Remove I-5 From Portland’s Waterfront

By Forrest Smith -

Portland is a beautiful city. From the enormous Forest Park to its views of Mt. Hood and the Cascades, it is a city that is connected to its surroundings and to nature. In such a city, it is hard to fathom that perhaps its greatest natural asset, the Willamette River, is cut off from the city along its eastern shore by a freeway.

Not only would the removal of Interstate 5 provide a stronger connection to the river, but it could also be used as a catalyst for significant beneficial changes throughout the city. Such changes could include an improved I-405 corridor, the unification of the South Waterfront with downtown, and an improved Rose Quarter, where a tangle of concrete  from the I-5 / I-84 interchange consumes prime real estate.

Why Remove I-5?

Economic Development

With the removal of I-5, vast tracts of prime, currently inaccessible real estate could be developed into new businesses and residential areas. In addition, development throughout Portland’s eastside would increase as a result.

Reduced Traffic Congestion

With large numbers of cars exiting and entering traffic, freeway interchanges are notorious for causing backups. The removal of two large freeway interchanges (I-5 and I-405, and I-5 and I-84), could actually help traffic to move more smoothly. Improvements to I-405 and rethinking how traffic moves around the city could provide additional benefits.

Creating A Beautiful City

Freeways aren’t generally considered the most beautiful of man-made creations. Adding in new parks, restaurants, businesses, housing and other amenities would not only create a more beautiful waterfront, but provide beneficial assets for all of Portland’s citizens to enjoy. It could become a prime location for recreation and building stronger connections to the natural environment.

A Connected City

Stronger connections between downtown and the eastside, and because of the removal of the I-5/I-405 interchange, a stronger connection between downtown and the South Waterfront. If improvements were made to I-405 as suggested below, stronger connections between downtown and Northwest Portland could also be made.

Keep Portland At The Forefront

Portland is known for doing big things. The removal of the westbank freeway, creating a regional government, being at the forefront of public transportation and responsible development. However, these big moves are now the actions of a previous generation. It is time to once again think big, and be at the forefront of creating a people-centered city.

How to Remove I-5

Phase 1 – The Land Sale

The land under the freeway is sold. The selling and transferring of property would require strong partnerships and collaboration between Portland and the state government, who owns the land under the freeway. Of course those who purchase the property won’t be able to build on it until the freeway is removed. The funds collected from prime waterfront real estate, along with additional tax revenues collected from new developments could help pay for a significant percentage of construction costs.

Phase 2 – Interstate 405 Upgrades

Interstate 405 is upgraded. Additional lanes are added to handle increased traffic, but also as a bargain to those who oppose the removal of Interstate 5 and are hesitant to lose vehicular lanes. I-405 cuts a chasm through the western edge of downtown limiting too much expansion. However, additional lanes could be added by expanding the freeway cut under 13th and 14th Avenues and limiting or reconfiguring exit off and on-ramps.

Additional improvements to Interstate 405 include capping significant portions and creating a string of parks above the freeway. Because of the improvements to this area, new developments could be taxed at higher rates, adding to the funds needed for the improvements.

Phase 3 – Interstate 5 Freeway Removal

Interstate 405 is re-designated as Interstate 5, and the original Interstate 5 is removed. The entire east bank of the Willamette River now opened to parks, new businesses, small industry, and residential areas. A small portion of the west bank, where the Marquam bridge resides is also opened to new development.

Phase 4 – Rose Quarter Improvements

Because the currently existing I-84 and I-5 interchange would be removed, improvements to the Rose Quarter and Lloyd district could also be pursued. This could include capping areas of the new I-84 (currently I-5 next to the Rose Quarter) and creating stronger connections between the Lloyd District, the Rose Quarter, Burnside, and the Willamette River.

Freeway Removal:  It’s Time to Take the Next Big Steps

Portland and Oregon have a long history of doing great things with regards to creating better urban environments; from the original freeway removal of Harbor Drive along Portland’s west bank of the Willamette, to limiting freeway construction and establishing urban growth boundaries.  It’s time to continue that tradition of thinking big for the betterment of the city, andto find ways to reclaim Portland’s east bank of the Willamette River.