The redesign of the I-5 Rose Quarter project creates a hazardous new hairpin off-ramp from a Interstate 5
Is ODOT’s supposed “safety” project really creating a new “Deadman’s Curve” at the Moda Center?
Bike riders will have to negotiate on Portland’s busy North Williams bikeway will have to negotiate two back-to-back freeway ramps that carry more than 20,000 cars per day.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is moving forward with plans to issue a Revised Environmental Assessment (EA) for the I-5 Rose Quarter Freeway widening, a $1.45 billion project pitched as “safety” project and “restorative justice” for the Albina neighborhood.
The revised assessment was required in part because community opponents, led by No More Freeways, prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the project’s original environmental assessment; the project’s earlier “Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was withdrawn by the Federal Highway Administration).
We’ve obtained an advanced copy of the Revised EA, and while it shows expanded freeway covers—it’s also clear that ODOT is backing away from doing anything to assure development. And in expanding the covers, the project has created an entirely new, and hazardous freeway off-ramp.
To expand the covers, ODOT has moved the Southbound off-ramp from I-5, which is now located just North of NE Broadway, to an area just next to the Moda Center, and immediately north of the existing I-5 south on-ramp. The new ramp fits awkwardly into the existing street grid, and the most troublesome feature is a hairpin turn for traffic exiting the freeway: I-5 traffic traveling southbound and leaving the freeway has to do a tight 210 degree turn onto Northbound Williams Avenue. The proposed off-ramp would have two lanes of freeway traffic negotiating the hairpin turn on to N. Williams Avenue (shown as green arrows in this diagram).
Could this become “Deadman’s Curve?” The mainline stem of I-5 has a design speed of 70 miles per hour, and the off ramp would force traffic to slow to 25 miles per hour (or less) to make the u-turn on to Williams. Traffic exiting the freeway crosses a bike lane running along the west side of Williams Avenue (illustrated with red outlines on the diagram).
A similar low speed, hairpin exit ramp from the I-5 freeway in downtown Seattle has been the scene of a series of repeated and spectacular crashes, as documented on Youtube.
A hazard for people walking and biking.
The new Southbound off-ramp abuts an existing Southbound on-ramp at the intersection of Williams Avenue and Wheeler Street. Williams Avenue is a major bike route from downtown to North Portland, and a bike lane runs along Williams, and would cross both these ramps. The new configuration creates a traffic maelstrom at the intersection of Wheeler, Williams and the I-5 southbound on- and off-ramps.
At one point cyclists and pedestrians will have “refuge” on a tiny triangular island wedged in between a double-lane I-5 Southbound off-ramp (12,500 vehicles per day) and a double-lane I-5 Southbound on-ramp (9,000 vehicles per day). On one side, they’ll have cars crossing Williams Avenue and accelerating on to the freeway, and on the other side, they’ll have cars coming off the freeway to negotiate the hairpin turn through the intersection on to Williams Avenue. Green arrows show lanes of traffic entering and leaving the i-5 freeway. White dots show the path of the bike route. The red triangle at the center is the cyclists tenuous traffic refuge.
The Oregon DOT’s Revised EA claims that the project will make conditions better for bikes and pedestrians “on the covers”—but not necessarily elsewhere. The Rose Quarter project website claims:
Relocating the I-5 southbound off-ramp will reduce interactions between vehicles exiting I-5 and people walking, rolling and biking along local streets on the highway cover.
Notice the qualifier here “on the highway cover.” What this statement leaves out is the fact that the relocation of the off-ramp will dramatically increase interactions between vehicles and people on streets away from the cover, particularly and Williams and Wheeler. The new combination of on- and off-ramps here will create many more dangerous interactions, especially for cyclists on Williams Avenue, something that the ODOT Environmental Assessment fails to acknowledge.
The I-5 Rose Quarter project is advertised by ODOT as a “safety” project: People cycling through this maelstrom of freeway-bound traffic may not agree.
Thanks to Bike Portland for its extensive coverage of the bike and pedestrian problems associated with the Rose Quarter re-design.