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Concerns aside, Metro Council gives ODOT $129 million for I-5 Rose Quarter project

Posted by on April 3rd, 2020 at 2:58 pm

I-5 from the Flint Avenue Bridge.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Despite a majority of Metro Council expressing concerns about the future of a nearly $800 million project that will expand the I-5 freeway through the Rose Quarter, only two out of seven members voted against giving the Oregon Department of Transportation $129 million to continue working on it.

The 5-2 vote came at a meeting just hours after the Oregon Transportation Commission gave ODOT permission to move forward with the project without the rigorous environmental analysis called for by hundreds of Portlanders, many organizations and key local elected officials including Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. On the Metro Council agenda was a resolution to greenlight funding that allows ODOT to do two things: Purchase “right-of-way” parcels in the Rose Quarter where they’ll stage future construction equipment; and continue to pay expenses related to project development, outreach and preliminary engineering, and so on. (It’s the same funding passed by a Metro advisory committee last week.

Before voting on the resolution, Metro Deputy Planning Director Margi Bradway assured council members the funds were not tied to construction and that they should be considered in isolation of their feelings about the overall design or merits of the project itself. “You’re voting on a narrow issue,” she said. “Although there are larger issues raised with it.”

“Larger issues,” is an understatement. Just one year ago, Metro’s director of planning wrote a letter to ODOT tearing into claims made in their environmental assessment as being “not objectively true” and, “potentially misleading”.

“It is an impossible dream to relieve congestion at the Rose Quarter without moderating the volume of traffic at the peak periods. Therefore, it makes no sense for me to vote in favor of forwarding this project to its next phase in the absence of an EIS.”
— Bob Stacey, Metro Councilor

All the councilors expressed concern that the I-5 mega-project was moving forward without binding agreements in place with ODOT and there was consensus that more discussion about how Metro can impact the project is needed.

Councilor Bob Stacey voted for this funding last week. Now, given that ODOT won’t be required to perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), he wishes he hadn’t. “I feel a little bit sideways about that now. I wish I had the vote to take over again,” he said. At Thursday’s meeting, Stacey tried to delay the resolution in order to get stronger commitments from ODOT about what form the project will take.

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“The benefit of having an EIS begins with the definition of a statement of purpose and need (referring to a specific section in EIS documents),” Stacey said. “Here the purpose and need appears to be that the legislature has decided to fund the Rose Quarter project and it’s time to get busy and start digging. A statement of purpose and need that looks at the problem that this project presumably addresses, would start with defining the options for relieving congestion at the Rose Quarter. Those options would include congestion pricing and a wide range of different designs. They would also include a maximum-build scenario, because relieving congestion at the Rose Quarter without congestion pricing is not possible without widening I-5 through the center of the city of Portland and without widening [I-84] as it intersects I-5. It is an impossible dream to relieve congestion at the Rose Quarter without moderating the volume of traffic at the peak periods. Therefore, it makes no sense for me to vote in favor of forwarding this project to its next phase in the absence of an EIS.”

Stacey was not alone.

Councilor Sam Chase.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Councilor Sam Chase, who’s running for a seat on Portland City Council and whose north Portland district would bear the brunt of a wider freeway, was the other “no” vote. He too has even more reservations about the project now that it won’t have an EIS. “The lack of an EIS creates a number of questions about how we’d move forward… I get concerned that we don’t have a clear partnership [with ODOT and the OTC].” 

“I’m in a dilemma,” Chase continued, “I don’t feel comfortable moving forward with significant resources without some components more clear.” Chase said he appreciated the letter written by OTC Chair Robert Van Brocklin in January that outlined 11 actions ODOT would take to address concerns from Portland officials. But he doesn’t think the language is strong enough.

“Almost every single one of them says, “we’ll consider” or “may”… It needs to be a commitment that is more forthright, not a ‘We might do these things’,” he said. “It is not a time for us to be hoping down the line that things work out.”

Washington County Councilor Juan Carlos González said he agreed with Stacey and Chase, but that he was “torn” between those concerns and what staff were characterizing as simply an administrative step in the project’s process. González, who also wanted an EIS, said he doesn’t feel comfortable moving forward with non-binding commitments. “However,” he added, “I also recognize that for a project like this to move forward there needs to be a degree of trust and a willingness to continue to have that conversation.” González ultimately voted yes.

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“I believe ODOT is capable of designing a project that mitigates the historic negative impacts of [the freeway’s] construction and presence.”
— Lynn Peterson, Metro Council President

Shirley Craddick, who represents Metro District 1, also said she has the same concerns at councilors Chase and Stacey; but she saw the funding vote and the project plans themselves as “two different discussions.” “I think we should move forward…then we need to have that second discussion.” Craddick also voted in favor of the funding.

Before voting “yes”, Councilor Christine Lewis said “It’s a frustrating place to be,” to have to separate support for funding the project when she also feels there’s not enough ODOT accountability built into it yet.

Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents portions of Washington and Clackamas counties, seemed to be the least concerned member of council. “Based on the fact that this project has been approved at all different levels, and that the state, regional bodies, and even federal government agrees, I see little point in us trying to obstruct.”

In her comments before the vote, Council President Lynn Peterson said she was “disappointed” the OTC voted to not require the EIS. Peterson then expressed appreciation for ODOT’s actions in the past several months. “They’ve committed to expand the scope beyond what they did with their EA [Environmental Assessment] she said, “I think that’s important to note.” “I believe ODOT is capable of designing a project that mitigates the historic negative impacts of [the freeway’s] construction and presence.”

ODOT might not have smooth sailing through Metro from here on out. President Peterson sounded firm about the need for more binding agreements and accountability prior to any further approvals of the project. “How do we move beyond the ‘may’ and ‘consider’? We need to hear back from ODOT in their own words and then get it in an agreement,” she said. “I think we need to make it clear they’re not coming back to us for any further decisions like this unless we have an agreement.”

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

I’m disappointed by all those who expressed strong reservations about the project and how it’s moving forward, but then signed away their leverage by signing the check.

I’m sure they are sending their thoughts and prayers.

Betsy Reese
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Betsy Reese

So now ODOT has the money and power to start commandeering private property for the uncertain I-5 RQ expansion project.

Even if some properties are not taken by ODOT immediately, PBOT is already directing private property owners who want to help revitalize Lower Albina to “coordinate projects” with ODOT’s I-5 widening. This will put property owners in a disadvantaged “motivated seller” position if they don’t want their property further mothballed by the looming freeway expansion.

Either way, ODOT may now be able tie up property and allow it to sit dormant for many years while the freeway project does or does not advance. Much of the property they are acquiring is part of the African American neighborhood that was destroyed by the freeway to begin with. This ROW acquisition funding release is one step further toward undermining efforts at reparations and restoration in this area as proposed by Albina Vision.

Alain
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Alain

Without electeds and local and regional representatives using these words (or maybe they have), the Rose Quarter Project is being treated as a jobs program. And it will funnel short-term money and jobs into the economy. Other concerns (legitimate or not) will have a difficult time contending with this feature of the project. I don’t believe in the project, and I wrote letters in opposition. I live near the corridor, and this will directly impact me and my neighbors. But anyone outside the area, for the most part, has a more abstract set of concerns (alleviate traffic), even if they cannot prove the project will do what it professes to do. Councilor Dirksen’s vote can be seen as an example. Unfortunately, I don’t think the opposition was large enough and loud enough to make a difference. This is not meant to slight all the hard work done to resist the project. I am grateful to those who worked so hard to fight this project. I just think it would take 10s of thousands to make OTC and ODOT change course. By design, they have a very narrow set of concerns.

Roberta Robles
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Roberta Robles

Honestly I dont understand why they keep shoveling money into a project team that is burning through consultation fees and community concerns. The prime contractors are Aecom. Why are we continuing with contractors who have been laughing all the way to the bank with another year of billable hours to say we are ignoring thousands of comments. Slow clap for “just keep the machine going” argument. Good thing we lasted this long, that land should now be worth significantly less. Do you think Metro is capable is negotiating a better deal then they gave the Sondland hotel. They arent housing the homeless, they are in cots next door. Slow clap… Metro saved the day again.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

Commissioner Stacey’s complaint about purpose and need jumped out at me. The executive summary of the environmental assessment has explicit sections explaining both. Don’t think it would change with an environmental impact statement which would address the impacts of the action. Can anyone up to speed on NEPA shed light on why this would be an issue?

bikeshoe
Guest
bikeshoe

March 27: Metro Announces Layoffs Affecting 40% Of Staff
April 03: $129 million up in smoke.
But what is a few million dollars after all?

todd.boulanger
Guest
todd.boulanger

Bikeshoe: I agree the optics dont look good. Though things may not be this simple or black and white in the short term: the staff salaries should come out of a different fund than the Rose Quarter project RoW and design funds. Perhaps Chris can chime in about thus budget kungfu detail.

Though the one big takeaway is that many jurisdictions have or will lay off peak season or PT staff this month, not just Metro. What makes Metro so different is that as an MPO it has taken on many more functions than most MPOs, many of which are entertainment based and thus not essential like the Zoo etc.

Peter W
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Peter W

Big thanks and props to those councilors who did vote against the resolution.

> Before voting “yes”, Councilor Christine Lewis said “It’s a frustrating place to be,” to have to separate support for funding the project when she also feels there’s not enough ODOT accountability built into it yet.

Frustrating? Frustrating? Really?!

As someone who supported Christine Lewis during her Metro candidacy, I must say I’m very disappointed with this outcome. Frustrated, you might say. It makes it all the worse that Lewis was the one who made the initial motion here (seconded by Dirksen). (About 54 min in – see ‘video’ link here https://oregonmetro.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=771300&GUID=C7D718A2-8EFD-4226-A702-844CF0804B57 … sidenote, it seems President Peterson needs to review Roberts Rules, or at least what “Lay it on the table” means).

While Lewis claimed handing this back to JPACT was a “quandary”, Sam Chase and Bob Stacey clearly understood a pause would buy Metro time to force ODOT to bring to the table much more certainty about what the project will ultimately be and whether it meets Metro’s desires for the community. But with this vote, as a staffer clarified mid-discussion, we see the opposite of a deliberative pause: “This allows proceeding earlier than planned in Right of Way [and] we could anticipate another amendment based on [the cost increases]”.

So this Metro vote actually facilitated a blind dash toward a project whose only certainty is its unaffordability.

Councilor Lewis, with all due respect, writing a $129 million dollar check to an entity you feel lacks “accountability” is the exact opposite of practicing “accountability” yourself. And in the newly developing economic context, in the midst of layoffs to Metro’s own staff no less, laying out for a $129 million installment on a $450M project that is (with Metro’s help) becoming a $795 million dollar monstrosity is not just “unaccountable”… it’s unconscionable.

Telly Amans
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Telly Amans

David Hampsten
I live in a community that embraces cars, that engages in social isolation by driving SOVs everywhere, now more so than ever (our traffic went down initially, but is now hitting records on congestion, in spite of most things being closed.) My community, alas, takes pride in being America’s #1 in car-friendliness and being the least congested for all cities over 250,000, to the point that they have taxed themselves to build a full bypass ringroad around the city, already funded to be completed in 2022. Like most cyclists who cannot drive, I bitch about this. But unlike many of our cyclists, I try to leverage roadway improvements towards better bikeways, walking facilities, and transit.After you’ve passed through your various stages of grief, anger, & resignation, might I suggest you channel your passion towards mitigating and modifying the Rose Quarter project to make Portland more friendly for other modes than cars? IMO, too much effort has been expended on trying to stop this project rather than in modifying it to better suit local needs. Recommended 2

We agree that the bicycle and pedestrian groups should have spent most of their political capital on improving the project to better fit their needs than outright trying to stop the project. The Rose Quarter Congestion back-ups have increased dramatically over the past 10 years, which has resulted in a huge increase in injuries & deaths to pedestrians & cyclists on parallel Eastside back-roads as more cars try to avoid the highway bottlenecks near the Rose Quarter, which also has greatly delayed emergency vehicles getting through. It’s time for everyone to work together to improve the project instead of just trying to obstruct the process. Despite the wishes from a vocal minority in Portland, we will never be able to convince more than about 18% of the population who have concerns about riding in busses and trains next to other sick people, and/or have challenging time & distance constraints in getting children to school and also have to visit 6 to 12 customers per day to deliver samples & products. For most Portlanders; trying to do all that within 6-to-8 hours by bus,train,bike or walking is not possible. 78% of people will be driving Electric Vehicles in Portland area within 15 years, and the resulting carbon footprint from autos and trucks will drop from 8% to 4% of our total carbon footprint. Our goal should be to funnel as many fast-moving cars as possible away from pedestrians and cyclist in order to greatly reduce the high rate of accidents on the Eastside; which needlessly kills and mames hundreds of Eastsiders annually. Let’s improve street level designs of this project and get it done to save lives ASAP!!

mark smith
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mark smith

bikeshoe
March 27: Metro Announces Layoffs Affecting 40% Of Staff April 03: $129 million up in smoke. But what is a few million dollars after all?Recommended 7

Metro could have kept every one of them on payroll…but didn’t. Just kicked them to the curb. Unbelievable.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Roberta Robles
Honestly I dont understand why they keep shoveling money into a project team that is burning through consultation fees and community concerns. The prime contractors are Aecom. Why are we continuing with contractors who have been laughing all the way to the bank with another year of billable hours to say we are ignoring thousands of comments. Slow clap for “just keep the machine going” argument. Good thing we lasted this long, that land should now be worth significantly less. Do you think Metro is capable is negotiating a better deal then they gave the Sondland hotel. They arent housing the homeless, they are in cots next door. Slow clap… Metro saved the day again.Recommended 2

You answered your own question. Those who receive money, contractors, know the numbers to call and who to take out to lunch.

Buff Brown
Guest
Buff Brown

Great article, as always, Jonathan. I honestly don’t know how you do it, not just the great writing, but the perseverance through the constant bad news, bad decision-making, two-faced political speak, disingenuousness, and racial whitewashing (an ironic term, but fits). You are my hero.

Lawyer Up
Guest
Lawyer Up

Time to lawyer up. An EIS is clearly legally required. Get lawyers to fight for it. If the EIS is crap, get lawyers to fight that. The end result will be years of delay allowing new leaders to be elected that will stop the project. This is how an unneeded new freeway through Eugene wetlands got stopped. Wise current leaders would realize the waste and stop pouring money down the hole now and fund cheaper, real solutions (e.g., congestion pricing, transit, biking etc.).

Also, if people really regret their vote, they should “move to reconsider” under Roberts Rules of Order. They may not defeat the measure, but at least they won’t be on record as being foolish suckers.

P.S. A hearty thanks to Bike Portland for important, hard work in tough times.

Ronald Buel
Guest
Ronald Buel

So Lynn Peterson, Shirley Craddick, and Juan Carlos Gonzales all wanted an EIS but they will give ODOT a check for $129 million now to acquire right of way and do more engineering? How does ODOT get the school district and Rukiyah Adams of Albina Vision on their letter? This is a classic bait and switch for both the School district and the Vision. ODOT doesn’t have to put up $500 million for lids or $500 million for putting parking underground for the Vision, AND THEY WON’T. There is no question the lids they now plan will push air pollution out towards Harriet Tubman as they build the ramps right up to the school door. Let me get this straight — Peterson wants a written agreement now that she is letting ODOT spend more than $100 million and has given away her leverage. Now they will claim, but we’ve already spent all this money. What does an “outcomes based” project mean anyway — what a promise? Does anyone really believe this project has a purpose and need statement that says anything meaningful? Safety — there are MANY less safe places on State highways and federal freeways in the region. Congestion — moving this bottleneck less than half a mile down the freeway to the South does not alleviate congestion on this very congested section of I-5. And what about the demand that will be induced by the additional lanes? With the Columbia River Crossing, ODOT and OTC proved you couldn’t trust them to do anything but build the project they think they have funding for. The absence of any concern for climate change or cancer-causing diesel particulates is breathtaking — by the Governor, by the OTC, by ODOT, by JPACT, by Metro and by Lynn Peterson, Craddick and Gonzales. We also need to throw Wheeler and Eudaly out of office for buying off on this while pretending to want an EIS. They are up for re-election! And who will be the first to file a lawsuit?

Ron Swaren
Guest
Ron Swaren

Build the Western Arterial Highway. Or in a few more years I-405 will be the next spot in crisis. ODOT is plodding through quadrants of the inner city freeway loop. I’m not sure that they have big plans for the SE Quadrant, but the SW Quadrant is already approaching crisis mode despite the Blue Line.

Terry Amour
Guest
Terry Amour

Ron Swaren
Build the Western Arterial Highway. Or in a few more years I-405 will be the next spot in crisis. ODOT is plodding through quadrants of the inner city freeway loop. I’m not sure that they have big plans for the SE Quadrant, but the SW Quadrant is already approaching crisis mode despite the Blue Line.Recommended 0

Ron, you are right on the mark!!

Terry Amour
Guest
Terry Amour

drs
Just toll the freeways. Short of that, let congestion get worse, until people either move closer to work, or choose another mode of transportation. A western highway would only catalyze more development outside the UGB and further contribute to regional sprawl, making traffic WORSE, and necessitating more freeway widening. It’s a vicious cycle that you can’t build your way out of.Recommended 1

No development is NOT allowed outside the urban growth boundary… That’s why it’s called a “boundary”. I have hundreds of acres west of Scholls that I can’t build on other than to improve my grandfathered outbuilding; as long as I keep any improvements within the same footprint as the original. A Westside bypass probably won’t happen, but it would help reduce the amount of high speed cars traveling at over 70 miles an hour on our 2-lane roads between Hillsboro and Wilsonville (on which some bicyclists are taking their lives into their own hands next to those speeders with only about a 3’ shoulder. Very dangerous, and it’s getting worse every month.

Terry Amour
Guest
Terry Amour

Drs
While I agree that at some point, there is more to be gained by working with the project to try to extract some active transportation and transit concessions, I think the comment that I was responding to is making absolutely unfunded assertions about long term safety benefits that will accrue to the community from this project. Some paint protected bike lanes and ada-compliant curb ramps are not going to even come close to mitigating for the increase in number of deadly machines entering the city at unsafe speeds.It is naive and foolish to assume that the gradual electrification of the motor vehicle fleet will magically lead to low carbon emissions (and the poster made completely incorrect assertions about the percentage of carbon emissions that come from transportation fuel in Portland. It’s not 8%, it’s 40%). Even if it does, that doesn’t mean that the alarming increases in motor vehicle crash related fatalities will decline in the absence of a revolution in street design, law enforcement and the attitude of motorists. The glaringly obvious point is that this project will result in more motor vehicle trips, more miles traveled in sovs per person, and more potential traffic carnage that will have to be mitigated for, which will offset any gains that improved street designs might bring. >Recommended 1

Some conflicting statements there; ~~ so connecting 3 lanes of I-84 to the other 3-Lane sections on I-5 “won’t improve traffic”; but you mention that it will invite more people to live farther away and commute further distances, and cause more accidents. the reality is that traffic fatality studies show that most all the deaths to cyclists and pedestrians are concentrated in East Portland on back-roads and asterisks; from cars trying to avoid traffic on Rose Quarter bottleneck that backs cars up for miles. My discussion points were not about safety on highways, but from the data released, the accident rates couldn’t possibly be much worse than they currently are in the Rose Quarter area. Some of the proposed improvements to lane alignments and mergers also won’t hurt safety either.

As for our carbon footprint, this area fluctuates between 64 MMTs carbon/year up to 88 MMTs/year as the highest on record. The average is 68MMT/year; of which 25MMT (37%) is from Energy Development, 16MMT (24%) from Ag & Forest Fires, 15MMT (22%) from industry, 6.2MMT (9%) from Buildings, and the balance from Transportaion of all sorts (8%). In addition to this, of the carbon footprint in our region, less than 40% originates from this area. In fact, the 68MMT represents less than one millionth of the world’s CFP; so if we fell into the Pacific Ocean tomorrow; the world wouldn’t notice any improvement is difference.

Bottom line is that no one will be able to socially engineer more than 18% of our local citizens out of their cars (and that’s being generous), and the focus should be elsewhere for improving our Carbon Footprint from other factors and in the safety of our bicyclists snd pedestrians. Yes, let’s lobby for better road designs that keep safe distance & barriers (physical & noise) between bicyclists, pedestrians and cars. Most of our commuters riding around in electric cars have too many customer to visit per day (8-to-11), and we have to drop of our kids to school & daycare. There is no way by bike, walking, bus or MAX to make it all happen within a short work day; let alone the safety issue of picking up viruses on handrails in those tight public spaces. More people will continue to move into the area regardless of Rose Quarter fixes or not, so we will have to plan for more congestion regardless. The world population has expanded from 3 billion to 5 billion to 8 billion to 14 billion within 20 years. Adding 1 million in population to our local citizenry is a likely projection during that period so let’s focus in better & safer designs; because not being collaborative will just result in road, highway & infrastructure engineers just shoving it down all of our throats otherwise.

There are also a lot charts I have from ODEQ and DEQ that I could upload if you add that feature.