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ORoads: The Mt. Hood Freeway

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US Route 26
Interstate 80N
Mt. Hood Freeway Navigation:
Info/Map | History | Rediscovering the Mt. Hood Freeway | Pictures (coming soon)
Mt. Hood Freeway Info and Map
The Mt. Hood Freeway's Routing from Portland through Sandy
Lengths: about 7.5 miles (Mt. Hood Freeway)
about 7.5 miles (Mt. Hood Extension)
Type: Freeway
Lifespan: 1955-1978
Western Terminus: I-5 in Portland at Exit 300A (never built)
Eastern Terminus (Mt. Hood Freeway): 122nd Ave., Gresham
Eastern Terminus (Mt. Hood Extension): US-26 south of Gresham
Cities Served: Portland, Gresham
Intersects: OR-99E, US-26 Business?, OR-213, I-205


(within Portland)

Oregon Highway Name/Numbers: Mt. Hood Freeway #24
Mt. Hood Freeway History

In the glory days before the Interstate highway system began choking many a metropolis' air, just after World War II, the Portland City Council brought in Robert Moses, a New York planning consultant who was behind many of the Big Apple's renovations. After a few days of meeting, he and his staff returned to the City Council with preliminary plans for a dozen freeways cutting through most of Portland. Of those, six were planned, and four were built: freeways that are now I-5, I-84, I-205, and I-405; one of the planned freeways that was eventually killed was the central focus of the light-rail campaign of the mid-1970s: The Mount Hood Freeway.

While no ground was broken for 20 years, maps of Portland in the mid-1960s show a ramp nub off the east side of I-5's Marquam Bridge leading to the proposed Mt. Hood Freeway. ODOT was planning for this route to be classified as US-26, but it was submitted to the AASHTO for Interstate status. The freeway itself was divided into two sections of planning:

  1. Section 1 ran from the eastern approach of the I-5 Marquam Bridge to 122nd Ave. 2.2 miles east of the Powell/Division interchange (I-205 Exit 19). Though no list of planned interchanges exists at present, three definite exits would've been at I-5, SE 52nd St., and I-205; other possible interchanges could've been at SE 11th and 12th Sts., SE 39th St., and SE 82nd St. This section was shown on maps, most notably Gousha, from the early 1970s to 1978, and appears to have been the only section with a definitive routing.
  2. Section 2 (the Mt. Hood Extension) was a little bit harder to pinpoint, but the general routing was pretty much parallel to and slightly south of current US-26 through Gresham before turning southeast towards Sandy. This section would've connected to a three-mile section of US-26 freeway built in a rural area between Gresham and Sandy around 1970, and any at-grade intersections in that section would've been upgraded to interchanges or grade separations. The freeway most likely would've stopped on Sandy's doorstep.

To obtain some more information on the Mt. Hood Freeway, I sent this e-mail to ODOT on Wednesday, July 14, 2004:

I re-sent the e-mail using my Yahoo account on May 31, 2005, and on June 3rd I received a response that shed some light on the situation (see the full e-mail here). Apparently the freeway was submitted for Interstate approval, but not as any I-x05: it was supposed to be the mainline for Interstate 80N. The routing of I-80N along the Mt. Hood Freeway was even approved along the section between I-5 and I-205 (a distace of 5.3 miles) by the FHWA on January 22, 1969; this would've resulted in a duplex of I-80N and I-205 between Exit 19 and Exit 22. Also, according to the e-mail, "[t]he 5.79 miles of the Banfield from the Marquam to 96th were withdrawn from the Interstate system and placed on the state system."

It all makes sense now. The 2.5-mile jump in I-84's mileposts, I-84 exiting from itself at Exit 9 Westbound, the cramming of exit numbers...it all fits. I-80N (and thus I-84) was supposed to duplex with I-205 (which would've been Oregon's first Interstate duplex) along that stretch, accounting for the missing mileage and the strange exit. I-84 would'nt have exited itself then; it would've provided ramps to the portion of the Banfield that was removed from the Interstate system. US-30 probably would've remained on the freeway.

What's interesting is that the e-mail made no mention of US-26 being routed along the highway, only that the highway terminated at US-26 south of Gresham. The e-mail begs a few more questions that I will pass along to ODOT, such as:

I plan to send another e-mail on Monday, June 6th, thanking this person for the information and asking them these other questions. Once again, you'll know when I know.

Rediscovering the Mt. Hood Freeway This map shows Mt. Hood Freeway's ghost ramps in Portland

While no complete segment of the original Mt. Hood Freeway was ever built, ghost ramps either do exist or have previously existed on the eastern side of the Marquam (I-5) Bridge in Portland. If built, these ramps would've been called Exit 300A. Presumably, ghost ramps for the Mt. Hood Freeway existed in all possible directions of travel, but most were removed with the widening of the upper deck of the Marquam Bridge and the northbound redesign of the Water Ave. and I-84 East Interchanges (then Exits 300B and 301 respectively, now Exit 300). The only surviving remnant of Exit 300A is on the east bridge approach of I-5 Southbound, where barricades block a substantially-built left exit ramp to the proposed freeway Eastbound (shown in solid red on the map). There is even sign bridge over I-5 that has a large empty space over the closed ramp. According to a 1988 Thomas Bros. Map, this ramp also was considered for a direct connection between I-5 and OR-99E Southbound; this too was abandonned as a possibility (if it ever was considered).

This map shows the Mt. Hood Freeway's built section between Gresham and Sandy

Just southeast of Gresham is a peculiar stretch of US-26 that has been turned into a freeway (shown in green). If the Mt. Hood Freeway ever were expanded past I-205, it would have utilized this stretch. The only real interchange is at OR-212's eastern terminus near Boring, but others probably would've existed at SE 282nd Ave. and Orient Dr. Travelling east on US-26 after leaving Gresham, you may notice that the highway splits into divided lanes, getting really wide while curving and then coming closer again once the road straightens out. This is because ODOT built this stretch of highway with the Mt. Hood Freeway in mind; the wide lane division means that ODOT meant to turn the old highway into (at least) a partial interchange upon completion of the entire freeway. While my map doesn't show this interchange very well, this Terraserver image does; you can even see the grading that the freeway would've been laid on.