As much as I hate to admit it, avoiding the traffic mess on I-5 in Portland during rush hour traffic is limited. You see, due to the Columbia River, you really only have a couple of options of getting across. However, with a little pre-planning and with a little insider knowledge you can avoid the worst of the traffic.
The first item that you might want to consider in avoiding the traffic on the I-5 is to adjust your travel schedule. I know this may sound overly simplistic but it does in fact work. Believe it or not, by just leaving your house 10 minutes before the normal rush hour starts you can avoid the majority of the traffic. It has been my experience that the majority of traffic really starts hitting the I-5 around 6:30 in the morning and this rush hour lasts till almost 9:00 and sometimes until 9:30 AM. So, in short if you were to leave your house between 6:00 AM and 6:15 AM you should get right in front of the major traffic and avoid the mess.
Talk to your boss about the situation as well. See if you can adjust your schedule. At one point, my schedule was so bad I was literally loosing 2 to 4 hours of my time stuck in traffic coming and going to work. It was awful. As any local here will tell you, the traffic on 1-5 is a nightmare trying to get across the bridge. So, I offered to come in an hour late and stay an hour late and my boss agreed. I got to work less stressed, avoided the majority of the local traffic mess and because everyone else left at the regular time, I was able to get a lot more work done due to the fact that I was not interrupted every five minutes. Try it, you just might be surprised by the results.
Now, another way to avoid the traffic mess is to use alternate routes. It has been my experience that most commuters use the freeway and stay on the freeway. Most don’t want to get off for fear of getting lost or that it would actually take longer. I used to have to commute from Portland to Vancouver, WA no less than once a week and believe you me, after a while, I started looking for a better way. I decided to take a long drive one Sunday and find a better way. Here is what I discovered.
Currently the local traffic situation on the I-5 in Portland has only gotten worse. There are no less than 3 separate road maintenance areas all affecting the local traffic at or around the I-5 exit 307. So instead of staying on the I-5 the entire way, take an earlier exit then take the side streets and get back on the I-5 at the very last possible on ramp. This is not the best option but in my experience it does cut about 20 to 30 minutes off of my commute. For example, leaving downtown Portland I don’t even bother getting on the I-5. I take Broadway to Grand and then take Grand all the way north until it turns into Martin Luther King which then takes you right onto the I-5 at the 307 ramp.
If it turns out that the local traffic is making the previous route impossible or impractical then I choose another route. From downtown Portland I simply get on NE Sandy Blvd which takes me directly to the I-205 which, of course, is the only other way to get across the Columbia.
Now, depending on how far north I am going, let’s say all the way to Seattle, I avoid the I-5 altogether until I get across the Columbia. What I normally do is I zip across over to Highway 30 and just take highway 30 all the way north until I hit the exit for highway 433 which is your last option for getting across the Columbia and then take the 432 back over to the I-5 north. This allows me to avoid the local area traffic and of course helps me from getting lost.
As you can see the options to avoiding local traffic on the I-5 is limited to the fact that there are only two local ways across the bridge. That of course being the main bridge on the I-5 and the other is the 205. My final recommendation is a simple one; wait. Trust me, staying late at work for an hour or, better yet, going out with some coworkers for drinks is a much better alternative than getting stuck in traffic for hours. If you have to travel, do your best to stay off the I-5, preplan your route and with the advent of today’s technology use a GPS or map finding service to plan your alternate routes.
I hope this helps you in some way to deal with and avoid the headaches of dealing with the local area traffic on the I-5 corridor in Portland.