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Willamette Week: ODOT will complete environmental impact statement for I-5 Rose Quarter project

Posted by on August 27th, 2019 at 5:24 pm

A more detailed analysis of how ODOT’s freeway expansion will impact Harriet Tubman School (upper right) is just one of the project elements that would get further analysis.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

In what would be a stunning development, the Willamette Week is reporting that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) plans to do a full Environmental Impact Statement for their I-5 Rose Quarter Project.

Here’s the scoop from the Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss:

Critics of the proposed $450 million-dollar expansion of Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter are convinced state transportation officials are prepared to conduct a full-blown environmental impact study for the project.

They drew that conclusion after an Aug. 7 meeting with senior Oregon Department of Transportation staff and two Oregon Transportation Commissioners at the downtown Radisson Hotel on Southwest Broadway… Moving toward a full environmental impact study would mark a major shift and give critics more time and leverage to shape the project to their liking.

While Jaquiss didn’t get any ODOT officials on record to confirm the decision, sources tell us a full FEIS is imminent. If confirmed, this would be stunning development.

Over the past 16 months, numerous organizations have raised red flags about ODOT’s decision to perform only an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the $450 million megaproject that would widen the Interstate 5 freeway through Portland’s central city. Despite ODOT’s claims to the contrary, an EA (part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Policy Act process) is much less detailed than a full-blown Environmental Impact Statemement (EIS).

ODOT, who published their EA back in February, has already begun preliminary engineering and has hosted networking events for potential contractors to build the project. Now they’ll have to change course and go through more public process that could take 1-3 years to fully complete.

There was intense pressure on ODOT to more fully examine the impacts of this project. Grassroots group No More Freeways PDX led a blistering campaign that called into question many elements of the EA and their activism helped the issue garner major attention. Organizations like Albina Vision, Portland Public Schools, Oregon Environmental Council and even Metro said the agency’s analysis didn’t go far enough and raised more questions than it answered. State House Representative Karin Power, Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly also called for an EIS.

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All along ODOT claimed the EA was adequate. In March, ODOT spokesperson Lou Torres told the Portland Mercury that the EA had, “the same level of detail” and “the same level of public engagement” as an EIS. Hoping to tamp down public pressure, and in response to demands from Commissioner Eudaly, ODOT agreed to expand the EA comment period by 15 days and hold an additional public hearing.

That hearing was dominated by voices opposing the project. Now it’s likely those voices will get even more opportunities to poke holes in ODOT’s plans and put forward a different vision for how to improve mobility in the Rose Quarter.

The requirement to complete an EIS wouldn’t stop the project, but it would apply the brakes. ODOT would have to do even more to justify their plans and explain how they’ll mitigate its negative impacts to the community, to our city, and to the environment.

CORRECTION/NOTE, 12:48 pm on 8/28: The text of this story has been edited to clarify that ODOT says no determination on the type of environmental analysis has been made yet. I also originally wrote that the FHWA had notified ODOT that they must do the EIS. That information is unconfirmed at this time. I regret any confusion. Please stay tuned for a follow-up as we learn more.

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

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26 Comments
  • Avatar
    Todd Boulanger August 27, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    WOW!! (I would have lost that bet.) I hope that ODoT will now have to take effective background air quality and noise level readings when there is NO MV traffic as a true baseline*, then existing readings and then projections with the “improvements”. (*Take the baseline readings during next year’s PDX Bridge Pedal.)

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    X August 27, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    The quote from Jaquiss says it’s $450 million, No More Freeways says 500 (which I believe ODOT copped to). If they say that, it’s at least 600 million. Of course 0.6 billion dollars pales next to Gov. Scott Walker’s 1.7 billion dollar boondoggle, the Zoo Exchange. Because Wisconsin couldn’t afford $80 million for transit.

    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2012/08/17/wisdot-faces-civil-rights-suit-over-1-7-billion-zoo-interchange/

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    Buzz August 27, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    Don’t be fooled, it won’t stop ODOT from continuing their survey, geotechnical and design work. Pulling the plug on this project is going to take more than an EA, they can spin that however they want, too. Let me guess, moving vehicles pollute more than vehicles idling in traffic? LOL!?!?! WTF?!?!?!

    When it rains do you get wetter moving faster or slower?

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      Chris I August 28, 2019 at 7:27 am

      10 lanes moving produces more pollution than 6 lanes of stop and go traffic. But that fact is moot, because this area will be just as congested, because it is not the choke point for I5 north. You will just have more lanes of cars in stop and go traffic, so, yes, it will produce more pollution.

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    9watts August 28, 2019 at 3:11 am

    “shape the project to their liking.”

    Shaping doesn’t really capture the oppositional stance.
    Let’s not lose sight of the Do Nothing alternative.

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      mh August 28, 2019 at 12:50 pm

      How about the “close some on- and off-ramps” stance? That would do wonders to simplify and smooth the freeway.

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    kittens August 28, 2019 at 4:26 am

    This is one instance that the Trump administration’s open disdain for “liberal” urban centers like Portland works to our favor.

    I have lived here my whole life, drive professionally and if you asked me to spend $450M on a freeway project, this wouldn’t even make my top ten. Shameful waste of resources.

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      Mike Quigley August 28, 2019 at 7:40 am

      The way this boondoggle is getting delayed it will cost 450 BILLION, not 450 million. Hey, maybe that’s the intent?

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    Fred August 28, 2019 at 7:55 am

    I’m convinced that PPS’s outreach to Oregon’s senators (not to local politicians, esp Metro who are useless) has been pivotal in getting the EIS process to occur. Thousands of spandex-clad cyclists can write in opposition to a project, but invoke children from vulnerable populations and then leaders will listen.

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      Roberta M Robles August 28, 2019 at 9:54 am

      Let’s be really clear here: the City of Portland held onto this knowledge till yesterday. As for PPS reaching out to rural officials, well I didn’t see any of these people showing up for the las three months at the OTC where FHWA clearly heard and understood my arguments outlined in the WhistleBlower Package that was legal TIGHT! Nobody else was in the room but me. So go ahead protect the preciousness of Aaron Brown and his first round of victory, which conveniently ignores decades of racism and redlining in the neighborhood. Clearly the #nomorefreeways “team” is going to have an exhausting team of collaborators to anoint the next mayor. Maybe just maybe a Woman of Color from this community could do this job better . Imagine that, being anti fascist means putting people of color in actual positions of power. Not just tokenized consent.

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    Doug Hecker August 28, 2019 at 8:55 am

    After the city strips hard working people of their cars, we’ll look back at this project with fondness.

    The upside of a prolonged planning period means Aaron Brown will have a job 🙂

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      9watts August 28, 2019 at 9:28 am

      “the city strips hard working people of their cars”

      What ARE you talking about?!

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        John Lascurettes August 28, 2019 at 10:44 am

        Well, you know, the fallacy that people on bikes are only recreating. And people on transit are tourists?
        ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 28, 2019 at 9:44 am

      Careful Doug. I don’t appreciate your slight jab at Mr. Brown. Let’s keep comments focused on the debate of ideas and not on specific people.

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      Aaron Brown August 28, 2019 at 10:05 am

      just a friendly heads up, Doug, that I have been paid exactly $0 for my campaign over the last two years to stop this fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s a labor of love.

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      mh August 28, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      He’s not getting paid to do this.

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    Ken S August 28, 2019 at 9:31 am

    This is fantastic news!
    No more freeways pdx has been doing a great jobs of getting people wriled up about this and getting organized.
    When you get enough people yelling for the same thing, you can get results.
    It worked in the Netherlands with “stop de kindermoord”, it worked with women’s suffrage, civil rights movement, and others.

    I think it’s not only possible to kill the I5 expansion, but to possibly get I5 removed from the Eastside waterfront. Take 405 or 205 or the bus or max or new transit lines we could build 5 times over with the cash ODOT thinks we should burn on freeways.

    Keep making noise. Make the decision makers uncomfortable. Wear down the resolve to build more room for cars. Make new auto lanes wildly unpopular. Turn it into career suicide to expand freeways.

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    bikeninja August 28, 2019 at 10:27 am

    To Quote the Rolling Stones, ” Time is on our side.” Each delay brings us closer to the time when the Motoring Machine will slide in to disrepute, despair and decline such that it no longer has the juice to push such senseless projects.

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    Terry D-M August 28, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Here is our opportunity to remove the Eastbank Highway. If ODOT wants the Rose Quarter expansion, then we need a plan to covert 405 to I 5, then remove everything from 84 to I 5 in SW.

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    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 28, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Please note I just added this to the story – CORRECTION/NOTE, 12:48 pm on 8/28: The text of this story has been edited to clarify that ODOT says no determination on the type of environmental analysis has been made yet. I also originally wrote that the FHWA had notified ODOT that they must do the EIS. That information is unconfirmed at this time. I regret any confusion. Please stay tuned for a follow-up as we learn more.

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    Roberta M Robles August 28, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I have no doubt everybody is swinging for a full EIS. Yes it is what we asked for. However this win obscures discussion around the three candidates they have nominated. Obviously I think I’m the best candidate with an actual plan for fixing congestion that reduces carbon emissions. The head of the Oregon Transportation Committee who is leading all the things legal since he’s the only attorney. Seems this clear lack of leadership and legal integrity is also lining up to keep doing what they’ve been doing. I don’t want to criticize any of the candidates but none of them are going to be successful unless we have a committee that is actually committed to transport justice and climate change. None of them are even from Oregon. And they have stacked Salem committees with freeway supporters. So the win spin is a little premature, since you know we have decades of losses for this neighborhood. We are just about to get rolled again on another time waster. The whole thing is gonna pivot on the new IBS. For now we need a BRT Downtown PDX to Vancouver. Take a lane!!!!!

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    X August 29, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    ODOT goes to bed thinking about putting pavement over dirt and when they wake up, same thing. We can fight the Rose Quarter Boondoggle but the real mission is a gut remodel over at NW 3rd and Everett, so the ODLMT quits feeding us this stuff.

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    Toby Keith August 29, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Will the parents of students at Harriet Tubman continue to be automotive abusers themselves and continue to point the finger at “others” for the pollution they create? Sorry but for all the traffic jams I’ve witnessed in front of this school, the freeway is only one of the problems around there.

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      Dan A August 29, 2019 at 9:44 pm

      How are the walking routes to HT?

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        Toby Keith August 31, 2019 at 11:00 pm

        well they’ve got more sidewalks than where I live out here in east PDX.

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