Portland’s Freeway Names, Interstate Highway

Portland’s Freeway Names, Interstate Highway

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Before I-5 was built through Portland, and opened to traffic on December 2, 1964,Interstate Avenue was “the” main Freeway through Portland as part of both the Pacific Highway Route, and the Highway 99W route. This road connected Portland and Vancouver Washington, via the newly built Interstate Bridge over the Columbia River. This bridge is now the east bridge of the I-5 Columbia River Crossing. Future plans will likely remove or replace both existing bridges with a new modern crossing.

Interstate was renamed by then Portland Mayor George L. Baker in 1916 to commemorate the opening of the bridge across the river. From 1909 to 1916, portions of Patton (now Massachusetts) and Maryland Avenue were condemned and repaved to form Interstate which at that time ran through empty land and were essentially dirt roads.

In 1928, Interstate was extended south over the bluff, (Kaiser hospital is at the top of the bluff now,) Delay and Larabee streets were renamed and connected to Interstate.

As the car became more and more a fixture of American Culture, Interstate shifted to serve the need of the driver directly. Gas Stations, Dining and Lodging in the form of Auto Camps popped up along the street. As a designated part of West Side Pacific Highway #3 it became a popular drive for the long distance traveler.

1939 saw a huge change though, as the street was lit with street lights, causing many people to gush about it’s beauty. After WWII Neon lights were added, among these are some of Portland’s most iconic signs such as the Alibi and the Palms Hotel. As part of the plan for the Interstate Urban Renewal Zone, these neon signs are considered public art and are celebrated as such.

May 1, 2004 saw the hugest change to Interstate in decades. The Yellow Line of Trimet’s MAX was opened to the public. The above mentioned Urban Renewal Zone had to be created to allow the light rail train to be built, but doing so also spurned development along the street.

In 2007 a movement started to push to rename Interstate to Caesar Chavez Avenue, but was scrapped because Interstate was already a historic name. According to City of Portland City Code, existing names can not be renamed if the original name is of historical significance. This was eventually dropped in favor of renaming 39th to honor Chavez.

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