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planpdx.org: Recollections of David Hupp

Dave was an advisor to the County Commission with a specialty in the environment. Commissioner Mel Gordon was assigned the environment so Dave worked more closely with him than with the others. Mel's staff assistant was Roger Mellem.

Ernie, for a year or so I have been writing about my time in Portland. Following is an excerpt that you might consider posting on your web site:

My recollections are what they are - I am not the best with names and dates. Except for the first few paragraphs dealing with things before 1972, my recollections are based on personal experience.

If you want to show this to others to compare their recollections about things that happened, please do, and I would like to hear what they have to say and have the opportunity to make corrections, if necessary. Also, if it is too long for your purposes, let me know and I will shorten it.

I am not a sentimentalist, nor am I inclined to look to the past for much besides possible lessons. As I see how things are going now, I think there may be lots of lessons from those heady days of the early 70s. At the end of this piece I offer my insights on some of those.

My perspective on the issues discussed here came from my employment as environmental advisor to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners between November 1972 (when I moved to Portland) and May 1974. In this capacity, I was hired to help find a way to kill the Mt. Hood freeway and help get control of the county bureaucracy and steer it through some major reforms in budgeting, public works and land use planning. Regarding personal philosophy, I was (and still am) opposed to building further support for the automobile, a philosophy that my bosses were fully aware of. Any polemical words or tones are purely intentional.

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Moving On: Some Recollections of Portland's Transportation Fights of the Early 70s

Freeways

Just after World War II, the Portland City Council, acting on the recommendation of its powerful director of public works, (who, as I understood, was Bill Bowes, who later served several terms on the City Council), hired a New York planning consultant named Robert Moses to develop a concept plan for new major highways in Portland. Moses was nationally famous for running New York's toll bridges, developing parks and parkways, clearing slums to build urban renewal housing and other major developments in New York (The Power Broker, Robert Cato's unauthorized biography of Moses, is a compelling book about this unique empire builder). Moses' technique for planning was interesting. He informed the City Council at their first meeting that he and his staff would hole up at the Benson for a few days and return with a report. They were not to be interrupted by anyone, Moses instructed.

Moses returned with a report that outlined a dozen or so new freeways for Portland, and the relevant areas in adjacent counties, including the Mt. Hood Freeway (it was not called that), I-205, I-505, Rivergate, Rose City and others. These were all to be built by 1990 to serve the highwaymen's wild traffic projections. Later the essence of this study was incorporated into the "Portland/Vancouver Metropolitan Area Transportation Study."

Only six of the freeways were designed to any degree, and only four were completed (I-5, I-84, I-405 and I-205). The Mt. Hood Freeway would have slashed from downtown through inner southeast Portland out toward Gresham. The initial design called for a 5-mile segment that ran from just east of the Marquam Bridge to connect with I-205. The projected cost for this eight-lane wonder was about a half-billion dollars. The connection on the west end was tenuous because the highwaymen hadn't figured out the best way to cross the Willamette River. The Marquam Bridge wasn't constructed to carry the whole load. A new freeway bridge would have been costly and unpopular because of its intrusiveness, and a tunnel under the river would have been extremely costly (as I recall, the projected cost of a tunnel would have added another quarter billion to the freeway cost). Dumping all this traffic into downtown - a space that only a couple years before was near death - wasn't so easy to do. Oh well, the attitude seemed to be, let's build the five miles and worry about these other connections later.

Destroying 5000 houses and the character of several of Portland's most interesting and affordable neighborhoods would ultimately save the Gresham commuter less than 10 minutes, the Mt. Hood Freeway planners figured. Also down the road, so to speak, was the Mt. Hood Extension, connecting the Mt. Hood Freeway to Gresham.

I-205 eventually was built. In late 1972 its 6-lane segment cutting through Clackamas County farmland had been built up to the Multnomah County line, and in Washington up to the north bank of the Columbia River. A bridge crossing and the Multnomah County segment had been designed and specced, but these encountered some political trouble.

I-205 had had an interesting planning history. Moses' plan originally called for several north-south freeways on the east side: one near the river (eventually I-5); one up NE 42nd or so; and another further east. The alignments close in ran into immediate political resistance, involving as they did the treasured (and moneyed) neighborhoods of Eastmoreland, Laurelhurst and Alameda, to say nothing of Lake Oswego, which was to suffer some kind of elevated structure coming off I-5 down to the new bridge across the Willamette. So political pressure kicked the multiple eastside north-south freeways eastward to evolve into one, eventually aligned where I-205 is now.

I-505 was a freeway that would try to connect to I-405 and move northwest along St. Helens road, presumably headed for Astoria, or possibly Korea. This freeway ran into a political firestorm from politically-conscious northwest Portland neighborhoods and eventually was trashed, reduced to the present long off-ramp into the northwest Portland industrial area.

One other freeway project was controversial: the Fremont Bridge that completed the connection between I-405 and I-5. In late 1972 the bridge had been designed, specced and partially built. The remaining controversy concerned connections to the proposed Rose City Freeway that would have rumbled diagonally through northeast Portland toward the airport. Emanual Hospital and development interests were lobbying heavily for major connections to assure the freeway and its service to the hospital. In 1973, in a close vote, the City Council killed any notion of connectors to an undesigned freeway, thereby killing any notion of a Rose City Freeway, leaving stubs on the Fremont Bridge and a reduced connection to Emanual.

Although I monitored the developments of the Fremont Bridge and I-505 projects, these proposed projects were entirely within the city limits, the Mayor's office was active in bringing the I-505 conflict to a tidy resolution (i.e. killing it softly), and I decided to turn the bulk of my attention to the Mt. Hood and I-205.

Although, like barbarians at the gates, the I-205 freeway was under construction and looming at the county's borders, the Mt. Hood was the most pressing. A majority of the county board and Goldschmidt wanted to kill it, but doing so required acting with some delicacy because the freeway had some powerful and vocal supporters, notably city council member Frank Ivancie, construction interests and land speculators from Gresham.

Killing the Freeway Softly

The most popular song when I arrived in Portland was Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." Some of us were so heady those days about killing the automobile. There was a lot of local sentiment against those gas hogs, partly spurred by a book Buel had written in the early 70s entitled "Dead End."

Early on, County Commissioner (later county executive and candidate for governor) Don Clark instructed me to meet with Charlie Merten and his citizen clients who were suing to stop the Mt. Hood freeway; the Oregon Environmental Council; Ron Buel, Goldschmidt's lead assistant responsible for the freeway issues; OSPIRG head Steve McCarthy; lawyer/activist Steve Schell; architects Bing Sheldon and Charlie Sax; and a few others, with most of whom I established continuing relationships. Beyond these I met with diverse interests such as PACT, a community organization located in the inner Mt. Hood corridor, and with representatives from the most prominent local architect/engineering firms, such as Skidmore, CH2M/Hill and DMJM. I attended a few meetings about I-505, but soon dropped that issue from my priorities. I also had early meetings with Maywood Park officials and activists who were trying to stop I-205.

After getting my feet on the ground with local players and issues, my focal work around the Mt. Hood concentrated on meetings with the Highway Division, Buel and others in City Hall, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill planners. SOM had been hired by the Highway Division to do the community and Environmental Impact Statement planning for the Mt. Hood Freeway. SOM was to have a huge role in the fate of the proposed freeway, because we were able to use their comprehensive work to show county commission constituents that it was a bad idea. The team of SOM consultants was led by Howard McGee and included local architects George Crandall, Ernie Munch and Greg Baldwin.

I remember a couple of events that indicated to me the weaknesses in the Highway Division. The Highway Division presented itself as a powerful monolith directed by a sweet, grandfatherly George Baldwin and staffed by friendly, reasonable, rational engineers whose singular goal was to provide a service to communities by facilitating any car trip anyone wanted to take. They consistently reminded everyone that the city and the county had wanted this freeway. During one early meeting I attended at SOM offices in Portland, several key highway engineers attended. Ron Buel came in slightly late and his presence turned what had been a low-key gathering into a meeting of people anxious about the city's position and feeling uncertain about the new mayor. But everyone knew power when they saw it, and Buel had their full attention.

Another time, I attended a Highway Division meeting in Salem, sent in response to a courtesy invitation to the county. I arrived slightly late and was greeted cordially. Sitting around a hardwood conference table that seemed like it was 40-50 feet long were nearly two dozen engineers, with some SOM folks and others seated against the wall. Leading the meeting was a beefy highwayman named Bob Schroeder, a deputy director. (It has been my experience that lots of highwaymen are named Bob. In the Mt. Hood case, in addition to Schroeder, there was Bob Royer, who was a project manager assigned as liaison with the county; Bob Bothman, who later became the head engineer for the Portland area; later George Baldwin's replacement was a guy named Bob Burco; and Bob Nordlander was the county's highwayman with the imperial title of Roadmaster).

Schroeder sat at one end of the table. For some reason the other end was open when I arrived, so I presumed to sit there. As I was a newcomer and this was my first meeting in enemy camp, I sat quietly and listened, without a clear understanding of the purpose of this meeting. The meeting dragged on and on as the engineers and the consultants discussed in infinite detail the design configuration of one of the Mt. Hood freeway off-ramps; as I recall it was the eastbound ramp at SE 52nd. They discussed everything from the radius of curvature to design speed to the kinds of bushes to plant. Because I was there to learn, I did not become impatient. But, finally, on a literally unconscious impulse, I stood during a pause in the discussion and asked: "Has anyone considered light rail?"

You could hear a pin drop, and people sat in stunned silence for the longest time. Finally, the discussion resumed. I don't recall what anyone's response was at the moment, and people remained cordial to me throughout the meeting. Weeks later, one of the SOM people, Frances Diemoz, who happened to be sitting against the wall right behind director Schroeder, told me that he leaned over to Royer and Bothman and whispered: "Oh, oh, this guy's trouble." The news fed my ego, and my amusement, but it also told me that we were going to win.

Light rail was indeed on my mind throughout the Mt. Hood battle. County Commissioner Mel Gordon wanted to kill the Mt. Hood, but he wanted to maintain credibility with his constituents by proposing an alternative solution to the transportation problems the freeway purported to solve. I learned that Portland had had an extensive trolley system that, like other cities', was systematically killed off by a General Motors campaign to build bus systems. Portland's last line died in 1958 when the county roadmaster removed trolley access to Hawthorne bridge, forcing eastside passengers to disembark on the east end of the bridge and somehow find their way downtown. Needless to say, the already shrinking ridership dried up and the trolley system finally died.

I was familiar with trolley systems, unlike many working in the highway business. I had lived in the San Francisco East Bay for more than 25 years, most of the time served by a wonderful trolley system called the Key System. In the late 50s, probably bribed by GM, short-sighted local politicians around the East Bay decided that the Key System was something we no longer could afford because it lost money (actually, among urban trolleys, it was one of the most successful, needing minimal subsidies) and they killed it, dumping a double-load of cars on the bridge at commute time. Less than two years later, voters launched BART, a heavy-rail klutz that never had the charm or efficiency of the Key. I knew from experience that, once people (even skeptics) had a chance to ride something like the Key, they would love it.

It seemed to me that we had an opportunity to take a different direction in Portland, and Mel Gordon liked the idea of exploring light rail as an alternative to the Mt. Hood freeway. Some activists in Portland were strong advocates and knew something about trolleys, or at least were open to the idea. Betty Merten told me that she had talked to Bill Failing about the idea and that he had mentioned Bill Naito's interest. Buel thought enough of the idea to suggest that Goldschmidt and Gordon ask the PUC for a feasibility study. Ron and I went to Salem in spring of 1973 and met with PUC director Lon Topaz and the head of the PUC's railroad division, Dave Astle. Topaz and Astle readily agreed to do the study, and a few months later we had the first serious technical look at the possibility of resurrecting old railroad rights-of-way for light rail.

Meanwhile, an ad-hoc group of various citizens and public officials met periodically to discuss the politics of making transportation in Portland more effective, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. Our agenda focused mainly on the Mt. Hood, Tri Met reforms and the light rail idea. One of us, architect Ed Wagner, who was working as a planner for Tri Met, had a large, organized collection of slides showing trolley systems all over Europe that he showed to any person or group that showed the slightest interest. I obtained a student intern, David Legg, whose sole responsibility was to collect solid information about light rail from any source, and to monitor developments like the system then being planned for Edmonton. David worked very hard to compile the area's first technical library on light rail.

In City Hall, as part of the Goldschmidt reform agenda, a new Planning Director, Ernie Bonner, arrived from Cleveland, bringing an associate, Doug Wright. Doug and Ernie worked with high skill and steady hands to keep the agenda on track to kill the Mt. Hood and help build credibility for light rail. They were familiar with the still-running trolley system in Dayton, Ohio. Armed with the PUC study, Mel Gordon became comfortable with the possibility of light rail and became an effective advocate, pushing the idea publicly early in the game. He had found his key to voting against the Mt. Hood. With a majority vote assured, I prepared a resolution that withdrew the county's support for the Mt. Hood Freeway and asked the governor to work to transfer the hundreds of millions to light rail and various other long-needed transit improvements. Against the advice of the county's roadmaster and planning director, and opposed by its chairman, the county commission majority passed the resolution and forced the issue in Salem.

Head state highwayman George Baldwin called me a couple of days after the vote and said the governor was most upset that we hadn't waited. Well, I asked, waited for what? It was time to move this turkey. Goldschmidt and Buel pushed the governor's office to appoint a high-level task force of public officials charged with moving the question along in an orderly manner. The task force hired a former Federal Highway Administration top dog, Lowell Bridwell, to honcho the marriage of technical and political work that would build credibility for burying the freeway and transferring the federal funds to transit. Over the next couple of months the task force completed its work to make everyone comfortable with laying the Mt. Hood freeway to rest and diverting at least a good hunk of its $500 million estimated cost to mass transit. And Merten and his citizen's group won their Mt. Hood freeway suit.

Turkey Number Two

Our work on the Mt. Hood freeway was basically done, and we turned our attention to I-205, the alignment of which lay completely outside city limits. We had two votes, Clark and Ben Padrow, to also kill this monster, even though it was substantially constructed south of the county line. Gordon was not comfortable with stopping I-205 cold in its tracks. However, he was open to challenging it and perhaps within the challenge could be found some leverage to help mass transit, and particularly light rail, which he had come to strongly favor.

The county's ultimate leverage turned out to be narrow but effective. Attorney Charles Merten pointed out that the county had sole jurisdiction over most surface roads and that the necessary authority for closing those that would not cross the I-205 alignment had not been obtained by the state -- a key error on their part. So we had some chips to play.

The Highway Division released the Environmental Impact Statement for I-205 later in 1973. The county commissioners asked me to prepare a response, and we attacked its rosy projections eagerly. Developing our challenge took several months, during which time the pressure built. In one incident, Fred Meyer's flack, Gerry Pratt asked me to come to his office so he could explain the inconvenience our position on I-205 was causing his corporation. Fred Meyer had actively lobbied for this freeway and had strategically located new facilities in relation to the expected interchanges. We were proposing to eliminate some of those interchanges (and we succeeded). At the time, I recall, Oregon Transportation Commission chair Glen Jackson sat on the Fred Meyer, Inc. board. No coincidence.

Another time, I was threatened by a Clark County commissioner and their county attorney. The commissioner, a man with a usually friendly demeanor, invited me up to his office to have a casual conversation about "some transportation issues of mutual interest." A bit naively, I accepted this warm-sounding pretext. When I arrived, the commissioner got right to the point of the singular topic of "mutual interest" and told me that if Multnomah County didn't cease its opposition to I-205, the county would sue me. Aware of the fact that they had no basis for such a suit, I ignored the threat and reported it to Gordon.

I presented a proposed county response to the I-205 environmental statement at a hearing before the county commissioners in fall 1973. Because the EIS had been prepared after construction of more than 10 miles of freeway had been completed, the worked had been rushed. I could find fault with many things (and one of the Highway Division authors complemented me quietly and personally on our response) and I did. Among other issues of concern to the regionally-conscious board majority was the likelihood that I-205 would spur massive residential development in east Clark County, thus putting significant added pressure on Portland's one east-west freeway, the Banfield, as well as on the bottleneck at the I-5 bridge.

One humorous note during that hearing occurred when Commissioner Dan Mosee, a vigorous true believer of freeways, blurted out: "Mr. Hupp. Hitler used the autobahn for moving troops in crisis and this freeway might help us evacuate people if Mt. Hood erupts. did you consider that possibility?" This absurd question, which confused the roles of the I-205 and (later to be extended) Mt. Hood freeways, left me slightly stunned, so I simply answered: "Yes." I had expected more discussion with him, and was surprised that my one-word answer (which happened to be true) totally silenced him, for he uttered not one word the rest of the hearing.

The board's decision during that hearing, 3-2, was to instruct Mel Gordon to enter into negotiations with the Highway Division about a redesign of I-205. We proposed that the state highwaymen: reduce the number of lanes passing through Multnomah County from 8 to 6; eliminate several interchanges to cut down on local traffic use of the freeway (including one that would have ruined the tranquility of Government Island); guarantee construction of bike paths as part of the freeway, and guarantee to redesign the new Glenn Jackson Bridge (across the Columbia River) so that a light rail line to Clark County could be added later. Because of the timing of these negotiations, the county also would insist that the state support the transfer of federal funds from the Mt. Hood freeway to light rail and other transit.

In the end, I-205 was built because Mel Gordon couldn't counter the fact that the freeway was so far along in construction. But Gordon did exact the listed concessions from the state, and the Multnomah County portion of the freeway was redesigned to incorporate those changes. Maywood Park, after a worthy effort, could only force the freeway alignment to proceed just alongside its borders at Rocky Butte -- it couldn't otherwise stop this noisy monster.

One last item about the I-205 deal: because the freeway took out the old Rocky Butte Jail, state highway funds financed the new Justice Center downtown.

Years later, I personal visit from one of these design changes. I was planning to get married and my fiancee hired a wedding planner who had worked for the Portland Bureau of Planning. Our wedding site was to be Scouter's Mountain, just east of I-205, accessed via Powell Boulevard. As we were crafting directions for the wedding guests, the wedding planner blurted: "I've always wondered who in the hell planned those stupid intersections of I-205 with Powell and Division." I didn't have the heart or the time to tell her the whole story that those "stupid" ideas were deliberately mine, scrawled on the back of an envelope. I remembered feeling astonished that the state had accepted a design so crafted to make it hard for automobile drivers. They wanted that freeway so badly, what were a couple of strange interchanges?

Transit to the MAX

The study by the PUC, dubbed the "Topaz Study" identified old railroad right-of-ways as suitable candidates for future light rail alignment. The most promising candidates laid along the Banfield freeway and along the old Portland Traction alignment on the southeast side, down through Milwaukie and on to Oregon City. The west side possibilities seemed more difficult, as the old rail alignment through Multnomah Village had been encroached by private property, the Sunset Highway corridor was too narrow, and the Lake Oswego alignment was thought to lack sufficient ridership. So an early decision was made to focus preliminary engineering by state highway engineers on the Banfield.

I had some initial trepidation about the depth of their involvement, because I felt their automobile orientation might corrupt the process. However, they did know the Banfield corridor very well, they were good engineers, and they worked diligently to move the question along.

The money angle was facilitated by work from Goldschmidt's staff who were committed to light rail and who knew how to play the federal money game. Their efforts particularly were valuable in the Governor's Task Force work, especially getting Lowell Bridwell's staff to look more favorably on this idea. Bridwell's people seemed to me to be much too hung up on potential ridership and residential density numbers. My view was that light rail had to be touched -- build the damn thing and people will love it.

Along those lines, Gordon helped organize a trip to Toronto for a group of highway people. The purpose of this trip to the city with the second highest (next to Los Angeles) automobile usage per capita on the continent was to see how their 8 other modes of transportation worked. Those modes included heavy rail, light rail, trolleys and trolley buses. The group, which included key highwayman from the state, returned impressed with how light rail worked in Toronto and how well-integrated the various modes worked together.

Also in fall of 1973 Mel Gordon and I met with the editorial board of The Oregonian to pitch light rail. I must say that during this meeting, my first with the paper's editorial board, I was completely unimpressed. The only person who seemed to make any sense and ask intelligent questions was Bob Landauer. The others seemed to be a clique of mostly heavy-drinking good old boys deigning to allow Mel his moment or two. Soon afterward, the paper ran an editorial trashing the idea of light rail. I wrote a counter letter to the paper that was published, for which I received a reprimand from one of my bosses (in such a job you have many bosses), Chief of Staff Bud Kramer.

And later still, Mel and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to pursue a mix of issues with various people, including Senator Mark Hatfield. I remember vividly the meeting with the courtly Hatfield. It was a cordial meeting, although the senator made no commitment to support light rail. The thing that struck me the most was how Hatfield's office seemed designed as a monument to Abraham Lincoln and had the feel of the mid-19th century, furnished as it was with fine antiques from the period. The whole place had the feel of patina about it. I had the serious feeling that Hatfield was presenting himself as Abe reincarnated.

By the time I left Multnomah County employment, the I-205 negotiations were almost complete, the Mt. Hood was dead, Tri Met was making initial commitments to pursue light rail, the Oregon State Highway Division was now part of a consolidated Department of Transportation, with a transit-friendly and -savvy new director, and things looked promising for a different Portland.

And now?

I was delighted to see MAX up and running. I believe Tri Met did a great job putting it together and I have enjoyed using it hundreds of times. In spite of all the troubles with "Boregard" and the tunnel, I supported the westside line and have ridden it many times. In all, MAX has turned out very well, I think. I still ride BART when I visit the Bay Area and still find it hideous. Recently I rode the trolleys and light rail in Europe and my love for the mode was enhanced enormously.

But planning for the North Interstate route bothers me. As I look at recent maps showing densities and growth in Clark County I see that it happened right where we said it would, yet the prevailing decisions seem to be to try to cross the river along or near the I-5 corridor. This alignment makes no sense to me, and, in the process, could polarize north Portland instead of help heal it. I wonder if today's planners know that the Glenn Jackson Bridge was designed to contain a light rail line?

Some pundit once said that there were two things burdening local government that officials couldn't control: cars and dogs. Although there are many more people now who walk their anti-automobile talk, and there are some excellent organizations promoting bicycles and pedestrians, I feel we are farther than ever from getting control of the automobile. From the ever-dominant SUV's to more parking structures to lower combustion efficiency, we are losing the battle. In 1972 about 25% of Portland was paved. Now I fear the percentage is higher.

I don't wish to end this note entirely on negative notes. Many good things have happened during the last 30 years. As I took out my garbage and recyclables this morning I recalled how every bit of it would have gone into the garbage can in 1972. I live in an old house in excellent condition, one block from a house I considered buying in 1973. I reflect that Portland has done a good job preserving and restoring its neighborhoods and housing stock.

But for me, in terms of institutional activism, the early 70s in Portland were "the good old days." I feel that everything has become so bureaucratized, cynical and laden with the slick sophistry of 21st century politics that we have lost the spontaneous and idealistic spirit of those heady days.

David Hupp

Copyright March 2001