consider the travails of the Pasadena Freeway in LA.

  24. Ron Swaren
    September 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm Link


    I-205 is constructed along the relatively flat area of the Tualatin River—not over top of the surrounding hills. And it gets traffic over to the Eastside where it was needed. Why would they even think of going through Lake Oswego? I-205 is the eastern half of the standard “ring road” model, which we have half completed on the west side, with Hwy 217.

    SE Portland, where the Mt Hood freeway would have been built is a far cry from being a wealthy neighborhood.

    I am not a big fan of freeways, but something needs to be done to complete the NW segment of our ring road. I don’t think there is a need to make it into a freeway project, though. The freeway construction that should be stopped is the CRC and the following Inner Loop project.

  25. ValB
    September 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm Link

    I-205 was originally slated to cut right through Lake Oswego, but c.1962 they said no way to the state highway department. Today, Portland gets all the kudos for stopping freeways in the 1970s, but it was really LO in the early 1960s that held the first “freeway revolt” in our area. After that, the Mt. Hood Fwy was considered as a possible portion of I-205, but the feds were looking for an eastside interstate “loop” segment that did not come so close to the center of the city (ostensibly for defense purposes). The land to the south, through what is now Tualatin and West Linn was far cheaper and was met with little opposition, because it was mostly rural.

  26. dan w
    September 29, 2009 at 1:31 pm Link

    I am not a big fan of freeways, but something needs to be done to complete the NW segment of our ring road. I don’t think there is a need to make it into a freeway project, though.

    Perhaps something along the lines of a expressway roughly paralleling the Cornelius Pass corridor? It would probably have to share the route with Hwy 30 east for a distance to avoid Forest Park and Sauvie Island, however.

  27. Dave H
    September 29, 2009 at 3:41 pm Link

    ValB, if you have any documentation for that I’d love to see it. Everything I’ve found was that I-205 was going to take roughly the route it does now, only cutting north at 52nd or 82nd instead of 93rd. I had never heard about a Lake Oswego proposal for I-205, but I’ve heard references about continuing route 217 to I-205.

    I know that the Mt Hood Freeway was planned to be I-80N (now I-84), and I’ve heard nothing about it being part of I-205 other than the planned duple. (There’s a 2 mile jump in exit numbers since I-80N was supposed to duplex with I-205 for 2 miles before getting to the Mt Hood Freeway.) The planned expressway between the built portion near Sandy and I-205 was never designated a number since it never even got far enough for consideration as an Interstate.

  28. Valb
    September 30, 2009 at 8:19 am Link

    Dave H, The December 22, 1961 Oregonian has a story about the proposed I-205 and a map showing 5 possible routes for I-205, all of which would cut through Lake Oswego. In April 1963, the LO City Council formally told the highway department to look elsewhere (see April 3, 1963 Oregon Journal).

    The next I-205 route suggested was the Sellwood-Johnson Creek Freeway (Think of Tacoma St. as a Freeway – but hey they would have gotten a new Sellwood bridge) ;) Thankfully, this never got off the ground; it would have also required a tunnel under Riverview Cemetery, before connecting to I-5.

    After that the Mt. Hood Fwy was suggested for I-205, before finally in 1965 the final route was selected through Clackamas County & West Linn.

  29. Dave H
    September 30, 2009 at 10:34 am Link

    Valb, thanks for the details, I’ll have to see if I can dig up a copy of the articles & map. It sounds like quite a crazy idea, but many of the freeway plans for Portland at the time were a bit off the deep end (like the Sellwood Fwy you mentioned, or the 20th Ave Expressway, the Prescott Fwy, or I-505.)

  30. Greg Tompkins
    October 4, 2009 at 1:13 am Link

    I think we need a few things, something akin to I-205 for the west side. Turn highway 22 in Salem into an interstate all the way to Lincoln City connecting to I5 at Salem. Then somewhere around Independence go north and continue on to McMinnville, Forest Grove, then up and over the hill to connect somewhere near Longview. I’d also like to see them widen I5 all the way down to Salem from Portland – maybe 2 or 3 more lanes each direction. This new freeway system would definitely help alleviate a lot of traffic problems. I’d also look into overpasses for major interchanges in Wa County like Murray / TV, Murray Scholls, some on 185th etc. BTW, I left Salem and am living in Beaverton now :) I’m happy to be back!

  31. Dave H
    October 4, 2009 at 11:54 am Link

    Turn highway 22 in Salem into an interstate all the way to Lincoln City connecting to I5 at Salem.

    It seems unnecessary to go with Interstate-grade, but a way to bypass downtown Salem would be nice. I’m not sure the cost (financial or environmental) would be that worth it though, though at another bridge over the Willamette in that area wouldn’t be a bad idea in case of damage to the existing two bridges.

    Then somewhere around Independence go north and continue on to McMinnville, Forest Grove, then up and over the hill to connect somewhere near Longview.

    99W and 47 already serve this route. Maybe a few improvements would help, but I doubt there’s enough population along this corridor to make a freeway worth the cost.

    As far as widening I-5, I’d rather see another road & bridge to connect Wilsonville and Canby for example. It would reduce demand on I-5, and again allow for a diversion around I-5 if the bridge were damaged in an emergency without needing to go all the way to Oregon City to cross the river.

    There’s a lot of roads that Oregon needs before we spend money on a massive limited access infrastructure.

    Grade separating Murray and TV Hwy could be a good idea, just because the rail could also be graded out of the intersection. Otherwise grade separation is much more expensive, but about as effective at relieving traffic as consolidating and limiting driveways.

    Eliminating at-grade rail crossings while grade separating roads would get a bit more out of the deal, as well as a significant safety enhancement, so it seems more worthwhile to spend the money, especially if WES were ever extended to Forest Grove (for example.)

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