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In surprise change, ODOT will extend I-5 Rose Quarter comment period to 45 days

Posted by on February 5th, 2019 at 10:41 am

I-5 with Harriet Tubman Middle School in the background.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced this morning they’ll extend the public comment period on the Environmental Assessment (EA) of their I-5 Rose Quarter Project. The EA will be released February 15th.

The announcement comes a surprise. Less than a month ago ODOT said 30 days would be enough and the agency formally declined requests from the No More Freeways Coalition and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly to extend it to 60 days.

In a January 11th letter to the coalition (PDF), ODOT Major Projects Manager Megan Channell, wrote,

“Given the range of opportunities that will be provided for the public to engage in the project and the environmental findings, we do not plan to extend the 30-day public comment period at this time. This is consistent with federal standards for an Environmental Assessment public review [*Which is why advocacy groups felt a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement should have been conducted]. We plan to publish the EA and start the public comment period to allow the interested readers to first see and review the information and then assess the time needed for review. Once the comment period begins, we will consider if an extension is necessary based on feedback received after publication of the document.”

The 30-day comment period was also referenced by Commissioner Eudaly in her January 23rd blog post on the topic. “We are prioritizing public engagement because this project is one of the most significant transportation efforts in recent years,” she wrote. “I want to ensure that this project reflects our values, particularly our commitment to equity, sustainability, and safety.” According to Eudaly’s Chief of Staff Marshall Runkel, the Commissioner met with Windsheimer and other ODOT officials in early January.

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Instead of a longer comment period, ODOT touted the outreach they’d already done on the project and said they’d push back the release date of the EA to allow community groups to organize. They also agreed to host a public hearing on March 12th (something Eudaly’s office specifically requested).

This morning ODOT changed course and announced the EA will have a 45-day public comment period. “The additional 15 days will allow more time for the community to consider and provide meaningful comments on the environmental findings,” reads the statement.

An extra 15 days is just half of what Eudaly and the No More Freeways Coalition requested. And ODOT was already under pressure from the Audubon Society of Portland and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon for doing an Environmental Assessment on this mega-project instead of the more rigorous analysis required under an Environmental Impact Statement.

In an email to BikePortland this morning, Aaron Brown from No More Freeways wrote, “In November, dozens of community groups joined us in asking ODOT for a two month extension to the public comment period. ODOT instead granted only two weeks, and only after ceding to political pressure from civic leaders. Given the catastrophic increase of neighborhood air pollution and regional carbon emissions that this project entails, it is crucially important that the community be given a meaningful opportunity to speak out about the concerns of ODOT’s freeway widening proposal.”

Asked for comment this morning, Runkel from Commissioner Eudaly’s office said, “The commissioner recognizes that it is unlikely that the community will reach consensus about the project, but is committed to a full and fair public process to consider it.”

Upcoming opportunities for feedback include a drop-in open house on March 7th (5:30 to 8:00 pm at Leftbank Annex), a public hearing on March 12th (4:30 to 6:00 pm at Oregon Convention Center), and an online open house which will begin February 15th (the EA release date) and run through April 1st.

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

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15 Comments
  • Avatar
    BrettB February 5, 2019 at 11:12 am

    After years of frustration I am finally taking steps to advocate for transportation improvements that will have a positive impact on public health and pollution in the city. I think this project is a bad idea and apparently the one that elevates me from longtime Bikeportland lurker to do-gooder cyclist. Thanks

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    maxD February 5, 2019 at 11:17 am

    This is great news, and it sounds like there is a growing coalition in opposition to this boondoggle. I am puzzled why we are not hearing more opposition to the project to widen I-205 between Oregon City and where it joins I-5 to the southwest. The Rose Quarter expansion is likely a setup to build the case for a huge/wide replacement over the Columbia, which is horrible, but the 205 project will likely induce more traffic and spur more suburban sprawl and have a larger/worse impact on carbon pollution

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 5, 2019 at 11:22 am

      yes maxD that too is a very bad project we don’t need and one that only exists because we have legislators who don’t understand transportation and a state DOT that doesn’t have the cultural backbone to stand up to them and do what’s right. But I digress… The reason you don’t hear more about that is there’s only so much capacity for fighting these things. Rose Quarter is getting a lot of attention because it’s in Portland’s backyard. All politics is local. Most activism is local too.

      That being said,… There are people looking closely at that project. I have some notes and work and leads to do some work on it too from a BikePortland coverage standpoint. It’s on my list. Thanks.

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      nuovorecord February 5, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      As I understand it, ODOT is not adding bicycle facilities to the widened section of I-205 between the bridge and Stafford Road…

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        maxD February 5, 2019 at 6:11 pm

        correct

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    stephan February 5, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Here is new evidence on the negative effect of traffic pollution in school grades for students those school is close to a highway: https://www.nber.org/papers/w25489

    This should be highly relevant for the widening project and Tubman more generally.

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      MTW February 5, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      One would think, but that’s a problem years away. 2 schoolchildren have been hit in the 6 months since that school has been re-opened and the game plan on how to address that has been uninspiring.

      By the say, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. From an activism standpoint, I think focusing on the immediate dangers of auto dependency (30K dead a year) rather than long term effects (asthma, climate change, etc.) can be more effective. Temporal discounting is a big problem when it comes to these issues, while something like “Stop de Kindermoord” can get results. Just my opinion of course

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        stephan February 5, 2019 at 2:14 pm

        Sure, and I agree. I would say, the more arguments, the stronger to position, though I would also focus on the immediate dangers from a advocacy perspective. I have followed the meeting with PBOT here on bikeportland and was, like many others, appalled by PBOT’s response, i.e., asking parents and children to be more responsible instead of taking responsibility in creating an dangerous infrastructure and addressing that asap.

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      Gene Fifield February 6, 2019 at 3:31 am

      The article requires a purchase or school email address for access. πŸ™

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    joan February 5, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Cheers to Aaron Brown and his relentless advocacy work!

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    hotrodder February 5, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I just wanna yell, “HEY, there has to be ONE SMART PERSON in a position of power who can stand up and say – ‘one driver / one car’ to get to work and back home isn’t making it anymore; IT”S NOT WORKING!! IT’S NOT SUSTAINABLE!!! figure something else out! Market the plan like an ad agency pushes Coca Cola or Starbucks and get everyone on board. It can’t be that hard, we’ve become a nation of mushheads who can be sold anything!!! We’ll buy a good idea that gets us home faster and doesn’t require more roads that will just be filled up the second the dedication ribbon is cut!!”

    (And while we’re at it, will someone please tell the masses and the legislators that winter tire technology has improved to the point where WE NO LONGER NEED STUDDED CAR TIRES TO GET GOOD GRIP ON ICE AND SNOW!!!! OUTLAW THE GODDAMN STUDDED WINTER TIRES!!!!)

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    Mark smith February 6, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Well, the Portland city council is behind it. So, it’s happening. Never underestimate the construction lobby.

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      Dan A February 6, 2019 at 11:15 am

      The construction lobby part I don’t get. There are endless amounts of construction opportunities in the VRU space. Too bad we can’t figure out how to get $500 million allocated for THAT.

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    Kenny February 14, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Our traffic is horrible. Something must be done. That section of I84 meeting I5 is the root cause of it. You guys realize that section shrinks to 2 lanes causing havoc. It’s like a clogged artery.

    Plus no matter how many bike lanes we add, how much money we dump on light rail Portland is still ranked top 10 in the nation in traffic. In fact it was just released today.

    I support the widening of the lanes and perhaps adding Express lanes on the new lanes !!

    https://expo.oregonlive.com/news/g66l-2019/02/6e5d1b1b237242/portlands-rush-hour-traffic-is-10th-worst-in-the-nation-report.html

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