The Oregon Department of Transportation is proposing to spend $800 million to widen a mile-long stretch of Interstate 5 near downtown Portland. The project bisects the city’s historic Black neighobrhood, and raises key questions about transportation priorities, traffic congestion, safety, social justice, health and the future of cities.? We’re exploring it in detail at City Observatory.
Rose Quarter freeway widening won’t reduce congestion. Wider urban freeways have never reduced congestion, due to “induced demand” a problem so predictable, that experts call it “the fundamental law of road congestion.” Even the experts from ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation concede that the freeway widening will do nothing to reduce daily “recurring” traffic congestion.
The Rose Quarter freeway widening project is either a half-billion dollar ritual sacrifice to the freeway gods, or the world’s most expensive piece of performance art. But there is one thing it is surely not: any kind of a solution to daily congestion on a freeway at the center of one of the nation’s most vibrant metropolitan areas.
Proponents of widening the I-5 freeway acknowledge that it won’t reduce daily “recurring”congestion, but assert that a wider road will reduce crashes and thereby speed traffic by reducing occasional, or non-recurring congestion. Unfortunately, history shows that’s not true.
ODOT widened another stretch of this same freeway, just a couple of miles up the road a decade ago.? The result of their widening:? more crashes, not fewer.
Congestion pricing is a better solution for the Rose Quarter. Congestion pricing on I-5 would dramatically reduce congestion, improve freight and transit travel times, and do so at far lower cost than freeway widening, according to . . . the Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT’s own analysis of pricing concluded:
Overall, Concept 2 – Priced Roadway,?will reduce congestion for all travelers?on the priced facility. This will produce overall?improvement in travel time reliability and efficiency for all users of I-5 and I-205.? [Concept 2 is] Likely to provide the?highest level of congestion relief?of the initial pricing concepts examined. [It] Controls demand on all lanes and, therefore, allows the highest level of traffic management to?maintain both relatively high speeds and relatively high throughput on both I-5 and I-205.
Pricing has been approved by the state Legislature, but ODOT has violated NEPA by failing to include any mention of it in the Rose Quarter Environmental Assessment.
Reducing congestion: Katy didn’t.? Add as many lanes as you like in an urban setting and you’ll only increase the level of traffic and congestion.? That’s the lesson of Houston’s Katy Freeway, successively widened to a total of 23 lanes, at a cost of billions, but with the latest widening, travel times on the freeway are now slower than before it was expanded.
Freeway widening for whomst??.?There’s a profound demographic disparity between those who benefit from I-5 freeway widening and those who bill bear its costs.? Beneficiaries are disproportionately, out-of-state commuters; single occupancy peak hour commuters from Vancouver Washington earn an average of more than $82,000, 50 percent more than those who live in North and Northeast Portland and who commute by bike, transit or walking, and more than double the income of those households in the area who don’t own cars.
Why do poor school kids have to clean up rich commuter’s pollution???Portland’s Tubman Middle School, built more than a decade before the I-5 freeway sliced through the neighborhood would get an even larger dose of air pollution when the widened freeway is moved closer to classrooms. The school’s students–disproportionately low income and children of color, have had to see public school monies–more than $12 million–spent to clean up the school’s air; commuters on I-5, disproportionately white and higher income, paid nothing toward’s these costs.