A new group has formed in Portland to oppose freeway expansion, and specifically to fight against a $450 million expansion of the Rose Quarter Freeway in the heart of the city. No More Freeways PDX is led by a committed trio of political activists and economists which includes Joe Cortright (writer at City Observatory), Aaron Brown and Chris Smith.
"The Oregon DOT has been beating the drums about freeway expansion like every other state DOT for forever," says Brown, but this particular project lay dormant for several years due to a lack of funding. Now the state's most recent transportation bill, passed in June, has allocated the money to make it happen.
Brown, his colleagues and fellow activists around the city know that urban freeway expansion is expensive, damaging to local businesses, harmful to the health of nearby, often-low income residents, bad for the environment, and, moreover, doesn't even solve the problem it claims to address: congestion.
"We're trying to raise awareness that there are a lot of infrastructure needs in Portland, and this project doesn’t solve any of them," says Brown. "It is extra space on the freeway for cars to be stuck in traffic."
Cortright is also eloquently quoted in an article on OregonLive explaining, "It's [$450] million that you might as well put in a pile and burn it, because it's not going to have any effect on recurring congestion." He and other Strong Towns members have written extensively on the subject of "induced demand" — the fact that data from across the nation shows that adding lanes to highways only brings more cars onto those roads and does nothing to decrease traffic. Cortright has also chronicled the mistaken data analysis that has led the Oregon DOT to claim that a wider highway will be a safer highway.
No More Freeways PDX's biggest goal right now is getting the Portland government to remove the Rose Quarter Freeway expansion from its Central City Plan which is currently being finalized. The group has drafted a letter to Portland's city council and hundreds of local organizations and residents have signed it.
In addition to gathering these signatures, the group has also been successful in generating coverage in local news outlets and made appearances at community meetings, aiming to draw attention to the fact that freeway widening is futile and wasteful. They are making their voices heard and adding nuance to the sort of proposal that so often easily walzes through approval processes because it's couched in terms of decreasing congestion.
Eventually, the group hopes to push the city toward implementing congestion pricing ( i.e. tolling) on this highway in order to reduce traffic and increase revenue to creating a sustainable source of funding for the road. "We fundamentally know that no one likes paying tolls," says Brown, "but we’re paying a toll every time we drive on that highway" in the form of time spent in cars instead of with family, children growing up with asthma, pollution in the city and the many other problems that highways cause.
Strong Towns is proud to be one of the inspirations for movements like this one and we hope to see more and more communities pushing back against unnecessary and wasteful highway projects.
(Top image from No More Freeways PDX website)