Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Find     
Site Image

I-205: The East Portland Freeway
History of I-205
(Adapted from “The Interstate Highway System in Oregon – A Historic Overview”, by George Kramer, M.S., HP of Heritage Research Associates, Inc., May 2004)
 
Interstate 205, formally known as Oregon Highway No. 64, the East Portland Freeway, is a 26.6 mile-long north-south highway which meets I-5 at Tualatin south of Portland, and then continues east through West Linn and Oregon City before heading north. It was originally intended as one of the two “loops” that would form a beltway around the Portland metropolitan core. I-205 continues across the Columbia River (over the Glenn Jackson Bridge) and rejoins I-5 north of Vancouver, Washington. 
 
One of the most delayed and controversial of Oregon’s Interstate segments, I-205 was one of the first of Oregon’s highways to successfully follow the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). I-205 was the last of the proposed I-5 connecting loops to actually be constructed. The first contract for construction was awarded on January 11, 1968, for the Willamette River Bridge at West Linn, which was opened to traffic on May 28, 1970. While some controversy arose during the construction of the highway from I-5 east to West Linn and Oregon City, much of the 17.9 miles of this portion was completed or under construction by mid-1974 with the portion from Tualatin to Sunnyside Road completed later that year. 
 
As I-205 pushed north to Multnomah County, the project ran into new and considerably more controversy. In 1973, groups opposed to the project filed petitions with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Environmental concerns, along with new doubts about the social value of freeways in general, made I-205 a lighting rod of sorts. In July 1974, shortly after a sharply divided Oregon State Highway Commission (OSHC) hearing, despite the fact that construction was already underway, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners (MCBC) formally retracted an earlier approval of the I-205 route and required that ODOT redesign a nine-mile section of the freeway. Meetings between the OSHC and MCBC followed, and by the end of 1974 a compromise plan was being developed. In December of 1974, ODOT stopped taking action on all pending right-of-way acquisitions with the I-205 corridor. In April of the following year the City of Portland joined the fray, and suggested modification of the I-205 designs to include bus lanes and other mass transit improvements. Finally, by summer 1975, tentative consensus was reached that would keep the right-of-way but allow some dedication for bus-only lanes while removing or redesigning several of the originally planned interchanges. On July 25, 1975, there was a news conference announcing the controversy was over and agreement had been reached. But, this agreement did not end the controversy. In November 1975, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) notified the State that it objected to portions of the compromise plan related to types of interchanges and busway design. Also in November 1975, a local group published a “Report to the People” that asked if I-205, as newly proposed and agreed to, would be functional and worth the cost. Finally, in December 1975, following changes to the interchanges and redesign of portions of the bus corridor, FHWA withdrew its opposition and so removed the major obstacle to construction of the segment between Foster Road and the Columbia River. 
 
By 1978-1979, construction on the remaining 9.2-mile section of I-205 was underway, with the agreements that the bus transit portion would be designed but not constructed concurrently with the route. As it worked out, the planned bus center that was a key element in the compromise between the State and Multnomah County was eventually incorporated into portions of TriMet’s regional light rail system. The controversy surrounding I-205, which questioned the focus on automobiles as opposed to bus systems and other forms of mass transit, represented a turning of the tide for freeway construction in Oregon. It was the last spur or connecting loop of I-5 to be constructed in the state. 
 
The Glenn L. Jackson Bridge, which spans the Columbia River and connects the I-205 between Oregon and Washington, was formally opened in December 1982. Interstate 205, the East Portland Freeway, as a complete link between Tualatin and Vancouver, Washington, was completed in 1983. Now, in 2005, the northern portion of I-205 carries an average of 87,000 vehicular trips a day, light rail exists from the Gateway Transit Center to the Portland International Airport, and additional light rail construction is soon to begin from Gateway Transit Center south to the Clackamas Town Center at Sunnyside Road. Other portions of I-205 carry average daily traffic up to 164,000 a day.