A coalition with concerns over the State of Oregon’s planned $450 million expansion of Interstate 5 through Portland’s Rose Quarter have requested more time to consider the project’s environmental impacts.
“We believe that the proposed thirty day public comment period is inadequate for us to meaningfully review the disclosed materials.”
– No More Freeways coalition
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) expects to release the findings of their federally-mandated Environmental Assessment (EA) of the I-5 Rose Quarter project in January. That document typically comes with a 30-day public comment period. The No More Freeways coalition — a grassroots group fighting the project — sent a letter (below) to ODOT this morning requesting an additional 60 days.
The letter, signed by 31 representatives from social justice, public health, environmental, and transportation advocacy groups, said 30 days is, “inadequate for us to meaningfully review the disclosed materials, assess the findings about air quality and congestion, and provide thoughtful feedback about this project’s impacts.” The letter also says given that the comment period will likely overlap with two federal holidays, the comment period could end up resulting in as few as 18 business days to provide feedback.
This isn’t the first time ODOT has heard concerns about this issue.
[pdf-embedder url=”https://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/112818-60-Day-Extension-Request-Letter.pdf” title=”112818 60 Day Extension Request Letter”]
Back in March, ODOT’s decision to conduct only an EA instead of the more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement resulted in a Freedom of Information Act request by a local environmental law firm on behalf of the Audubon Society and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. ODOT defends their move by saying the EA is the middle of the three National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) reports required for projects like this and that it’s the appropriate tool to use when likely negative impacts can be mitigated. An EIS is only necessary, ODOT contends, when negative impacts can’t be reduced or avoided. (Interestingly, this section of I-5 has never had a full EIS because it was constructed before the NEPA process was created.)
Then in July, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey put ODOT on notice when he said their approach to the NEPA process wouldn’t adequately vet community concerns around the project.
Earlier this month, members of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory Committee again questioned an ODOT project manager on this issue. BAC Member Sarah Iannorone asked ODOT’s Megan Channell (on hand to share an update on bicycling and walking plans in the project) if she thought 30 days was long enough. “30 days is the standard for a federal project,” Channell replied. When Iannarone followed-up to say Portland should to exceed federal standards, Channel said ODOT would entertain the idea of a longer comment period if a formal request was made.
In addition to a longer comment period, No More Freeways has requested a public open house to be held in the neighborhoods adjacent to the planned project. “We are requesting a 60-day extension, and an opportunity for community members to deliver oral testimony in a public hearing,” states their letter, “Anything less would represent a failure of civic commitment to democratic principles to allow the community to appropriately understand ODOT’s project in their neighborhood.”
Air quality around Tubman Middle School, which is just yards away from where one of the new freeway lanes will be added, will be one aspect of the EA that will get a lot of attention.
After the comment period on the EA concludes, ODOT plans to begin design of this project in spring 2019.
UPDATE, 11/29: ODOT just sent out an email with more details on the forthcoming EA report.
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