“We continue to have concerns about the stewardship and outcomes of the Project.”
— Letter signed by Portland Mayor Wheeler, Metro President Lynn Peterson, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, and Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Just days before the Oregon Transportation Commission will weigh in, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has joined the growing chorus calling for more in-depth environmental review of the I-5 Rose Quarter project.
Wheeler has sent a letter (PDF) to Oregon Governor Kate Brown and OTC Chair Robert Van Brocklin calling for a full environmental impact statement (EIS). The letter is signed by Metro President Lynn Peterson, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, and Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. (Eudaly already called for the EIS back in April.)
Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Since the inception of the Project, we’ve worked closely with ODOT and other partners to advance a meaningful concept, offer constructive feedback and raise concerns. Over the past six months, our agencies have participated in an informal process with the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) with the sincere desire to collaboratively pursue a path forward.
The OTC has yet to articulate how our input would be addressed or how our recommendations would be incorporated. We continue to have concerns about the stewardship and outcomes of the Project.
The letter states that ODOT hasn’t made adequate progress on several things the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Metro has been asking for. Those include: Adoption of a leadership policy that, “reflects values of transparency, inclusivity, and transportation justice”; a project charter that lays out a decision-making structure with community representation and oversight; and a third-party study on the proposed highway covers.
ODOT completed an environmental assessment (EA) for the project back in February as part of the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process required for large transportation projects. ODOT has said the EA is sufficient and has thus far been reluctant to do a more robust EIS. The more rigorous assessment would stall the project and require ODOT to address several controversial elements like its impact on air quality around Harriet Tubman Middle School, its impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, the design of proposed highway covers, and more.
In April, Metro’s senior planner said ODOT’s EA was “inadequate and potentially misleading”.
Leaders and organizations throughout the region have been pressuring ODOT to slow down and do the EIS. Pressure has been coming not just from activist groups like No More Freeways PDX (who held a rally on Tuesday in front of ODOT’s Region 1 headquarters), but also from the Portland Public Schools board, Albina Vision Trust, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, State Senator Michael Dembrow, and others.
Wheeler has faced relentless pressure from groups like No More Freeways and Sunrise Movement to come out more strongly against the I-5 project. At the rally on Tuesday they held up banners saying “Climate Mayors Don’t Widen Freeways” and “ODOT: Do Your Homework”.
Reached for comment today, No More Freeways leader Aaron Brown said, “We’re grateful that local elected officials realized they could no longer ignore the thousands of constituents, community organizations, and youth climate leaders who correctly pointed out months ago that ODOT’s abysmal freeway expansion proposal warrants far greater scrutiny and better community engagement.”
The OTC meets Tuesday and is expected to make a final decision on the EIS issue. The ball is in the OTC’s court because — despite calls for an EIS from leaders, organizations and hundreds of Oregon residents — ODOT staff forwarded the issue to the OTC agenda without any recommendation of their own.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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