Last week, WW detailed the freight company’s plans to develop 17 acres it owns in Northwest Portland and the tension the proposal is already creating (see “Welcome to Con-way Town,” June 6, 2012).
The plans include a new residential and shopping district, complete with a city park and—key to the development, Con-way says—a high-end grocery store, such as Whole Foods or New Seasons Market.
Con-way officials have said they’re confident they can win neighborhood backing—and City Hall approval—for a master plan that governs their property, even with neighborhood concerns about what the new development might look like.
But Con-way’s proposal for reducing traffic congestion has been rejected by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
And neighborhood leaders say they’re rankled over Con-way’s plans for the Interstate 405 intersection and the company’s characterization that they’ll fall in line behind the project.
“We haven’t blessed it yet,” says Ron Walters, president of the Northwest District Association. “We’re going to have a meeting with Con-way—the concern being that the intersection is going to basically fail.”
With its promise of jobs and development, the plan will also test City Hall’s resolve to keep the project in line.
Con-way’s plans would add almost 2 million square feet of development to the Slabtown neighborhood in the next decade—increasing congestion where the Interstate 405 off-ramp meets Northwest Vaughn Street at 23rd Avenue.
The company proposed reducing traffic at the busy intersection in two ways.
The plan would create a separate U-turn exit ramp off I-405—allowing cars to turn directly onto Vaughn, sending them east toward the Con-way development. The plan would also let northbound cars turn right from 23rd onto Vaughn without stopping.
But ODOT rejected the U-turn ramp idea March 16, “due to the weaving, queueing and safety concerns.”
ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton says Con-way’s proposal would have cars trying to change lanes across traffic on an already crowded interstate off-ramp.
“The plan they’ve got right now is pretty busy,” Hamilton says. “There’s a lot of U-turns in there.”
Con-way now says it’s looking with the Portland Bureau of Transportation at an alternative that would direct off-ramp traffic onto a longer loop, taking cars through the Northwest Industrial District and underneath the I-405 ramp.
“Traffic engineering is part science and part art,” says Craig Boretz, Con-way vice president of corporate development. “You use the least-cost option to solve the problem, and if the problem is bigger than you thought, you move on to the next option.”
But the Northwest District Association, which has for years fought entrenched battles over growth and parking—and specifically locked the Con-way site into city zoning code—says it has another half-dozen concerns with the master plan.
“We’re not that into it whatsoever,” says Walters. “The open-space and the transportation issues are something that have to be addressed if we’re going to give our support. Those are the biggies.”