Completing the metropolitan ring road is a priority


by Ron Swaren

Please note I am not referring to a copy of I-205 placed on Portland’s west side or any Westside Bypass Freeway.  However, when the Columbia River Crossing task force eliminated competitive proposals the central reasoning seemed to be that these were “not in the (I-5) bridge influence area.”

But aside from tearing down the I-5 bridges, wouldn’t we want any supplemental structure to be outside the “influence area?” I’m not talking about Idaho, simply at other points within the Metropolitan area. And there is no good reason to tear those existing bridges down.

I have been through a number of seismic upgrading projects, including the I-5 Lake Washington Canal Bridge in Seattle. With the right connections we should be able to get the respected PEER Lab (Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research) at Berkeley, CA to draft some proposals. A common engineering technique, applicable to buildings and bridges, is to “isolate” the structure from the foundation. Sophisticated bearings that absorbed shock or harmlessly wobble with larger earth movements, combined with designs where larger segments of the structure can bend or twist a bit, reduce the ground energy that transmits to the structure. The larger concept is “dampening,” i.e. reducing movement, by a series of shock absorbing techniques. With the I-5 bridges, a main concern is that the 700 ton counterweights could begin swaying in a prolonged event and damage the structure. So their movement needs to be dampened, not passed along accentuating ground movements.

So first of all, can we agree that there are, or will be shortly, engineering concepts that will solve the I-5 bridges’ vulnerabilities? See the homepage of the PEER lab at:

This would eliminate the argument that they need complete replacement. And I don’t believe rehab costs would be in the $250 million range. A highrise building, which also incorporates seismic protections plus a number of other systems is generally under $100 million. And according to the latest US Geological Survey report Portland is not in as nearly a dangerous area for earthquakes as is the southern Oregon coast.

Back in 1980 the I-5 route in North Portland was beginning to experience slower travel times. but the real onslaught came with the concentration of thousands of new jobs in the high tech corridor between Beaverton and Hillsboro, the Silicon Forest. Today, from a good vantage point, you can even see that late afternoon traffic now comes more from the Fremont Bridge and western Portland, than through northbound on the I-5. Unlike the eastern suburbs no interstate route has ever been built, so all of the traffic from Washington headed to the westside must use I-5, or possibly I-205 if it is bound further south.

The most common strategy is to circumvent a major city center with a Ring Road. so that large portions of traffic are diverted away from the center. On our east side we have I-205 and in the SW we do have a functional route, Hwy. 217. It is in the NW where there is no completion of a ring road. I have proposed the Western Arterial Hwy. connecting from US 26 at West Union to Hwy 500 and NE 39th street in Vancouver.  This could simply be a four lane highway. The ROW already largely exists. Other routes, such as NW Cornelius Pass Rd. could augment this route, and placing it close-in on the Vancouver side a number of east-west thoroughfares could tie in. See some of my previous articles for more details.

Last year Clark Co. voters approved an advisory resolution for a third Columbia River crossing at 192nd Ave. I think the major drawback of this is that the areas served by this proposed bridge are rather small, in comparison with the Beaverton-Hillsboro-Forest Grove-Banks-Tigard area. Get my picture?  The 192nd Bridge would facilitate future development (another area for argument) whereas the Silicon Forest problems are already here. I suspect also that much of the motivation for a 192nd Avenue bridge comes from the thought of being easier to get to Oregon for E. Clark Co. residents wanting to save sales taxes, and perhaps not having as many local commercial opportunities. This proposal is for a rather long bridge, of 10,000 feet, whereas a distance one-fourth of that is available upstream.

A Western Arterial highway without the fancy light rail features tends to get a yawn from Portland’s anti highway crowd. But for those wanting to reduce travel times by all modes it has a lot of appeal. To get from downtown Vancouver to West Union Junction via I-5 and US 26 is now a 20 mile trip. The return trip can take a horribly long time, as congestion on both routes skyrockets. A Western Arterial route would be 14 miles or less. If a Western Arterial route can relieve enough traffic from I-5 the level should return to tolerable. Right now it is beyond the tipping point, and dramatically slow. But when functioning at normal speeds bus transit is less impeded. A shortcut will benefit all those who use it.

For solving the traffic issues from west side metropolitan growth the other options just don’t pencil out. A Bypass Freeway would be prohibitively expensive. Light rail through Clark County would also be very expensive (costs are now around $200 million per mile) and likely would be underused. A 192nd Ave. Bridge is ten miles away from I-5 and would have little impact. Apart from the political reasons, which boil down to a “if it isn’t my idea, I don’t want it” provincialism, the Western Arterial route from a financial standpoint would provide the most bang for the buck, to solving I-5 problems.  As a previous article pointed out with the construction of new bridges we can probably also incorporate some sophisticated energy saving features to benefit public transit such as electrical turbines powered by river current.

Ron is a resident of the Portland area, 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.

  • Eric Blair

    One ring to rule them all?

    • guest

      C’mon, ‘google’ common sense sans nonsense.

      • Eric Blair

        LOL.. seriously.. you’re going to lecture people about “sans nonsense.” You. Of all people.

        • guest

          Warp say you, blathering uncorked jester?
          EB, go forge a gnu life Warshingtaw DNC!

    • Ron Swaren

      I’m not sure if you’re mocking the idea, or just making a pun. Unless there is a credible effort to also remove freight trucks from the highways, our congestion– and transportation related problems are not going away.. But, alas, this would take some Real Work on the part of progressive urban thinkers, not just retreating into the social safety of like minded internal combustion engine ( for want of a more current category) naysayers.

      And if bicycling were really the final solution, wouldn’t you see more people using them in the winter? The dark clouds gather, the cold rain pelts down, the trails get frosty—and the bicycles tend to vanish. So that gets us back to the roads, and until transportation activists get busy and improve our short distance rail systems, that is pretty much the choice we are left with.

      It just may be that people who work in the Portland area would rather make an investment in a home, even if it is in Vancouver, than keep flushing a thousand $$$ or more down the drain by renting a tiny apartment in Portland. So Eric, let’s see what you’ve got for realistic answers. And FYI, tradesmen, deliverymen and a whole lot of professionals need to get around during the day, in a time-efficient way. Being able to ride a few miles to a job that is always in the same place is becoming more of a rarity. I’m trying to have a realistic conversation not one based upon soundbites and part-time answers.

      • Eric Blair

        It was a joke. Didn’t mean to mellow your harsh.

    • MrBill

      And in the darkness bind them.

      Interesting idea though.

      • guest

        “you can save a lot of trouble by not borrowing any,”

        • MrBill

          True enough.

  • IhateLiberals

    Time for Portland area residents to face facts. Nothing will improve driving times and traffic congestion in your area until you get rid of car-hating planners making your transportation decisions.
    Several cities such as Phoenix, Atlanta and Reno have highways circling the metro area that effectively move traffic and eliminate cross
    town congestion.

  • guest

    Once upon a time attending PDX USA,
    Was a transit paradigm for folks not wanting to stay,
    Lo, intended for commoner sense to pass ’em through, expeditiously,
    ‘Knot’ tying them up with loopy holes, per se.
    Then came along came along Dem gov’s Goldschmidt and Straub,
    Whilst Rolexn’ trysts in sum shine RasPutin ‘udder Commie tsars;
    to qwip Stalin and expedite decadent MAXimized light rail,
    Even if it dasn’t fulfill, for crying out loud ‘service’ current Avatars.
    So the rant d’ohs on and sew It goes,
    Two short of bridged common sense goals,
    Rx, press shovel blight rail under a disconnected bus,
    Restore back some common sense foals.
    Let’s farce it – Metro sucks garbling too many bucks – yet governmentium analy-cysts refuse to expel the scat incumbent.
    Please strap the insanitease down folks; Regional government is a CONundrum, sorely lacking in many convent-ual ways .

  • Bob Clark

    A couple of changes in the local political scene have happened of late which have tangential relation to the need for a second bypass of the downtown core of Portland. First, a recent Metro survey shows an overwhelming majority of Metro residents want to live in a single family detached house with yard. Second, there is a rising rebellion among City of Portland neighbors against the increasing density occurring currently in Portland. These both signal a citizen desire to have some degree of easing in the Urban Growth boundary and its limitations.

    To meet this desire to live with more space comes the need to have more rapid road capacity. A new west side bypass would no doubt unleash this pent up economic demand, and also with it, a boom feeding off the Silicon forest of Washington County. This would be an economic game changer for Oregon, lifting prosperity for most Oregonians and particularly those in the Portland Vancouver Metropolitan area.

    Unfortunately, this second bypass would require a rather large Sea Change in local and state politics. So instead, expanding road capacity with economic and population growth may be practical only through the least of increments, like that of the David Mendora proposed new east county bridge. It would help reduce about 15% of congestion off of I-5 North rush hour traffic. It would probably spur some additional economic growth.

  • Marc

    The new electric assist bikes could help with the problem of fewer bikers in the winter…as you could really bundle up and just push the button and go! I say don’t give in to big transportation and let’s ride to work and try to all get along whilst saving our mother, the earth.
    Cars are bad. Big cars are even badder for the earth. What we need is the courage to stop warming the earth just for our own convenience. Why can’t we all move downtown and walk to work? What about that idea you peoples who want to pollute and destroy. I detest you all!
    Walk, bike, but don’t get inside
    Any vehicle that takes you for a ride.
    Trust me on this, they all are bad
    As they warm the earth, which makes me sad.
    Our mother is getting hotter each and every day,
    And eventually she will melt completely away.
    No more sea shore – all flooded it will be,
    And you will swim to work as we shall see.
    With warming melting everything in sight,
    The earth will be a terrible fright.
    Heat, heat, and more heat, too
    Warming all of us up to 102!
    So get out of the car, this I say
    So we can all enjoy living one more day.
    Act now before it is too late
    We will perish for certain if you hesitate.
    Jump on Craig’s list and sell that SUV
    And you will go down in history.
    As one brave American who knew what to do,
    And saved us all from the global warming stew.
    I will thank you now for taking a stance,
    And not ever giving a backward glance.
    Too much is at stake and the time is almost out.
    Please, don’t drive….simply bike or walk about.
    You will save the earth for all the rest,
    And so you must of all your cars divest.
    Please, do it now, and if you must drive,
    At least get a Prius and really strive.
    To hypermile that damn thing and squeeze her tight
    So you can rest much more easily at night.
    Knowing that you and you alone,
    Have saved mother earth….our permanent home.

    • guest

      Dollops and kudos to Marc, sic [wannabe] Brudos?
      AKA, bicycle peddler personified,
      Admitting he hates automobiles,
      Tit tor tat – slice ’em off and cast’m aside.
      Wholly hav’n a cow,
      What udder nonsense grasps this moonbeam,
      Seemingly a Jerome,
      Replicate, antithesis serene!

    • Ron Swaren

      Moving freight by rail is a lot less polluting than by truck—-especially when the trucks are idling along in slow traffic for an extra hour or two. So when are the ‘transportation advocates’ going to step up and confront that issue? Private autos will likely continue to become less polluting, less reliant on fossil fuels, and either hydrogen based or electric. Or based upon redesigned ICE engines. My previous article suggested a Columbia Bridge with built in turbines, that could produce power for rechargeable buses.

      A lot of people need the freedom of a private auto, because they have a number of stops they have to make. When our local leaders adopt an attitude of spite towards the SW Washington commuters who are enduring outrageously long waits on I-5, it doesn’t do anyone any good. We could rid this area of an enormous amount of pollution and wasted time by following some basic rules of transportation planning—such as the ring road I described. Which would automatically solve all current congestion issues on Portland thoroughfares, and make a large contribution towards pollution reduction.

      It’s large, diesel engines and heavy truck tires that are causing the most wear and tear on our system, and air pollution at the same time. I think Portland politicians are seizing upon the climate change issue, because what they really want is more people crowded in here, paying taxes. They are getting a lot more revenue off those huge apartment buildings than they were off the previous small commercial sites. Whatever they are doing, and whatever the reasons, it is not working.