Residents weigh in on I-5 study
With Wilsonville's congestion problem exacerbating and I-5 considered one of the primary culprits, city officials and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) have identified measures to provide relief to the I-5 bottleneck near Wilsonville.
After conducting a recent study, the I-5 study group identified three options to provide traffic relief — any of which would need to be approved by the Oregon Transportation Commision and placed on Metro's regional transportation plan.
But, as Wilsonville resident Robert Bittle said at the I-5 Boone Bridge Congestion Mitigation Study open house, an easy and quick solution may not exist.
Residents who attended the open house generally expressed approval of adding a ramp-to-ramp lane from Wilsonville Road to neighboring exits along I-5 but were disappointed that the project, if approved, likely wouldn't be completed until 2028 at the earliest and 2040 at the latest.
They also discussed light-rail as an alternative to the increasingly onerous commutes along I-5 and concern about the city's preparedness in case of an earthquake.
Wilsonville City Councilor Kristin Akervall expressed support of a plan that would add a southbound ramp-to-ramp lane from the Wilsonville Road on-ramp to the Canby-Hubbard exit and a second I-5 turn lane to the Canby-Hubbard/551 Highway exit off-ramp. The Wilsonville and ODOT study group also recommended this plan over other designs that would not include the additional turn lane
ODOT representative Talia Jacobson said removing the I-5 shoulder and restriping the lanes would be too dangerous and so widening the lane was the study group's recommended construction option.
The favored plan was projected to provide the most "bang for your buck," according to Wilsonville Community Development Director Nancy Kraushaar, but all three options were expected to provide relief to a mounting issue.
By 2040, if no improvements are implemented, ODOT projects that traffic along I-5 will increase by 15 percent — though Jacobson acknowledged that number could be higher. ODOT also said that the demand for entering the Wilsonville Road on-ramp could far exceed the ramp meter's per hour limit and that commutes will become more unreliable.
"I think that the data presented shows that it's a huge concern but I go back to our community survey we do every two years," Akervall said. "Traffic always comes up and a lot of it is from I-5 issues."
The study indicated that drivers commuting through the congested area must plan for the trip to take three times longer during peak traffic times than it would when roads are clear. Bittle habitually plans his trips around traffic.
"Right now if I'm coming from Southern Oregon up to Wilsonville on the weekend I plan so I don't hit it in the late afternoon because I know there will be extra traffic," he said. "It means I spend less time someplace else so I can get to where I want to go."
Jacobson told attendees of the open house that ODOT hopes to merge the congestion project with the Boone Bridge seismic retrofitting to increase the project's chances of receiving funding. Boone Bridge is considered a Tier 2 bridge, in terms of importance to transportation and vulnerability in case of an earthquake, and so isn't as high of a priority for retrofitting as Tier 1 bridges.
"We can bring it up to seismic standards and we can address an emerging congestion problem," Jacobson said. "Our hope is that that combination is going to show enough value to our decision-makers to move things faster than we otherwise would."
Wilsonville councilors can offer a recommendation but the project's fate will ultimately be left to Metro and the OTC.
"I think we all are aware of the way traffic has grown in the last couple years and the complicating factor is that the interstate system is not a Wilsonville road," Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said.
Aurora resident Pat Kenney-Moore used to spend two hours commuting to work and back in Los Angeles. And when she moved to Portland in the 1990s, she enjoyed the open roads and shortened commutes. But in the last few years, her commutes to Portland and back have mirrored her Los Angeles commutes.
She liked the idea of the ramp-to-ramp lane but was disappointed about the timeline.
"I'm incredibly disappointed to hear that we're looking at 10-20 years out. I was hoping that this was a little sooner on the horizon," she said. "It just means we're looking at pretty horrible commutes for quite a long time."
Bittle has grown frustrated by weekend traffic and congestion along Wilsonville Road during rush hour.
"Wilsonville Road in the evening — sometimes you can walk from Brown Road to I-5 faster than the traffic is moving," he said.
Bittle said an earthquake is coming soon to the Portland area and he wanted local officials to implement seismic upgrades as soon as possible.
"If there's a bad earthquake, it's going to take awhile to build a bridge," he said.
Knapp identified the proposed MAX line from Portland to Bridgeport Village as a potential traffic mitigator along I-5 while Jacobson said transit could prove a useful mechanism to disperse traffic off the freeway in the coming decades.
"One of the things that is always going to be true about our transportation system is that we can never make our roads wide enough to build our way out of congestion," Jacobson said. "Knowing people have local options to meet their daily needs, transportation options to get to those places other than driving alone by themselves, all of those are going to be pieces of the puzzle so we're not spending our days sitting on a freeway."
Wilsonville resident Kate Greenfield has utilized transit systems in Boston, Denver and Philadelphia and has also enjoyed the SMART service in Wilsonville. However, she was frustrated by what she believed to be an irrational anti-transit stigma in the Portland area.
"I do think we could take a lot of strain off if we had more light rail that would facilitate commuting," she said.
Though she supported the study group's ideas, Akervall wanted to see more planning done that addressed needs beyond 2040.
"2040 sounds like a long way off but it isn't," she said. "Are we looking far enough out and is there a way we can take a broader view as far as after 2040?"
Wilsonville City Council is likely to put forward a resolution to recommend to ODOT its preferred option after the public outreach portion of the study finishes in May.