Chris Smith is outraged by what just happened.
The Portland Planning & Sustainability Commissioner member, transportation activist, and Metro Council candidate watched this morning as the unelected, five-member Oregon Transportation Commission brushed aside considerable concerns about the I-5 Rose Quarter project and voted unanimously to let the Oregon Department of Transportation move forward without any further objective analysis.
In response, Smith wants to strip the OTC of its powers to oversee urban highways. Here’s the statement he just shared with us:
Today we watched in horror, but not surprise, as the Oregon Transportation Commission voted to move the I-5 Rose Quarter Expansion project forward without a full Environmental Impact Statement.
The OTC has demonstrated that it thinks community input – over 2000 comments a year ago and another 460+ in the last two weeks calling for an EIS – is a virus, and it’s fully socially distanced and immune, casting this vote on a telephonic meeting during the middle of a pandemic.
I’m calling on the Oregon Legislature to remove responsibility for planning highways in urban areas from the OTC, shifting that responsibility to local MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations). This is not a new concept, we do it today for transit. Just as Metro has planned the new Southwest Corridor light rail project, and is now transitioning it to TriMet for implementation, Metro should be responsible for planning highway projects in our region, turning them over to ODOT for implementation.
In light of today’s vote, Smith is urging Metro to use its authority to “force” ODOT to respond to community concerns around issues like air quality, emissions, bikeway and walkway connectivity through the project area, impacts to the Eastbank Esplanade, and the immense impact that construction is expected to have on mobility through the area.
“As a Metro Councilor, I will aggressively hold ODOT accountable to address community concerns, including using the Council’s authority over federal funds as leverage,” Smith said.
Far from a political opportunist, Smith has been a savvy critic of this project for years. In March 2017 he put forth a motion to the Planning & Sustainability Commission that would have taken the I-5 Rose Quarter project out of the city’s Transportation System Plan, a bold move that would have forced Portland City Council to either vote to put it back in, or convince regional leaders why it doesn’t belong there. Smith’s proposal was narrowly voted down 6-4.
In related news, Metro Council voted today to support an additional $129 million that will allow ODOT to acquire right-of-way and continue preliminary engineering on the I-5 Rose Quarter project.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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