Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 27th, 2019 at 5:24 pm
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.
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.
— Demand an EIS for the RQ Freeway Expansion (@nomorefreeways) August 28, 2019
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.
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.
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