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.