The proposed re-design of the I-5 Rose Quarter Project now includes two deadly hairpin freeway off-ramps.

Just last week, Brandon Coleman was killed at a similar hairpin highway ramp in downtown Portland 

The Oregon Department of Transportation doesn’t really care about safety.

The plan to widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter, at the staggering cost of $1.9 billion, has a new added safety problem, a complicated new freeway offramp, of the kind that often leads to serious or fatal crashes.

Earlier, we reported how ODOT’s plan for the so-called “Hybrid 3” re-design of the Rose Quarter project called for moving the I-5 southbound off-ramps about half a mile south to N. Williams and Wheeler, and in the process creating a dangerous 210-degree hairpin off-ramp from I-5.  Even ODOT’s own safety analysis noted the off-ramps would cause big trucks to veer across marked traffic lanes, and would increase the number of crashes.

In part because of these safety concerns—and objections from the Portland Trail Blazers (who own the Moda Center arena abutting the proposed off-ramp location)—ODOT has developed yet another re-design of the project.  This one calls for constructing another off-ramp which would make a second hairpin turn, up and over both the Southbound and Northbound lanes of I-5, and joining the existing I-5 Northbound off-ramp at NE Weidler.

As a result, the latest proposed re-design of the I-5 Rose Quarter project proposes not just one, but two hairpin off-ramps.  Rather than improve safety, this new ramp arrangement would likely be even deadlier for those traveling in and through the Rose Quarter.

ODOT’s initial description called this the “anchor” design, because the freeway off-ramp splits in two, with hairpin turns to both the left and right.  Here is an illustration of ODOT’s proposed “Anchor+Wheeler” Design.  The two hairpin off-ramps are shown in red.  One hairpin off-ramp turns right, and pours traffic exiting the Freeway onto N. Wheeler Avenue.  The second hairpin off-ramp turns left, vaults up and over the I-5 freeway mainline, and then circles back North to merge with the existing I-5 northbound off-ramp as it meets N. E. Weidler Street.  (The circular inset picture with the anchor logo shows the exit ramps emerging from under ODOT’s freeway overpass/cover).

In an earlier commentary, we pointed out the inherent risks of forcing freeway traffic to make a 180-degree (or greater turn) as they exit from a highway (with a design speed of 70 miles per hour) on to local streets with high levels of bicycle and pedestrian users.

We know the combination sharply curving freeway on- and off-ramps feeding into busy arterial streets are deadly to vulnerable road users.  Just this month, Brandon Coleman was killed in a hit-and-run crash where the Morrison Bridge ramps intersect with S.W. Morrison Street and Naito Parkway.  Here’s the police report:

A pedestrian has died in a Downtown Portland hit and run crash.

Brandon Coleman (Portland Police Bureau)

On Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 4:30a.m., Central Precinct officers responded to a crash at Southwest Naito Parkway and Southwest Morrison Street. When officers and EMS arrived, they found a person, believed to be an adult male, laying on Southwest Naito Parkway at the ramp connected to the Morrison Bridge. He was confirmed deceased at the scene. The involved driver left the scene of the crash and was not immediately located.

Just like the proposed Rose Quarter configuration, this intersection combines a curling, high speed and low visibility ramp with local arterial streets and a dangerous pedestrian crossing.  Traffic turning left or right from Naito Parkway does a tight 180-degree turn on to the Morrison Bridge.

Here’s a Google Streetview image of the intersection where Brandon Coleman was killed.


Just like the proposed Rose Quarter project, the Morrison Bridge has two hairpin ramps intersecting with busy city streets.


As we’ve pointed out, ODOT has cynically and falsely portrayed the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening as a “safety” project, claiming (again falsely) that its the “#1 crash location in Oregon.  It’s latest proposed re-designs actually make the area much more dangerous, both for those traveling in vehicles, and especially people traveling on foot and by bike.  The pair of 180-degree hairpin off-ramps proposed for I-5 southbound funnel high speed traffic exiting the freeway right into arterial streets that carry high volumes of people walking and cycling.  They’re recreating exactly the same fatal design error at the Morrison Bridge ramps that led to the death of Brandon Coleman.