Touting list of benefits, ODOT releases I-5 Rose Quarter project environmental assessment

Posted by on February 15th, 2019 at 8:54 am

As expected, the Oregon Department of Transportation released the Environmental Assessment for the I-5 Rose Quarter Project today. Now the clock starts ticking on the 45-day comment period.

The Assessment is very lengthy and technical. It’s easy to understand why PBOT Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, the Audubon Society of Portland, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, No More Freeways, and dozens of other groups requested more time to analyze the documents and prepare their feedback.

We’ll be taking a closer look at the Assessment, particularly its findings on the project’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, traffic volumes, and so on. Another valuable things this EA document provides is a clear look at the bicycling infrastructure elements of the project (something we’re overdue on sharing in detail here on the front page).

Routes are various segments of I-5 between I-84 and the Fremont Bridge.

A few things of note that I found in a quick scan is that ODOT claims that if they build the project GHG will actually go down (versus current conditions). They also promise that the new lanes will come with an increase in speeds and substantial time savings for I-5 users. “The build alternative is a safety improvement project that would not substantially improve highway capacity and would not be expected to induce growth or create other effects that would cause indirect impacts,” states the Climate Change Technical Report (on page 34).

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Also of note is the Executive Summary where ODOT addresses “anticipated adverse impacts” of the project. Where I think many transportation reform-minded readers would consider the expansion of an urban freeway and the improvements to driving access that comes with it to present obvious adverse impacts (by encouraging the use of the most inefficient and destructive form of transportation available), in their answer to this question ODOT only lists negative impacts that would occur during construction.

Here’s a summary of the main findings as provided in a statement by ODOT:

Improved safety for all transportation modes – New crossings over I-5, protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, improved striping and upgraded signals would mean safer local streets and new connections for everyone. On I-5, new shoulders would give disabled vehicles a way to get out of travel lanes and new ramp-to-ramp connections will mean less stop and go traffic, less emergency braking and more time and space for drivers to merge, which will reduce frequent crashes and improve travel times.

Improved air quality – The assessment modeled air pollutant emissions, which found that air quality would slightly improve with the project, as compared to not building the project. The estimated reduction in emissions caused by the project would likely be due to the higher speeds and less idling on the highway and reduced congestion from the project. Building the project “is not expected to cause air quality impacts nor contribute to cumulative effects on air quality beyond temporary construction effects, which would be addressed by requiring contractors to implement a variety of mitigation measures.”

Slightly decreased carbon emissions. As with the reduction in overall air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions would slightly reduce with the project, as compared to not building the project. Emissions would be slightly better with the project due to reduced congestion and fewer starts and stops within the project area. “Because greenhouse gas emissions have been identified as a primary cause of climate change effects, any potential decrease in these emissions would be expected to support emission-reduction efforts intended to reduce future climate-related impacts,’” the assessment found.

Benefits for communities – The assessment found that the project, as proposed, would improve access to public transit; improve mobility and safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders; and improve connections to areas east and west of I-5 provided by the new highway covers and the Clackamas bicycle/pedestrian overcrossing.

A proposed sound wall would reduce noise levels. A sound wall, recommended for the area between I-5 and Harriet Tubman Middle School, would reduce highway noise inside the school. “This would be a beneficial reduction in noise compared to existing noise levels at the school,” the environmental assessment found.

You can view all the documents here. ODOT has also just released an online open house that will be available through April 1st. Happy reading, and let us know if you find anything interesting. We’ll be posting more here on the Front Page in the coming weeks.

In related news, the No More Freeways coalition is hosting a volunteer orientation event this coming Wednesday, February 20th. They’re looking for people to help them hand out flyers, testify, plan events, and strategize.

ODOT will host a public open house on March 7th from 5:30 to 8:00 pm at Leftbank Annex (101 N Weidler) and the big public hearing will take place on March 12th from 4:30 to 6:00 pm at the Oregon Convention Center.

Once you’re ready to comment, you can do so via email to ODOT (Attn: Megan Channell, 123 NW Flanders St., Portland Oregon 97209), by leaving a message at (503) 423-3760, or by emailing info@i5rosequarter.org.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

48 Comments
  • Avatar
    Dirk February 15, 2019 at 9:19 am

    What about all the emissions created by the construction events?

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    maccoinnich February 15, 2019 at 9:25 am

    First reaction: they’ve released the report as a PDF made of a series of raster images which means a) it’s not accessible to anyone who uses text to speech and b) it’s not possible to search the text.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2019 at 9:58 am

      Yes this is not a good thing. I noticed I wasn’t able to copy/paste text from any of the documents. If done on purpose it shows very bad form. If done on accident, they should re-release in a more accessible format.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 15, 2019 at 12:55 pm

        It’s not ideal, but this can help:

        https://convertio.co/pdf-txt/

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        Paul Cone February 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm

        I guess that’s why I searched for the word “Tubman” and got zero results.

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    Joe Hand February 15, 2019 at 9:35 am

    Pretty amazing that the first goal is “Enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety and mobility in the vicinity of the Broadway/Weidler interchange.”

    Then the “No Build” alternative only mentions cars and freight…

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    Mike Quigley February 15, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Call Ocasio Cortez in for consultation! Even pay her if necessary. If she and a small band of common sense rabble rousers can stop Amazon, she can provide advice on a way to stop this boondoggle! Let’s go!

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2019 at 9:59 am

      i think we’ve already got a very strong group of rabble rousers lined up and working well. And they need pay too!

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      MTW February 15, 2019 at 10:43 am

      Has Blumenauer come out against it? When Merkely was asked (about a year ago) he said he needed to read up on the project. Not sure about Wyden.

      But I agree, congressional leaders coming out hard against this (especially with the positive momentum of a Green New Deal) could be really helpful.

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    paikiala February 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

    I read the GHG chart differently. It looks to me like GHG are going down anyway and the project doesn’t add that much.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2019 at 10:03 am

      ODOT sees a rosy future where advances in fuel economy and car tech allow people to drive with much less negative environmental impact. The truth is it will be decades before the existing fleet of emitters turns over and by improving freeways and making driving easier, ODOT is only decreasing the urgency of that transition — not to mention there complete lack of acceptance about the myriad other negative impacts of increased single-occupancy car use like social isolation, sprawl, injuries and deaths from collisions, huge costs for infrastructure, and so on.

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      X February 15, 2019 at 11:49 am

      When a motivated researcher or in this case a government agency has a particular outcome in view it’s a simple matter to find a data set and a method of analysis that shape the curve any way you want. ODOT’s lips are moving. I don’t trust them.

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2019 at 1:02 pm

        I don’t trust ODOT either. And I think trust plays a big role in these debates.

        I think the community has very good reason to not trust this agency. They continue to obfuscate and evade and fall on the side of automobile users at almost every single opportunity.

        It’s 4,700 person agency and they see their continued success and existence in building as much and as expensive of highways as possible. They simply haven’t made the switch into understanding this is not longer just some bureaucratic/political game about “cars vs bikes/walk/transit”.. this is about the health and welfare of our planet and people and we don’t have time for ODOT’s culture to change naturally (something I’ve hoped for for years but ODOT shows no signs of change).

        The firing/resigning/letting go of Director Garrett was great news. But we need much more. I don’t think anything short of a dynamic new leader who’s willing to burn much of the current culture down and begin anew will lead to the changes we need.

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    Chris I February 15, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Assuming we completely ignore the effects of induced demand, right?

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    Dan A February 15, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Yum, I love me some ODOT propaganda in the morning!

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    X February 15, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Wait, didn’t ODOT retire or quit or something? I just woke up from a three day hangover. Too soon?

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    maxD February 15, 2019 at 11:46 am

    I find it very troubling how much blatant greenwashing is in this report and the graphics especially. In particular, the lids are shown as green spaces with trees growing on them. Contrast that with the description:
    “The Vancouver/Hancock highway cover would be a concrete or steel platform that spans east-west across I-5 and to the north and south of N/NE Hancock. Like the Broadway/Weidler/Williams highway cover, this highway cover would provide additional surface area above I-5. The highway cover would provide an opportunity for public space and a new connection across I-5 for all modes of travel.”
    The lids are specifically being built as minimal as possible to be used for construction staging. They are NOT being designed or built for urban design benefits OR to support landscape. There is no way landscape can be sustained here without substantial soil being added and permanent irrigation being included. PBOT has reduced its landscape maintenance budget to zero- they have walked away from every piece of landscape they had previously committed to maintain. Parks does not have the budget to pay for water and maintenance on a piece of land like this with extremely limited value as openspace (loud, disconnected, etc). Is ODOT going to pay for on-going irrigation and landscape maintenance?! Please show me one single ODOT-owned and managed facility in the State that would inspire confidence. These lids are guaranteed to miserable urban voids, as bad or possibly worse than what we have currently since they are spanning a larger expanse of freeway.

    This proposal is a horrible idea on every level and it a a real blow to the climate, but the blatant lies about the lids really makes me angry!

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      Spencer Boomhower February 15, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Excellent points that need to be amplified! Comment of the week? Is that still a thing? 🙂

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 15, 2019 at 12:58 pm

        yep. definitely still a think spencer! I just don’t get it together as often as I’d like and/or there enough nominations. I’ll take a closer look at this one. Thanks for tagging.

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      maccoinnich February 15, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      Nothing about the green spaces in the graphics makes me think they will be successful open space that people will want to inhabit. They look like exactly what they are: leftover remnants parcels from the construction of freeway ramps.

      If someone can make the case for why the green space either side of N Vancouver won’t look exactly like Naito over I-405 (https://goo.gl/maps/tu7uyHd2Nf32) I would love to hear it.

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      curly February 15, 2019 at 3:26 pm

      “Please show me one single ODOT-owned and managed facility in the State that would inspire confidence.”

      ODOT did a mass tree planting with Friends Of Trees on a broad section of the I-205 Multi Use Path in 2012 that was amazing at the time. A $250,000 project that is starting to mature, but unfortunately only serves to hide the homeless camps at this time. Expect the same for the freeway caps unless PP&R claims the surface of the caps as parks.

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        Paul Cone February 15, 2019 at 4:10 pm

        A lot of those trees are dead now, probably because they didn’t get watered enough during the summer.

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    joan February 15, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    ‘A proposed sound wall would reduce noise levels. A sound wall, recommended for the area between I-5 and Harriet Tubman Middle School, would reduce highway noise inside the school. “This would be a beneficial reduction in noise compared to existing noise levels at the school,” the environmental assessment found.’

    Okay, so this project is certainly not required to build a sound wall between Tubman and I5. It’s not clear why they didn’t build a wall when they originally built the freeway or in the many years since then. But, to suggest that building this wall is a benefit of the project — when they could build a wall right now if they wanted — is quite disingenuous.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty February 15, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      BUILD THE WALL!

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        joan February 15, 2019 at 1:01 pm

        Ha! That’s a wall I can get behind! Or in front of. Or next to. But I want it!

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty February 15, 2019 at 1:04 pm

          AND MAKE ODOT PAY FOR IT!!!

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        David Hampsten February 15, 2019 at 4:21 pm

        Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it. There’s already walls along I-84 and I-205 in East Portland if you want to test the effects of walls. The immediate neighbors don’t hear the traffic, but they do feel it. Neighbors withing a quarter mile certainly benefit from reduced noise and air pollution, but it has to go somewhere, and it’s people about a half-mile away who get it the worst – the all-night din and rumblings, the increased smog, loss of health.

        As expensive as capping is, at least you can blow the unhealthy pollution to some other fixed location. A good example is the I-90 tunnel on Mercer Island near Seattle, complete with soccer fields on top. DC also has freeway tunnels under the National Mall. Paris has an extensive network of them.

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      Dan A February 15, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      My guess is demographics.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 15, 2019 at 2:18 pm

        My guess is that your guess is wrong.

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          Dan A February 15, 2019 at 2:24 pm

          Typical of most of your guesses.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 15, 2019 at 3:08 pm

            I guess so.

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      CaptainKarma February 16, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      They are already calling it “proposed” so that’s BS for it will be the first cut. Tillikum was supposed to have this n’that, but cuts were made.

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      Matt S. February 18, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Good analysis

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    joan February 15, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    In the executive summary, there’s a question: “How has the Project addressed the history of environmental justice in the area?”

    And the answer, over three paragraphs, is basically, “We talked to black people and other folks in the neighborhood.” Which is to say, ODOT has ignored the issue of environmental justice, because talking to people about what you are going to do is not the same as actually addressing environmental racism. Infuriating.

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      David Hampsten February 15, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      At least ODOT talked with them. PBOT ignored them for both the recent Yellow MAX and when they built the original I-5 way back when.

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    Induced BS February 15, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Looks like the same kind of BS modeling Garret/ODOT got caught lying about before.

    https://www.wweek.com/news/2015/11/18/senate-republicans-say-odot-brass-knew-carbon-emission-numbers-were-fatally-flawed/

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      GlowBoy February 15, 2019 at 9:23 pm

      Are we on tragedy still, or farce yet?

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    GlowBoy February 15, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Funny how ODOT thinks the build vs. no-build option will make almost no difference in GHG emissions, and those emissions will magically drop by a huge amount on their own.

    Never mind that vehicle fuel economy improvements have essentially stalled due to cheap gas, apathy and ever-increasing vehicle sizes (median passenger vehicle now in excess of 4000 pounds … hey, just like back in the Seventies!)

    I’m trying to understand how GHG emissions will be the same whether or not we build it. Are they saying (a) the amount of extra emissions that would be caused by idling vehicles (mostly 1-4 minute longer travel times based on their chart) under no-build is more or less equal to (b) the amount of extra emissions that would be caused by so-called* induced demand under the build scenario? I think most knowledgeable people realize the expanded road will fill up and you’ll have even more cars idling in stop-and-go traffic.

    * the economist in me cringes at the term “induced” demand. You’re not making people get in their cars when you increase roadway capacity. (“Oooh, look at me, a beautiful empty road! Aren’t I enticing? My pavement compels you to drive on me!”) When you make any good (in this case, use of the roadway) less costly (in time, a commodity even more finite than money), the more people will consume it. Economics as well as transportation planning dictate that empty roadways will fill up again. But we Dismal Scientists call the effect demand elasticity, not induced demand. /semantic quibble

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      Inductor February 17, 2019 at 8:39 am

      Glow boy: good points. It’s hard to understand how increased capacity will not increase emissions. Its very short-sighted because, as you point out, of the elasticity of people’s transportation decisions.

      Here’s some clarity on the induced demand concept (other wonks, please clarify if i’m off here):

      ‘Induced demand’ is a specific explanation for transportation elasticity. The concept you are describing is more commonly considered ‘latent demand,’ which is another, separate explanation.

      Latent demand is the phenomenon when a certain route becomes easier, people who were making the trip anyway, or were considering making the trip, take it instead of an alternate or instead of staying home. In this case: taking I-5 instead of MLK/Grand or the Yellow Line because now it’s 4 mins faster (in theory).

      Induced demand means the new, easy route entices people to create new developments further away because it is now easier to travel that distance. In this case, more sprawl in Washington (outside of Oregon’s UGB) because it’s easier to get to downtown Portland (until the new commuters fill the road to capactity again). So, in fact, the road is inducing a change of land use that creates more demand.

      I hope this helps ease your economics mind.

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        GlowBoy February 19, 2019 at 12:31 pm

        That makes sense. I was just thinking in terms of the immediate increase in demand level when roadway congestion goes down, not the longer term increase due to land use decisions enabled – or yes, arguably induced – by the extra capacity.

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      Gary B February 19, 2019 at 11:59 am

      I haven’t read the EA yet, but based on past public statements, I think their reasoning is: there isn’t demand induced here because capacity is limited at points external to the project. Since the same number of lanes come in and go out, few additional people will use this stretch of road as a result of this project. Same number of cars moving more efficiently yields better results.

      If that’s the logic, it’s seems fallacious. If person X checks their Google Maps and sees a trip will take 5 less minutes because this stretch moves better, they may decide to take a trip they otherwise wouldn’t have, even if there’s a bottleneck leading up to the improved stretch.

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    Tom Hardy February 15, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    It looks like the case is pretty well made in the report that the NO CHANGE option gives a better air quality result in 2045 than the one with change.
    “Let the Californicators and the Washington commuters stay away.”
    Just a quote from ex Governor McCall

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    mark smith February 18, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    This was a great move by ODOT. Now people see, in writing, ODOT will lie to ensure nonstop freeway building no matter the reasoning or lack of reasoning. One step closer to disbanding ODOT as it stands today….

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    Peter W February 22, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    One half of a billion dollars… for a zero-point-two percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and that is only *if* ODOT’s numbers prove to be true.

    ODOT’s project is a joke.

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    Peter W February 22, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    > Documents the Senate Republicans obtained under Oregon’s public records law appear to show that Garrett and other officials knew as early as June 10 the carbon numbers were flawed—two weeks before the hearing.

    https://www.wweek.com/news/2015/11/18/senate-republicans-say-odot-brass-knew-carbon-emission-numbers-were-fatally-flawed/

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      Emily March 9, 2019 at 11:02 pm

      I can’t find the results of the third party investigation Kate Brown ordered to look into this. Does anyone know where to find this information? Thanks

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