Portland Harbor Drive

The Situation

  • In 1942, Harbor Drive was completed as the first limited access highway in Portland.
  • Over the following three decades, the number of housing units in downtown dropped by 56 % as more freeways were built.
  • In 1964, the first of the new freeways, I-5 was completed. This new freeway blocked the east bank of the Willamette River while Harbor Drive blocked the west bank, completely eliminating access to the riverfront.
  • In 1968, a widening of Harbor Drive was proposed. Daily traffic on Harbor Drive was around 24,000 vehicles in the early 1970s. The highway lost some of its importance at this time due to the creation of more highways in the area; however, the State Highway Department still supported a widening.

The Solution

  • In 1968, the Downtown Waterfront Plan called for the redevelopment of Harbor Drive as a park in order to beautify the downtown area.
  • The Riverfront for People citizen’s group, formed to oppose the Harbor Drive widening, supported this plan, as did then Governor Tom McCall.
  • An Intergovernmental Task Force was created to gather public input into the debate of Harbor Drive’s future.
  • Traffic projections indicated that there would be 90,000 trips per day by 1990. Portland traffic engineers highly opposed the removal of the highway.
  • In 1974 the closure of Harbor Drive began because of public support; traffic was shifted onto nearby boulevards as redevelopment began.

The Outcome

  • In 1978, the 37 acre riverfront park redevelopment was completed and is now home to multiple festivals, including the largest Beer Brewers’ festival in the United States.
  • In 1985, the first phase of the RiverFront development, a mixed use development with a hotel, 298 housing units, an athletic club, and 2,000 square feet of retail space, was completed.
  • In 1999, the park area was extended to the south and doubled in size. More mixed use developments and pedestrian amenities are planned.
  • Continued investment has been made because of property value increases in the area in the decades following Harbor Drive’s removal.

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