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

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.

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

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