Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

ODOT on defensive about I-5 Rose Quarter project at Metro meeting

Posted by on July 20th, 2018 at 11:38 am

ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer at Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) meeting yesterday.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

At a meeting of a high-powered Metro policy committee yesterday, the Oregon Department of Transportation was put in the hot seat over their plans to widen Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter. Peppered with questions from Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, the regional director of ODOT Rian Windsheimer, was forced to came to the aid of an ODOT staff member who was presenting on the project.

Windsheimer’s move demonstrated that sharp criticisms from a gathering storm of activists are gaining strength from elected leaders like Stacey, testing ODOT’s nerves and putting the agency on the defensive. The meeting also made it clear that, while initially sold by ODOT to the public and politicians as a “bottleneck elimination” project, the agency is now reluctant to claim it will lead to any capacity increase.

ODOT project managers Megan Channell (center) and Mandy Putney (right) presented on regional freeway projects. Metro’s Deputy Director of Planning and Development Margi Bradway is on the left.

The exchange between Stacey, Windsheimer, and ODOT project manager Mandy Putney came after a presentation where another ODOT staffer, Megan Channell outlined three major highway projects the agency is working on. Projects that will add lanes to I-205, I-217, and I-5 are already slated to cost $1.1 billion — a number sure to increase when (or if) the projects are finished sometime around 2027. The I-5 Rose Quarter project is the most controversial of the three, given its proximity to downtown Portland and the historic Albina neighborhood.

“I don’t know how on earth we can reconcile any ostensible commitment to restorative justice for this neighborhood by poisoning the air to the point where we recommend children stay indoors.”
— Aaron Brown, No More Freeways PDX

In their presentation to the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation yesterday, ODOT said the I-5 project could cost up to $500 million when it’s all said and done. The State Legislature has already committed $400 to $420 million in bonding revenue via the transportation package they passed in 2017.

Prior to the presentation, the assembled committee members — including mayors and other elected officials, as well as senior agency staff from around the region — heard public testimony from Aaron Brown, leader of the No More Freeways PDX coalition. Brown offered stinging criticisms of ODOT’s plans for the Rose Quarter. He referenced the nascent Albina Vision plan which seeks to restore the historic neighborhood that existed in the area before it was razed for sports stadiums and freeways in the name of “urban renewal.”

“The project ODOT is proposing in this neighborhood,” Brown said, “Is directly antithetical to the transformative and restorative opportunity which the Albina Vision is promoting.” Brown also said the project will have a negative impact on Harriet Tubman Middle School, a school with a majority of low-income students of color. ODOT’s plans will carve into the existing planted area between the school and the freeway, putting a new lane within yards of its classrooms. “The school has such poor air quality that public health researchers recommended students not be given outdoor recess,” he said. “I don’t know how on earth we can reconcile any ostensible commitment to restorative justice for this neighborhood by poisoning the air to the point where we recommend children stay indoors. That’s out of a Ray Bradbury novel.” 

Advertisement

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey.

Brown found a supportive ear in Metro Councilor Bob Stacey.

Stacey is concerned ODOT has taken the easy way out when it comes to environmental review of the project. ODOT has opted to do an Environmental Assessment (EA) instead of the much more rigorous Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) — a move that has also been flagged by environmental and social justice groups. Given the emergence of the Albina Vision plan since the project was adopted in 2012, and its proximity to a Title I school, Stacey invoked the Civil Rights Act in his call for a more robust analysis of the project’s potential impacts. ODOT staff assured him their assessment will be adequate; but Stacey told me in an interview after the meeting that, “I think it’s prudent of ODOT to use all the tools of engagement. My concern is that their EA won’t vet community concerns and I’ll be watching this very closely.”

Stacey also pressed ODOT staff about whether or not the project will increase capacity through the Rose Quarter, setting up a somewhat testy exchange.

“I presume that the State of Oregon and City of Portland believe more vehicles will be able to pass through this portion of I-5 as a result of this project?” Stacey questioned. “I happen to agree with Mr. [Aaron] Brown that they will go as slowly as the traffic does today once people adjust to the new capacity.”

“It will still be two lanes of I-5 northbound in, and two lanes of I-5 northbound out. It is not increasing — as you’re describing — a big throughput capacity.”
— Rian Windsheimer, ODOT

ODOT’s Mandy Putney then tried to explain that the I-5 project won’t add any new capacity. “Rose Quarter is an operational project,” she said. “We’re adding an auxiliary lane to allow people to merge more easily between very closely spaced ramps… Rose Quarter will have the same number of general purpose lanes in the future as it does today.”

Stacey replied, “Will it have increased capacity though?”

“It will allow people to move more safely through the area,” Putney replied.

At that point ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer interjected, “It will still be two lanes of I-5 northbound in, and two lanes of I-5 northbound out. It is not increasing — as you’re describing — a big throughput capacity. It’s allowing what’s there today to function better. There will only be two lanes in and two lanes out… it’s the same. This is about allowing the high volumes from I-84 to merge into that same area.”

Merging and safety aside, ODOT’s own presentation yesterday pointed out that the project will save an estimated 2.5 million hours of vehicle delay each year. If people are able to drive more quickly through this section of freeway, isn’t it obvious that more of them will move through it?

Excerpt from the Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel report, a document published in 2016 that set the stage for over one billion in freeway widening funding in the 2017 transportation package.

ODOT’s reluctance to openly admit a capacity increase is noteworthy. When political groundwork was laid for this project, “reducing congestion” and “bottleneck elimination” were key to winning over the public and legislators (see above). But now that funding is secured, they say it’s all about safety and operational improvements. More capacity wasn’t mentioned when ODOT’s Megan Channell stated the project goal yesterday: “To create a safer and more reliable I-5, a better connected community, and an opportunity for economic growth.”

In a post-meeting interview Stacey said, “I think that’s a refreshing acknowledgment that this is not a project that will help traffic move more freely. It will reduce the number of fender-benders that occur in that area. That might allow a little bit of 35 mph travel instead of 20 mph travel; but as he [Windsheimer] says, they don’t expect it’s going to make a difference in terms of through-put.” “Fair enough,” he continued. “So again, why do we need to spend this much money?”

Stacey also sees a bit of a bait-and-switch in the way ODOT has sold the project to the public. “It [the honesty about no capacity increase] is a little late in terms of overall public decision-making, including the legislative decision-making,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone from ODOT expressly told the committee [of legislators in Salem], ‘Hey, just so we’re clear, there’s not going to be a single additional truck going through there, we’ll just have fewer dents on the trucks.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

114
Leave a Reply

avatar
29 Comment threads
85 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
47 Comment authors
Dan A9wattsGlowBoymehDoug H Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
9watts
Subscriber

Utter failure on ODOT’s part.

Someone should clean house over there. Start over from scratch.

JV
Guest
JV

Sooo, no increased capacity, but fewer (non-fatal, fender-bender) accidents. Even back of the napkin math takes the air right out of this idea. Let’s say 2 fender-benders a day with out of pocket costs of $500 per (deductible). We’re spending $400 million+ to save $300-400K in taxpayer costs. It would take 1,000 years for the investment to be worth it. Yes, it is true that insurers pay more for repairs for these accidents, but why spend taxpayer money to reduce insurer liability unless insurers are either funding the work or agreeing to lower premiums? I know many drive without insurance, but that misses the point. I’m not hearing that this project is intended to decrease injury/fatality crashes; just quicken speeds and reduce minor crashes. Sounds like a substantial misuse of public funds to me.
And of course, the above doesn’t even acknowledge the impact to the adjacent neighborhood and school……
Many thanks to the advocates who are speaking out against this project.

Gregg
Guest

Bob Stacey for mayor!!!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

So we are spending $500 million to reduce fender benders? WTF?

Betsy Reese
Guest
Betsy Reese

Awesome testimony by Bob Stacey and Aaron Brown.

– And keep an eye on all those window-dressing “bright and shiny things” on surface streets being sold to active transportation advocates as part of this project. If the project should go through, those must be constantly vigiled and protected throughout every stage.

Glenn F
Guest
Glenn F

I say remove I5 from I84 south to the Marquam Bridge
route all I5 traffic to I405…
and restore the east waterfront…

Burk
Guest
Burk

Quick aside, does Rian Windsheimer have an epic Mullet or is it just the perspective of the pic?

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Let’s see, if we build more freeway capacity we just grind things to a halt all around as induced demand does its nasty work. There’s so few deaths on congested freeways that there’s never going to be a safety benefit there. Clearly even if such projects reduce fender benders that’s never going to pencil out.

So, why are these projects supported all over the state by ODOT and its lackeys? The only answers I can come up with are “where’s my paycheck coming from”, as in freeway folks at ODOT are afraid they will not be employable in an active transportation/public transit world, simple ignorance/lack of imagination and serious cases of motorhead.

Even a committed cynic such as myself is overwhelmed by this. Seriously Oregon, is this the best we can do?

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

IMO, project continues to be completely unacceptable unless it preserves the Flint Ave Bridge.

FWIW, ODOT surveyors are continuing to work in the area, apparently under the assumption that the project is still viable.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Beautiful!

Robert
Guest
Robert

I’m curious, I never noticed anything near a similar level of scrutiny, engagement, or advocacy leading up to the multiple-‘auxiliary’ lanes project underway right now on 205 from Johnson Creek Blvd and the 205 bridge. Any reason why it wouldn’t have been applied there too, perhaps any time during the design phase that began a few years ago? Does that project not raise the same questions? Was it more under the radar because it is East Portland? http://i205construction.org/glennjacksontojohnsoncreek

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“The school has such poor air quality that public health researchers recommended students not be given outdoor recess”

I’m thinking that moving more vehicles through the area is probably not going to help with efforts to solve the air-quality problem.

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

This is reaching the point of absurdity (from just being plain dumb) ODOT officially has a project they’re so in love with that they now need to find a reason for it after the planning! And they just keep testing out worse and worse excuses. Time for another early 1970’s good old fashioned revolt against these idiots of the kind that cancelled the Mount Hood Freeway and Interstate 505.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

The problem is that ODOT was originally started as the “highway division” who’s sole purpose was to build highways. And like many large organizations it has difficulty shifting to a new mission despite having a new name. I think we should probably shut it down and start over with a new state department who’s mission is to wind down auto based infrastructure over the next 20 or 30 years . We could call it the “Dehighway Division”.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

A huge amount of federal transportation money is on offer so we have to build… ummm, something. If we don’t take the money, somebody else will take the money, and we won’t get ours.

A form of transportation funding “last place aversion.”

Aaron Brown
Guest

thanks for the coverage, Jonathan.

1) Learn more about the No More Freeways campaign:
http://www.nomorefreewayspdx.com

2) We just submitted this letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission in support of decongestion pricing before freeway expansion. Check out the 282 comments in support:
https://nomorefreewayspdx.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/072018-otc-letter-value-pricing-recommendations-1.pdf

3) The Bradbury short story is called “All Summer in a Day” http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/English%20Department%20LVillage/RT/Short%20Stories/All%20Summer%20in%20a%20Day.pdf

Keviniano
Subscriber
Keviniano

Did this meeting get audio or video recorded?

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

According to No More Freeways’ twitter feed, the project manager for the Rose Quarter freeway expansion is married to the co-chair of the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Are we getting good faith representation of pedestrian needs when they compete with ODOT’s goals of furthering highway construction?

DJSK
Guest
DJSK

I’m 100% in agreement with the opponents of this I-5 boondoggle (special thanks to Aaron Brown for his tireless work), and I hope the winds might be starting to shift in our direction.
But I want to suggest that at the same time, we should also be arguing FOR a specific alternative mass transit proposal that would put these same funds to far better use AND actually reduce congestion: The East Side MAX Line. This proposal, advanced by Bob Howell and others, would extend MAX from the Rose Quarter along or near the freeway to the Tillikum Crossing bridge.
This project would do two vitally important things: 1) Provide direly needed redundancy in the MAX system–allowing it to bypass the Steel Bridge bottleneck, which is also extremely vulnerable in an earthquake. Trains could be rerouted over the Tillikum if the Steel Bridge is down (or under construction), and some trains could bypass downtown altogether; 2) Substantially increase MAX capacity and reach with a very modest investment, giving Central Eastside neighborhoods and businesses access to the whole light rail system. Estimated price tags I’ve seen range from $200 million to $300 million, but let’s assume costs will be higher…like $400 million. This project is not currently on any of the regional transportation project lists, but it should be.
East Side MAX also has the advantage of being in exactly the same geographic area as the I-5 Rose Quarter widening proposal, so we’re talking about a literal alternative in the same space that will put the same funds to infinitely better use. Let’s use the fight against I-5 widening to get this alternative vision into the media, and on politicians’ and activists’ minds.

DJSK
Guest
DJSK

Sorry–I meant Jim Howell.

SD
Guest
SD

ODOT mission statement: “Get Paid”

X
Guest
X

ODOT copped to a half billion. That means the shadow budget is now .6 billion. ODOT is a giant slug running on a trail of other people’s money–the other people being us in this case. If something goes 250 million dollars over budget that’s not actually a problem for them. Their mission is to cover dirt with concrete.

mh
Subscriber

Thank you, Jonathan, thank you Bob Stacey – your supporters and constituents appreciate you. Thank you, Aaron, for all the insistent emails. More then I want, but you’ve gotten my signature and occasional public health statements on every letter.

Hoss
Guest
Hoss

If there ever was a top heavy state agency its odot. I work for them but am but a peon in the whole scheme of things. As much as some of you would like to be rid of it remember there are jobs with odot that are needed. Working maintenance means plowing snow at 2 am. Cutting that downed tree off the highway. Being the first one on scene at a traffic accident, somtimes all in the same night. And a bunch of other jobs that many on here would turn there nose up at.
As for the person on here that stated we should be rid of all trucking- your local whole foods store would be empty in 3 days. Be realistic friends. Traffic is not going to get better. The driving population will increase which means more self absorbed idiots on the road. Be safe- it’s crazy out there.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

This is why ODOT doesn’t want to implement congestion pricing or variable speed signs sooner – they know that those are relatively cheap and easy changes which would result in the same or better safety improvements, but would do so without being a trojan horse that helps pave the way toward CRC all over again.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

How can so many smart people be so dumb.

Ethan Seltzer
Guest
Ethan Seltzer

Even without the RQ-I5 project, Tubman middle school is still next to a freeway. Why is there no public attention to finding a healthy site for a first class, 21st century building, and getting ODOT to pay for it? It’s the least they could do….. Perhaps PPS could sell the current building to ODOT for their Region 1 HQ.

PomPilot
Guest
PomPilot

I’m sorry, but did I miss something? Since when did OREGON STATE HIGHWAY 217, become a US INTERSTATE HIGHWAY? (Reference in paragraph 3 to I-217).

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

“We’re adding an auxiliary lane to allow people to merge more easily between very closely spaced ramps”

This seems obvious: close some ramps. Interstates are not supposed to have closely spaced ramps. You’re doing it wrong. It’s an interSTATE not an interCITY.