It’s time for a West Side Interstate route

by Ron Swaren

While it is virtually a non starter that anything comparable to the I-205 freeway would ever be built on Portland’s West Side, there are cost effective solutions that can continue the prosperity in Washington County that started in the 1980’s with the location of major high tech firms. Washington County has raced ahead to become the second most populous county in the state and is predicted to edge out Multnomah County in a few decades.

Clark County, Washington has also experienced phenomenal growth and although many Clark County residents work throughout the metropolitan region a disproportionate number have been attracted to jobs with the burgeoning tech employers and spin off industries of Washington County.

The Portland region reached a turning point in the 1970’s when at least a sizable portion of the population decided that they would not allow rampant freeway construction, but would seek to promote alternatives.  There is a decided East Coast, big city mentality that promotes public rail transit, which lately has been rising astronomically in cost. Also, with our mild climate, many younger citizens are lobbying for support for bicycling and bicycle commuting. Opposition to typical freeways is pretty well entrenched because of the strong environmental and conservation movement in the state. Thus, any new proposal for a highway will be subject to intense scrutiny and —likely— opposition.

Now, it appears increasingly unlikely that the much studied Columbia River Crossing project will be built.  Yet because regional economic trends attract out of state workers—most typically from SW Washington—we are also blessed with added tax revenue, badly needed with our present budget deficit. Washington based commuters bring in $200 million annually to Oregon, and those from Clark Co. contribute three-fourths of that. If the Silicon Forest adds more jobs and Oregon pulls out of its latest doldrums that figure could substantially increase.  Making it easy for Washington residents to access jobs here—and pay income taxes to us—-should at least be a part of our planning process. And there are other substantial reasons to promote added transportation infrastructure on Portland’s West Side.

I propose a more modest sized highway that can dramatically shorten the distance from Vancouver WA to the Beaverton-Hillsboro area; a needed improvement over the present I-5 and US 26 slog.  Much of the route I propose already exists, mostly on two lane roads, but some, in the West Union area, is already four lanes. Although widening the two lane routes to four lanes requires some acquisition, there are no homes or businesses which must be removed. There would be a need for some fancy excavation to get though the West Hills area, so it is not rock bottom cheap. But some of the required tunneling could likely be done up through an existing canyon and then covered to return it to a natural state. It is not expensive to do cut and cover construction as an alternative to boring through a mountain. Moreover because such a route would be much shorter than the present commute this would make it attractive to those who want to bicycle or ride a form of mass transit.  Shorter travel time and less or no transferring are major pluses for would-be transit users.

A four lane parkway that connects to the West Union junction of US 26 also means improved access to Hillsboro Airport, which is growing as a secondary player in Portland air traffic. Besides commuters, traffic moving from I-5 in Washington State to US Hwy 26, Hwy 30 and to points in Washington, Clatsop and Yamhill counties–or even further west—would benefit from not having to travel into downtown Portland. A critical link, and one which should be examined for a cost effective solution, is getting such traffic across three waterways: the main channel of the Columbia, North Portland Harbor and the lower Willamette River.  We need solutions that both relieve commuter frustrations and business headaches due to congestion, and can be accomplished in an era of reduced spending.
And those solutions must be such that can preserve the quality of life that Oregonians expect.  Even if a rapidly growing portion of Portland-Vancouver residents opted for alternative transportation solutions, considering the expected area growth a west side route would be needed eventually. If we do it now, we can avoid the other, even more expensive, transportation solutions that are making the rounds.

Please see the website: for an interstate bridge proposal


Ron is a resident of the Portland area, and has been involved in transportation issues and participates in the UN World Urban Forum. As a commercial journeyman carpenter he has built some of the major structures in the Portland area and believes that costs on public works need to be dramatically reduced.


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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Public Transportation | 137 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Joe

    The West side needs more bike lanes. That will reduce traffic by at least 20% now that gas is so high thanks to the guy in the oval office.
    Pedal, that is the way to go, pedal, do you hear me??

    • Anonymous

      Nice try but look at reality gus. I live in Hillsboro and Work in Wilsonville. Sometime one dose have a choice when looking for work.

  • Bob Clark

    I don’t mind tolls for covering the costs of such a revamped route. I talk to people in North Portland, and many don’t understand why we want to rebuild the Columbia River Crossing rather than build a third bridge to the west. I think Portland cityhall fears losing its political power over the entire Metropolitan area it now holds because of transportation having to go through Portland city. This revamped route would be an economic boom bypassing the leftist leaning Portland city elite. Lets get this Westside bypass going.

  • Valley person

    So we should build a new freeway in order to facilitate residents from Washington to get to work in the one place where we may grow new jobs while we still have around 10% unemployment? This makes good sense only in the alternative universe of Catalyst. If you proposed a better link from Clackamas County (lots of housing) to Washington County (lots of jobs) that might make sense. If you proposed more room for housing in wash County, or more job development in Clackamas County, that would make even more sense. But a new highway for Washington commuters? Seriously?

    • eaop

      VP knows and bestows everything. Seriously?

    • Joe

      I am telling you, if you would only listen, that bikes are the answer.

      • Jim karlock

        Answer to what? Prosperity?

        They are slow, dangerous and uncomfortable in the rain, cold or hot summer days(which we will be seeing less of as the Earth continues its 13 year (so far) cooling phase.)


        • Valley person

          Bikes are terrible.Very dangerous and uncomfortable. I’m 58 and have been bike commuting for nearly 40 years and I just hate it. Drill baby drill.

      • Jim karlock

        Answer to what? Prosperity?

        They are slow, dangerous and uncomfortable in the rain, cold or hot summer days(which we will be seeing less of as the Earth continues its 13 year (so far) cooling phase.)


    • Jim karlock

      Dean Apostile: If you proposed more room for housing in wash County, or more job development in Clackamas County, that would make even more sense.
      JK: Oh come on! You and your greenies oppose any more land for jobs or housing. You all want us packed into Metro’s little rat holes.


      • Valley person

        I did say if “you” proposed it Jim. I didn’t say I was proposing it.

        Packed into little rat holes? Like Lake Oswego? Irvington? Mt Tabor? Ladds Addition? Some very happy rats live in those places.

    • Jim karlock

      Dean Apostile: If you proposed more room for housing in wash County, or more job development in Clackamas County, that would make even more sense.
      JK: Oh come on! You and your greenies oppose any more land for jobs or housing. You all want us packed into Metro’s little rat holes.


  • Joelinpdx

    Yep, that’s the ticket…Let’s spend a small fortune to build yet another freeway. Four lanes? You must be joking. Have you missed all the talk about how expanding 217 to six lanes isn’t sufficient, that it needs to be eight lanes?

    And just overlook that Tri-Meth would be lobbying hard to put in a train which they’d try to foist on Vancouver whether it was wanted or not.

    So, how much do you need? Will five billion do it (which would grow to nine billion) or do you need more like six, seven or eight billion?

    I-205 is already too small and gets pretty congested around drive time. Your proposal for a four lane Washington County freeway is ignorant.

    • Ron Swaren

      I don’t think a “small fortune” is accurate. Most of the roadway is already there and much of it is already four lanes. The trickiest part would be getting under Skyline Ridge—-and that is not just because it would be a neat thing. The reason is getting over Skyline is probably too steep a grade. So I think a tunnel would be necessary.

      It would probably be a lot less than the proposed CRC. And doing something like this would actually solve a problem. As compared to METRO’s plan to build a series of projects—highway and light rail—-that would solve only a small bit at a same time and also result in an “induced growth” state as people move here for jobs.

      True, METRO would probably propose a MAX line. However, a shortcut makes public transit A LOT more feasible. There’s nothing wrong with people leaving their cars at home and opting for mass transit, if it is affordable. We all are going to get too old to drive at some time. I don’t plan on sitting at home—do you? As an alternative to light rail cities are going to high capacity buses. Everett, WA has just bought 23 double deckers.

      A note on Oregon unemployment rate: Yes we have a lot of unemployed people in Oregon. Most of them don’t live within commuting distance to Silicon Forest jobs. And a lot of Oregonians go to work in Washington. What’s the best thing? I don’t know, we don’t live in a perfect world.

      On bicyclists: You will never get rid of them. Just try to figure out how to give them what they want at the cheapest possible price.

      On Auto transport: The cost of everything is going up, so I expect the costs of auto travel (including building highways) will go up too. Highway departments are going to be faced with a big revenue problem if high mpg or electric cars catch on.

      • Founding Fathers

        “I don’t think a ‘small fortune’ is accurate.”

        “So I think a tunnel would be necessary.”

        Yes, at that point we’re talking a large fortune.

        • Ron Swaren

          Not nearly as much as putting in a westside counterpart to I-205. Hwy 217 functions as a reasonable counterpart to the Clackamas Co. portion of I-205. But there is nothing comparable in the NW area; and people in neighborhoods like St. Johns want short cut traffic to stay out of their neighborhoods. With both the metropolitan growth in the Portland area and the growth of other cities on the I-5 corridor that we share, our present two route interstate system is going to be more and more crowded. Another needed antidote is improving the rail freight system.

          Or you can opt for Sam Adams’ plan…..

      • Valley person

        Most of what roadway? If you propose taking an existing 2 lane rural road and converting it to a high speed limited access road, you will disrupt a lot of private property and lives. I’d like to see you go door to door with that one.

        New highway routes are for the most part fantasy. They can’t even get one built in Texas let along in the Portland area. This is why all the critique about bike lanes and rail is so off the mark here. The reality is that we are not going to build any new freeways, beltways or other highways in this region. Those days are over. And we can just add lanes to existing roads, as we are finding out with Highway 43. Our options are really limited, physically, economically, and politically. If you understand the limits, you understand why rail, bicycles, and densifying are the only solutions we have.

  • Sam

    Tolls or trolls? I mind both. I pay enough in taxes on every gallon I pump into my massive SUV so build me a bridge with the money left over from all your failed computer projects you fools.

  • Mdev

    I would love to see a westside interstate. Don’t see it happening in the next 20yrs because of political and economic forces but I like your basic idea, while the exact route and details might need to be adjusted overall sounds solid.

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