Thursday, April 11, 2013

Portland's History of Freeways

Robert Moses via Wikimedia

Being a Portland native I have always been familiar with the Interstate freeways. Robert Moses, a 'Master Builder', was brought to Portland in the early 1940's and planned what was to become I-205, I-84, I-5, I-405, and Highway 26 (via Mercury). These are freeways almost every Portlander is familiar with. In 1956 Congress created the Federal-Aid Highway Act that would cover 90% of the cost. Automobiles took over and Portlands last Electric car closed in 1958 which was the same year Portland's first freeway was finished. While these freeways prove useful, many roadways in Portland have faced an early demise.

Harbor Drive via Vintage Portland

The first of these is Harbor Drive which ran along the west waterfront in downtown Portland. Harbor Drive was removed and became what is now Tom McCall Waterfront Park. 

Houses were demolished in SE Portland near Division and 27th to make room for a freeway. This plan was scrapped and the land became Piccola Park.

I5s Ramp to Nowhere via Jason Kinney

Just north of Burnside where I5 joins up with I84 there are two ramps that lead to nowhere. A possible indicator of a planned road that never came to be.

Proposed Waterfront Development 1932 via

This image from a 1932 Proposal shows a Portland that looks more similar to today than it did 40 years ago. A waterfront park can be seen on the west side of the Willamette river despite Harbor Drive being built 11 years later.



  1. The history of freeways in Portland is indeed quite fascinating. Did you know Harbor Drive was the first freeway in the US to be removed? And at a time when the Interstate system, even in Portland, was still expanding. I'm not sure where the "ghost ramp" at the I-5 & I-84 interchange was supposed to have gone, but there are several along I-5. One at the eastern end of the Marquam Bridge leads to the non-existent Mount Hood Freeway, a road that was to replace curvy, hazardous I-84 (then I-80N) with a faster, more direct, and safer route. Alas, it would have removed about one percent of the housing stock in the city at the time (1970s), and road was cancelled due to political pressure from the affected neighborhoods and the then-current gas crisis. One really interesting example is the planned Rose City Freeway, which would have began at the Fremont Bridge and followed Prescott Street to at least the 205. The very beginning of the freeway was constructed, but when plans were cancelled the road was rerouted; it now connects directly to the surface street network at N Cook/Gantenbein/Kerby Avenues. The intent was to give emergency vehicles from nearby
    Legacy Emanuel Hospital access to the Fremont. As a lover of freeways, it would seem Portland is not my city.

  2. Also, there is the Western Bypass idea that was never built but it has popped up as an alternative to replacing the CRC bridge and relieving congestion on I-5, OR-217 and US-26.


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