Residents understood that the Crossing’s freeway would be large, but it was also supposed to ride on columns high above the island. “I went to the various open houses they had,” recalls Tom Dana, one of the Livability Project’s early organizers. “I knew it was 22 lanes, but it just didn’t register with me how big that was. I just took their word that it would be OK.”
The Crossing’s planners can explain the “why” of every ribbon of concrete, whether it’s to keep the weekend crushes of mall shoppers from backing up onto i-5 or to give 18-wheelers exiting nearby NE Marine Drive (the busiest freight conduit in the region) enough road to reach 55 miles per hour before merging onto the freeway. But even those designing the new freeway variously describe the Hayden Island section of the bridge as “an aircraft carrier” and a “plate of fettuccini.” For a sense of scale, stand by the Starbucks in Pioneer Courthouse Square, look south to the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and imagine those 950 feet of SW Broadway transformed into freeway lanes and ramps.
When the Crossing’s first cost estimates arrived in March 2009—a breathtaking $3.1 to $4.2 billion—elected leaders experienced sticker shock. Key funding gatekeepers, led by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, began calling for major cuts. The Crossing’s planners quickly responded by trimming $650 million worth of lanes and interchanges from the project. But the $125 million chopped out of Hayden Island’s section came out of the freeway’s height. And so, in early November, the islanders suddenly discovered that their flyover freeway had plunged to the ground and plowed right through their only grocery store.
According to Victor Viets, a HiNoon member and a retired civil engineer, that’s when residents of the island first began to comprehend the project’s ramifications. “It’s hard for regular citizens to get a whole lot out of a set of drawings,” he says. “But when they took the Safeway, and people realized most of our restaurants were going, too, it finally hit home.”
Crossing planners like Steven Witter point to their efforts to work with the islanders to improve the design. For instance, the planners shrunk a proposed ring road around the SuperCenter from five lanes (the width of SE Powell Boulevard) to a more neighborly three lanes. The new, lowered freeway had forced the island’s “Main Street,” N Tomahawk Island Drive, into a tunnel 25 feet deep. The Crossing’s planners raised the tube by 8 feet and, at the islanders’ request, proposed ideas like festooning the dark, potentially scary 500-foot-long underpass with a public-art lighting display.
Earnest as such efforts were, islanders concluded that they were “just trimming the toenails of the elephant.” But as the residents pondered the full impacts of the freeway’s new design, they also discovered that the Hayden Island Plan, despite being a long-range vision, had given them something more immediately useful: a sense of unity.
“We had something to point to—that these are our goals for the island,” says Roger Staver, the HiNoon board chair. “It was like forming an army. We had our weapons ready. All we needed was to be attacked.”