Minnesota Freeway Construction, 1964

Here are two views of the Minnesota Freeway (I-5) construction through North Portland in 1964. Both are taken from the N. Going Street overpass; the top one looks north towards N. Alberta Street and the bottom one looks south towards N. Skidmore. Many of the homes left standing in these photos can still be found today.

(City of Portland Archives)

42 thoughts on “Minnesota Freeway Construction, 1964

  1. It’s not really an overpass at Going St. It’s an entrance/exit. Was it once a full-fledged overpass that connected Going on the west to Going on the east?

  2. You are both right, Going was severed and dedicated to ramps. Just one of the multitude of design flaws and poor compromises that only just begin with the siting that deliberately misaligned with the Interstate bridge, a siting that was advocated in the editorial pages of our leading newspapers by downtown interests who feared a flight to Clark County of custom and taxes. That flight occurred anyway although admittedly the abomination under construction in these views may have slowed it temporarily. The result of this policy has left us with choked, needlessly polluting roads, a east side cut off from it’s waterfront, uncounted trashed and degraded vistas, neighborhoods destroyed and provided us with a expensive eyesore to remind us of their folly. A horse and buggy freeway demanded by horse and buggy thinkers. I cringe in horror at the thought of the same class of idiots dabbling in the designs of the next Columbia River crossing.

    Make no mistake I am not opposed to infrastructure or highways (properly sited) or personal automobiles or trucks. For my part I advocate for ring roads of the example provided by I 205, as well as greater access to light rail. I am opposed to cutting the heart out a city for the sake of a bigger traffic jam creating more problems then could ever be solved by the misapplication of concrete.and rebar. Roads providing for the efficient flow of commerce are among the basic economic building blocks of a strong economy. Notice in that sentence the many words separating the words road and block. There are interests who delight in roadblocks that serve their narrow economic interest. Better highway design is out there and indeed was out there at the time of this folly. This is a tremendously gifted site for a city, and by that I include the greater metro area and I just think we could do better by those gifts, by respecting our historic buildings and neighborhoods and I am under no illusions concerning the windmills at which I’m tilting here

    Please forgive the rantings of an old man, sigh. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and in no way should be taken as those of the website or its owners and many fine sponsors and viewers.

  3. “deliberately misaligned with the Interstate bridge”?

    Rod, could you elaborate on that? Does this mean the existing route vs, say, following Denver/Interstate?

  4. Tad. Yes that would have been an excellent example or perhaps a different crossing altogether for example carrying I 405 along the route of OR 217 and extending it to the north with the tunnel moved north as well crossing the south end of Sauvie Island which was already industrialized anyway ( it could have been denied access ala Govt. Island if that was a concern) or North of the St Johns Bridge giving great commercial access to the Guilds Lake and North Portland industrial areas and in particular to the Vancouver industrial area. The improved access to the Port of Vancouver was the major source of opposition thinly disguised as “we can’t afford it”. Think of removing all that heavy industrial traffic from the center on both sides of the river not to mention the loss of ambiance and livability in the city proper and ask yourself , how much was saved saved. Downtown interests of the period are on record with their objections and chief among the opponents were the editors of the leading newspaper. Oh well. Could a would a. With my experience in the transportation industry I.m able to report that movement daily of hazardous materials thru a poorly designed and congested political solution. was completely avoidable and what I find really frustrating is that these problems were well and truly understood by the powers that be at that time. It’s not news and I’m not a reporter. It’s just maddening. Every time I see a picture of that trench—– sorry

  5. Thanks Rod, very interesting as always to hear your perspective.

    As I commute from North Portland to Hillsboro everyday, seeing so much heavy truck traffic using Cornelius Pass Rd to avoid freeway congestion, it makes me wish for and wonder how long before they put a tunnel through on that route.

    I don’t know if another bridge would even be necessary, if they would improve both ends of the St. Johns bridge and provide a high-volume connection from the E. end, around the penninsula industrial area and up to I-5. Of course that wouldn’t fix the I-5 bottleneck…

  6. Tad. Thank you for your response. I don’t mean to re litigate the mistakes of 1964. This is not the forum. The juxtaposition of yesterdays “leave it to Beaver” scene reminds me that all those families displaced from North Minnesota, N.Going and all those other cross streets ripped asunder also might be feeling a twinge for what was lost. That is what lights my rocket. As for the I 5- I 84 (I 80n then) interchange. The junction is accomplished very well now in Gateway and that there was no need to carry I 5 thru traffic into the city center would be my point. Heavy trucks excepting local deliveries would bypass totally eliminating the need for the present I 405 and all that entails. The needs of commuters could be other wise handled by terminating freeways at some point. Or your preferred solution(s) in this space. As always these excellent views serve as a very useful reminder to us all of what is and what could have been as well as a caution.

    Thank you for your patience Dan and your excellent posts.

  7. We had a solution to the I-5 congestion problem! Instead they built the west side light rail, claiming it will solve our congestion problem. It didn’t. We could have had the west side by pass that mirrored I-205 on the west side, for less than the cost of Columbia river crossing.

    Ring freeways have been abandon for light rail, that only 1% of the trips in the Metro area use.

    They knew we had a problem and decided on light rail to solve the problems.
    ——————————————–

    STUDY OF THIRD COLUMBIA BRIDGE CLEARS ANOTHER HURDLE
    Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
    November 4, 1988
    Author: BILL STEWART – of the Oregonian Staff

    ———–cut from story———
    At the present rate of growth, transportation officials expect the two existing Columbia River highway bridges to be clogged before the year 2010. Traffic volumes are growing faster than previously anticipated, IRC figures show.

  8. @NativePDX…Amen. I totally agree. Plus, I always thought a FOURTH crossing might be needed too (Camas – Troutdale).

  9. The Going exit was intended as a funnel to and from Swan Island. Also, the 405 ring is way too tight, always was. A ring up to Clark County from 217 (in the 60s) also would have been the better idea.

  10. There was a plan that was killed, along with the west side by pass, to build a bridge in the area of Camas or Troutdale as our population grew.

    But the transit and light rail planners. Metro and politicians killed that too.

  11. LOL David. I haven’t seen any numbers but I imagine the price tag on said West Side bypass would have been off the charts (much like CRC… maybe more in adjusted $). I’m no civil engineer, but tunneling 6 lanes through further north seems like it would be an order of magnitude more expensive than the Sunset tunnel or Bore-Regard’s work for light rail.

  12. David I don’t believe anyone mentioned KISN radio!

    I don’t recall where, but I saw somewhere, the west side by pass was around $3 billion from Tualaton north to where I 205 come in to I-5 in Washington.

    The west side Max, was about a billion after all the cost over runs.

  13. Tad. Would we not assume that a similar tunnel in the same time period through similar geology would present comparable costs. Never mind the decade or so difference in execution. If you propose this tunnel for remedial purposes at today’s land values and construction costs now you are talking orders of magnitude. The time when this project would have penciled out was before the land acquisitions for the present I 405 began, 195_? That train left the station. We are left to wonder what might have been and debate whether we should further consider the admonitions and urgings of the the interests, or their heirs, who bequeathed us this mistake. If indeed you believe it was a mistake, that is. If you like it, it’s okay but shrug, it’s not for me.

  14. Wow. 50 years of hindsight and that’s the best answer: we should have done the tunnel. I’m thinking that the sticker shock of that proposed boondoggle made the decision pretty straightforward.

  15. My Grandparents lived on Montana Ave at that time and there are pictures of me as a toddler playing on the equipment on the weekends (didn’t have to lock up things back then). Their garage was purchased by the Feds, auctioned off (back to them) and then moved about 20 feet by the government and they (the government) even paid to move it as well!!

  16. @Rod – I’m not a geologist either, but just from looking at the terrain maps it seems pretty clear that there’s 10x more mountain in the way “up north” where the WSB would have gone through. The Sunset tunnel/26 crosses the hills at a natural low spot/pass.

    Not to say that I’d be complaining if they had built it… as I mentioned above, I’m in favor of a tunnel through there, but maybe something more modest like a “super 2” connecting 26 with 30 to bypass the Cornelius Pass/Germantown traffic.

    @NativePDX: so that’s $3 billion *before* cost overruns, right? 🙂

  17. Tad good point there, I am assuming the Cornelius Pass route was what was entertained as the railroad uses that same route from Willbridge to the west And the crossing would have been approached at a favorable angle over grades no worse than those existing at the Vista Ridge now , not head on I would think .The summit could also be daylighted in that location possibly, negating the need for a tunnel. but in any event we are just speculating about what might have been. The point for me was that any solution beyond what we have now was opposed from “downtown” on the grounds that the result would be a loss of custom, tax base and population development to Clark County. They made no secret of their opposition or their reasoning at the time. We should possibly take that as a caution. Any and all attempts to investigate alternatives were ruthlessly opposed. All a matter of record. By the evidence up till now, thinking ahead has not been the long suit of those in the corridors of power

    The opportunity is long in the past, The present is a different matter and we may or may not learn from the past as we choose I guess. So this is a forum devoted to our local history ,I’m assuming here,and some people have sometimes found that history lamentable. For instance the loss of our many fine cast iron building fronts and destruction of many fine and architecturally distinctive homes is lamentable. The loss of the east side river bank, to my mind and the subsequent construction of a twenty story eyesore with it’s ramps to nowhere is also seems worthy of some opprobrium and lamentations. Just saying.
    There is a cliche out there about repetition and madness but I wouldn’t touch it for a free weekend in Pismo Beach if you catch my drift.

  18. A mental exorcise.

    Folks let’s start over. It is 1952. There are no freeways. Period. There are barely any 4 lane roads. There is however a serviceable Interurban light rail system in place. President Eisenhower comes to office and proposes a new national system of interstate highways. It’s a blank slate. The narrow parochial interests in Oregon generally and Portland in particular are mostly opposed to the entire proposal.

    You get to design the Portland area Interstate System from scratch. Knowing what you know now would you build the existing layout. Believe it or not almost all the present draw backs were foreseen at that date. Sadly the same narrow interests that opposed the whole thing were able to gain control of the process and you will have to overcome them. The Oregon delegation will even need to fight tooth and nail to just prevent I 80 N (I 84) being located on the North Bank. It was a very very near thing. I can also tell you that I 80 N (I84) terminated at 39th and Sandy and I 5 only began at the top of Breeze Hill at Barbour Blvd and both of those set-ups worked just fine.

    I don’t believe you could possibly do any worse then the present situation but you’re welcome to try and I will say that if you arrive at the point in 1962 that is so well depicted above. Well —–

    I still think we could have got a lot more bang for the bucks. That was all I was trying to say. My fault entirely. Sorry

  19. Most of our problems today, are because we stopped building freeways as the population grew. The last freeway was the I-205 in the 80’s.

    Instead the ( special interest driven) transit planners have built the east side, west side, interstate, PDX and Clackamas Max and the streetcars. That moved bus riders onto trains, that cost 100 times more. Doing nothing to relive congestion or improve auto or transit trips..

  20. Native PDX: If you could go back, would you have favored building the Mt. Hood freeway thru SE Portland? If yes, why?

  21. I was oppose to the freeway back then because I fell for the myth that light rail to Gresham would solve the future congestion problems.

    It is bazaar that the Mt hood freeway starts in Gresham and heads east and does not connect to the rest of the freeway systeem.

    In the 60’s and 70’s it was not as bad, because from I-84 to highway 26 or the Mt Hood freeway, was mostly farm land and had only a couple stop lights and very little congestion. It was a great day when they took the old 2 lane winding highway 26 and built what we have today starting in Gresham to Mt hood.

    Highway 26 ends at Portland and then starts again in Gresham. That makes no sense.

    If we are going to add to the population by way of density, infill etc. we also need to add capasity to our road systeem. More people equal more cars driving, equal more congestion and stalled cars, creating more pollution. When cars are able to move at the posted speeds you can move more cars per hour through a area.

  22. You actually have it backward… if we add freeway capacity (or a new Columbia River Bridge), it encourages people to live in far-flung suburbs.

    More people living in distant suburbs means more lots more car-miles driven(more traffic than capacity added) and lots more congestion. More lanes = more congestion *in the long term*. Seems counter-intuitive but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

    Adding population by way of density and infill, on the other hand, allows people to choose other options, such as transit or biking to get around… or at least that’s the theory.

    I wonder how bad traffic would be on I-84 if they had never built the eastside light rail line? Or how much better it would be if they had never built the I-205 bridge (ever count how many WA plates you see heading up 84?) I think the explosion in east Clark County tells the story of what kind of traffic the 205 bridge drives, and its impact on 84 traffic.

  23. Tad, Light rail carries about 1% of all trips in the Metro area.
    One freeway lane carries about 6 times the people that Max carries going in both directions. Max is a low capasity systeem.

    When the east side Max was built ( while I was still a believer ) we were told one Max line could carry as many people as a 6 lane freeway. We now know that is not happening anywhere.

    People drive because they have a reason to go somewhere or to visit with family or friends, go shopping, go to kids activities and for their jobs. People don’t drive just to drive.

    Do you recall what it was like before they built I-5?
    Or I-405?
    Or the Sunset Tunnels?
    Or before I-205?
    When I-84 ended at Union and Grand?
    217 exchange?

    I do, every freeway addition filled up because people were already going to where the new freeway went, but they were using old routs to get there. Most People don’t drive, just to drive on the new freeway. And when they moved to the freeways, they freed up the streets such as Barbur Blvd, Terwilligar blvd, Interstate AV, Union AV, 82nd AV etc. These streets were now un-congested and no longer stop and go traffic nightmares.

  24. Not sure why you keep quoting that meaningless statistic… something more relevant would be how many trips that light rail relieves from relevant alternate routes (i.e. 26 or 84). “1% of all trips in the Metro area” is based on the faulty assumption that you can get anywhere in the metro on MAX, which is clearly a stat intended to mislead.

    I don’t know when you are out and about (and I don’t drive on Terwilliger enough to say with authority) but whenever the freeways are congested, so are alternates like Barbur, MLK, 82nd and Interstate.

    But that’s all beside the point (the point which you ignored), that expanding freeways gets us exactly nowhere *in the long term*, and is in fact arguably counterproductive.

    We only need to look at freeway-centric places like Seattle or LA to see what happens… traffic is like a gas, following Boyle’s law. It always expands to fill the available capacity (and then some).

    Yes, people were already going there, but now, in part because they built the freeway, a whole lot *more* people are going there.

  25. NativePDX – Tad makes an excellent point in suggesting you look at Seattle and LA to see what kind of city develops around freeways and the automobile You also sound like you’re living in 1950 dreaming about how great it will be to get around on superhighways.
    Freeways have not created wonderful cities. Before 1950, LA had the most extensive intercity commuter rail system in the world. Then when the car became king the greed of the auto industry, the oil industry and the construction industry decided freeways were the way to go. Traffic-choked LA’s the result.
    Oil is a finite resource. They’re taking more risks in the processing of oil at a greater expense to our environment.
    The 20th Century is over. We need to learn from our mistakes of the past. It’s time for people to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate a responsible green approach to our future.

  26. LA has fewer freeway miler per person than Portland. The LA area is the most dense area, in the US.Trains, trollies and streetcars were first built ,to help people sprawl away from the inner cities. Transit uses more energy per person than new fuel efficient auto.

    OK the 20th century is over, why do you want to go back to the 19th century and ride on rails?

    People don’t just get into their cars just to drive, they do it to visit with friends and family and in my case elderly parents. To go shopping or out to eat or other entertainment andTo go to their jobs.

    It is a transit Myth the freeways create more driving.

  27. I apologize in advance for perpetuating the argument in this inappropriate venue, but there are a couple things I can’t let slide…

    1) LA the most dense area in the US? Surely you’ve heard of New York City… Of course that density figure depends heavily on where you decide to draw the boundaries. The only reason LA comes ahead of NYC in some statistics is because they include large low-density swaths of NJ and CT in the NYC Metro area.
    2) Why do you keep throwing up the strawman argument about people driving just to drive? Has anybody suggested that people do? While I *do* in fact drive just for fun on occasion, it doesn’t really impact this discussion in any meaningful way…
    Some of us might be long gone before it happens, but it’s hard to deny the fact that sooner or later most people won’t be driving to work, simply because gas is going to be too expensive to use in such a way. When that day comes, people will be grateful that we had the foresight to start investing in transit now.

  28. Tad, Chuck and PDX: Hypothetical……What if, in 3 years, the price of gasoline went to $10/gal or more. Do you think our present mass transit system could “ramp” up to accommodate the transportation needs for commuters (i.e. more trains and buses)? Could MAX, Tri-met and the current bike paths meet the demand for the masses? I agree, it is better that we get a head start on this, which Portland is known for. Wouldn’t it be interesting to watch the MAX lines, bus routes and bicycle lanes triple in use while the freeway and downtown parking structure traffic decreased by 50%?

    PS I like this venue under freeway construction for this discussion.

  29. I brought up LA because Chuck used LA and Seattle as an examples, ignoring LA as the most dense Urban area and fewer highway Miles per person than Portland ( yes going outside of the LA city limits) and Ignoring the problem Seattle has, with Water and the Pudget Sound.

    My problem with Max as a solution to congestion is, even in the Environmental impact statement, put out by Metro . It states the Max will not relive congestion. And we now have 20 years of promises and Max in Portland Metro area, to look at.But were are still told, in the future this somehow will solve our problems despite the fact that transit users only pay 20% of the operation costs and Zero of the capital construction. Light rail is a low capacity system that now is overwhelm at rush hour, how will it ever be a solution, if 5% of the trips in the Metro area decided to use it?

    Auto use is growing in Europe and they pay a lot more then we do to drive.

  30. MAX doesn’t relieve congestion, freeway expansion doesn’t relieve congestion. Freeway expansion is just a wack-a-mole game of moving the bottleneck from one place to the next.

    What does relieve congestion? Convincing people to live near their place of work. So far we’re not doing so good at that… in my opinion the only thing that will do it is when it gets too expensive to commute long distances. So we have the choice of waiting for the inevitable or finding creative ways to hasten it.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a big fan of MAX either. It’s too slow, stops are badly spaced, train size is limited, and it runs on the surface… for starters. To be really effective it would need to run underground, but then we’re talking real money.

    I wasn’t around back then, but I wonder how long after 26, I-5, etc were opened that they started to suffer from rush-hour congestion? In other words how much “uncongestion” does a brand-new freeway buy us? I’m betting not much.

  31. Population growth and density mandates causes congestion, if you don’t provide new capacity on the road system as the population grows.

  32. Every time they added a freeway or expanded a freeway, it relived congestion until the population passed up the modifications.

    Every time we added a light rail line or a streetcar line, we didn’t see any reduction in congestion along that corridor, because the majority of the riders, just moved from bus users, to rail users.

  33. Debunked. Really. In what way debunked. My highest and proudest educational achievement is a certificate of completion of the 8th grade from the Portland Public Schools and in spite of those limitations even I can read the public record of conviction on the charge of monopoly, up held on appeal in the federal courts. I can also read and understand that the second charge, conspiracy, was dismissed on legal grounds not on the merits. The witness testimony still stands, UN-repudiated and speaks for it self. I’m not even remotely qualified to speak as a lawyer about this or any other case and I would never pretend otherwise. I can say however that you either have not read the case or if you have ,you must have a very novel and strange interpretation of the words myth and debunk. Perhaps you will further edify me with some citation to a non political site, not as you have above, authored by a right wing ideologue. Perhaps instead a article authored by say some one trained in the law or the interpretation there of.

  34. Rod
    Sense you are an expert on the case, Please point out the problems with the article I linked to, other than you just don’t trust Cato or Randal O’Toole? (Who grew up in Portland and was a liberal, long before he joined Cato).

  35. Hey, either way, I’d love to see our vaunted Tri-Met (the Road Plug) revert to painting all its buses the old Rose City Transit livery of red and cream. We are the Rose City, eh? Wouldn’t that be a neat shout-out to the colors and days of yesteryear?

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