The case against the I-5 Broadway Widening Project as Currently Proposed

Guest contributor Allan Rudwick is chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association

Editor’s note: As a member of the Planning and Sustainability Commission I will be voting on this plan in the next few weeks. Publishing this guest post should not be construed as an indication of my views on the plan – but simply as part of Portland Transport’s ongoing mission to foster discussion – Chris

The I-5 Broadway interchange is the most congested one in the freeway loop and it was recommended for further study during the freeway loop study a few years ago. The idea was that this 2-lane section of I-5 is a bottleneck and being good highway engineers, ODOT staff need to try and relieve this bottleneck.



The proposal calls for 2 major pieces:

  1. Widening I-5 between I-405 and I-84 to 3 lanes in each direction
  2. A substantial, minimally intrusive reconfiguration of the street grid around the intersection

The street grid in question is to an urban designer and a transportation planner non-optimal. The problems with the existing configuration are:

  1. Presently we have a 5-legged intersection at Vancouver, the I-5 southbound off-ramp and N Broadway
  2. A lot of congestion in the ‘box’ – Broadway, Weidler, Vancouver and Williams
  3. The most dangerous intersection in the city for bikes at Flint/Wheeler/Broadway
  4. All of the traffic exiting I-5 southbound heading eastbound (80% of the traffic) must go on Vancouver, and all of the traffic from NE Broadway to I-5 southbound must also use this stretch, causing unnecessary backups and additionally bringing a fire-hose of cars through the Rose quarter on NE Wheeler before it heads onto I-5 SB or I-84 eastbound.
  5. This section of I-5 has the highest crash rate in Oregon and we need to do something about it.

The proposed solution solves all but problem (a) and I’ll give it a maybe for problem (e) and does so without substantial property impacts – only 2 structures will be removed for this process and they aren’t the sort that the community has invested a lot of time or energy into. This project has gone through extensive public process and the outcomes have been blessed with a number of community leaders in the area. In addition to solving these problems, the proposal adds a bike/pedestrian crossing between N Winning way and NE Clackamas St further stitching the urban fabric back together across I-5.

Model project/process = all is good right?

There were a couple of assumptions that went into this process that I don’t agree with.

  1. We (ODOT) need to widen this section of I-5 no matter the cost (~$150-250 Million) to add another lane and shoulders.
  2. No improvements outside the I-405 to I-84 area would be considered.

Other Projects that might ease congestion at Broadway

Having constraints on the process is very helpful to a project. However, these assumptions that led us to our proposed solution may not be the best assumptions to make. Let’s zoom out for a second. Why is this section so congested? Is this intersection truly the only way that NE and parts of SE Portland should be accessed? There are some spots where ramps could be added to spread out some of the exiting traffic away from this intersection. Adding a pair of ramps on I-84 east of the split would reduce the load on the Broadway/Weidler interchange.

Adding a pair of ramps north of the interchange could also reduce the demand for the Broadway interchange:

Removing the ramps is a non-starter although it would significantly reduce the congestion (and move it elsewhere).

Removing and Rebuilding Bridges Not Technically Necessary

The other thing that was not studied in this process was the fact that adding lanes to I-5 is not technically required to create the local street improvements that are proposed. We would lose the lid over I-5, full-width lanes, and the Hancock/Dixon connection would be replaced with a Flint/Dixon connection, but building this project on the existing structures with substantially lower cost and construction delays is physically possible. Creating the 4-lane English-style onramps onto I-5 on N Williams might require removing the sidewalks from the bridge, but other than that, the structures are physically capable of being reconfigured with a bit of paint and concrete. My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that this would save $250-350 Million of the projected $400 Million project.

You get:

  1. Removal of the Flint/Wheeler/Broadway intersection
  2. Less traffic right next to the rose garden allowing for a more urban place with parking and amenities, the ability to cross the road more easily.
  3. Connectivity across I-5 between Clackamas/N Winning Way
  4. To do the project at substantially lower cost
  5. No streetcar disruption (or minimized)
  6. Significantly less construction impact
  7. Flint-Dixon connection instead of Hancock/Dixon connection (preferred by Eliot Neighborhood Association)
  8. You are not as locked into the configurations – because not as much money has been spent future improvements would not be precluded to the same extent as they would after spending $400 Million

You lose:

  1. The Lid- 1 full and several partial developable blocks of land on top of I-5
  2. Full width sidewalks in a few places
  3. The ability to leverage as much Federal Highway $ for urban amenities
  4. Urban place-making abilities around the interchange in several small locations
  5. The Hancock – Dixon connection- which has some potential for useful space on the overcrossing.

More Project Information:

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