Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Former ODOT committee members blast agency for silencing opposition

Posted by on September 14th, 2020 at 5:31 pm

I-5 through the Rose Quarter.

14 former members of an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) advisory committee have signed onto a letter that says they’re “deeply suspicious” of the agency and that they were shut out of the process because they “didn’t play ball” on the I-5 Rose Quarter project.

As we reported on September 2nd, ODOT abruptly shut down their own Community Advisory Community (CAC) for the embattled project and decided to create a new committee in its place. ODOT claimed they made the move to, “Intentionally center Black voices,” but they’ve glossed over the fact that the now defunct CAC was highly critical of the project and on the verge of a mass resignation. It’s also worth noting that five of the 14 people who signed the letter — Liz Fouther-Branch, Cleo Davis, Craig L. Brown, Jasmine Gadie, and Andrew Campbell — were on the committee to represent Black and African-American communities and businesses.

The signatories.

One former CAC member, Liz Fouther-Branch (who is Black), had already resigned and said, “I find it frustrating to sit on advisory committees and know that all of the design, financial decisions, and considerations have already been determined long before any real restorative justice can take place.” Other committee members voiced deep concerns at the final meeting that ODOT delayed adoption of a charter that would spell out precisely how much power they’d have to influence the project.

Fouther-Branch signed onto the letter that was sent today (9/14) to ODOT leadership and elected officials in Portland and Salem. Notably, the letter was also intended as a warning for future members of the new committee ODOT plans to create, the Historic Albina Advisory Board (HAAB).

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

“ODOT needs to pause the project and needs to find a willingness to start the project from scratch while they listen to the HAAB and other community organizations such as Albina Vision Trust.. We are deeply suspicious of the fact that the Board will be made up of 11 appointed members and only 6 at-large members. This ensures that ODOT can stack the HAAB with representatives who agree with ODOT’s freeway expansion plans…

We suspect that ODOT is trying to avoid a repeat of the CAC, in which ODOT selected all the members from the general community and was then met with strong opposition to the project taking place at all.

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The Oregon Department of Transportation disbanded the CAC because we didn’t play ball with them. We refused to be a compliant part of the non-transparent facade of community engagement that ODOT had created in the CAC. We refused to rubber-stamp a project that will lead to poor air quality outcomes for children at Harriet Tubman Middle School and the neighborhood at large. We refused to stop asking the hard questions, and we demanded that our voices, including and especially the voices of Black Portlanders, be heard. With the planned HAAB, ODOT is beginning to address one of the many problems with this project and its process, but we have very little confidence in their ability to do this right. Without reconsidering the project from scratch, the State risks continuing the “business as usual” approach that perpetuates racism, white supremacy, and the climate injustices that are embedded and interwoven into the very creation of I5 and the Rose Quarter.”

The group of signees planned to read the letter into the public record at the September 17th meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission; but for some reason no oral public testimony will be accepted.

This is just the latest in a very long line of criticisms and controversies that cling this mega-project. Nearly every major local elected official has walked away from it and the City of Portland — once named as a key partner — will no longer permit its employees to work on it.

Read the full letter below, or view it here.
I5 Rose Quarter CAC Response to Disbandment

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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EawristeChris IDavid HampstenDagny TaggartmaxD Recent comment authors
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joan
Subscriber

What’s it going to take for Governor Brown and ODOT to stop moving forward with this boondoggle project?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Eh, the folks that own ODOT have a lot more power and influence than Oregonians.

Brown and ODOT will push this thing as long as possible. The real way to block this to get Freeway Ted Wheeler out of office and kill the city’s support of the project permanently.

joan
Subscriber

The city already withdrew support. I don’t want Ted in office either, but clearly … that wasn’t enough to stop this thing.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Ted will go right back to supporting the project after November and Chloe is probably going to lose.

The state seriously can’t build this thing without the city’s help, it is just a logistical nightmare, hence why ODOT is doing this performative engagement to gain back the city’s support.

JaredO
Guest
JaredO

It’s going to take the Legislature reappropriating the money. The Legislature put $450 million for the boondoggle into the 2017 transportation bill (HB 2017).

ODOT’s trying to do what the legislature told them to do (though the Legislature underbudgeted the project, with ODOT’s help, so ODOT could just say “we don’t have the money to do what you told us. Tell us what to do next.”)

Generally, though, it’s going to take the Legislature and Governor to tell the freight community and PBA they can’t have what they want.

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

I am no expert. But I think labor and industry both want it, and both groups have strong bipartisan constituencies.

Dagny Taggart
Guest
Dagny Taggart

I’d bet big $$ you are 100% correct. People like being able to drive around with less congestion and less stop/go traffic. Also, most of us are sort of fond of our Cheerios, frozen dinners, rice, beans, T-bone steaks, and every other type of food delivered by truck. Also, people want jobs and who knows how much money the contractors and bankers will be able to skim off the project funds – powerful incentives!

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

1. Except this project won’t actually solve any congestion problems. See almost every freeway widening project ever.
2. Improved freight can easily be a part of congestion pricing which works quite well in resolving road congestion in a lot of cities.

Dagny Taggart
Guest
Dagny Taggart

My guess is that it will be state bankruptcy due to uncontrolled government spending, lavish gold-plated government pensions, and reduced income caused by shutting down businesses when the state over-reacted to the flu.

However, if the highway is federal property, perhaps federal money will fund it?

Tad Reeves
Guest

Wait – the $750mil price tag doesn’t even include the buildable caps? How can you show a rendering saying “this is what you’ll get with your {$priceTag}” when that isn’t even what you get – you get the roads without what makes them remotely palatable even to the people who WANT the freeway expanded. I’m totally perplexed. So the real cost is more like $1.5B to get what they’re illustrating?

Momo
Guest
Momo

They literally “forgot” to apply an inflation factor. It’s absolutely maddening.

Chris
Guest
Chris

I don’t think ODOT ever showed buildable caps. Albina Vision has a design that shows buildable caps.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Correct. ODOT only included small caps that would help with traffic diversion/logistics during construction. They have no intent to actually reduce the externalized costs of this toxic sewer of auto traffic. They do not care about the people who live near I-5.

Dagny Taggart
Guest
Dagny Taggart

Buildable caps? You mean near the freeway? Who in the heII would want to live near a freeway? I’d think those who were displaced would vastly prefer their current locations – ANYWHERE except near a noisy, fumigated freeway!!!!!!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I
Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

Love it. Thanks Chris.

qqq
Guest
qqq

Wasn’t there a recent pandemic and recession that might be considered to be a clue that this project should be slowed down for the time being?

qqq
Guest
qqq

Last week I watched a minor ODOT maintenance project route all the southbound traffic on SW Macadam into a dead end street, after I told them they were routing it all into a dead end street, while pointing to the yellow sign a few yards away that said “DEAD END”. Then all the cars that didn’t escape by driving through private property got stuck and had to come out after doing u-turns on train tracks a few minutes after a rail vehicle had come through. That traffic got stuck from heading directly into traffic coming into the dead end in the same lane. The first of three nights of work without required permits.

When ODOT can’t repave an intersection, of course it will screw up planning a near-billion dollar project.

Norm
Guest
Norm

Does ODOT need PBOT’s cooperation to do this project? Is the Flint Street overpass under PBOT”s control?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

ODOT has substantial veto powers over improvements to any roadways owned by others within a half-mile of their own roadways, including speed limits, repaving, etc. Likely the Flint Street overpass (viaduct in transportese) is owned and maintained by PBOT – to confirm, look for a metal green tag with white lettering on it. Conflicts between PBOT and ODOT are nothing new, but so is full cooperation on other projects.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Nearly every major local elected official has walked away from it and the City of Portland — once named as a key partner — will no longer permit its employees to work on it.

ODOT and PBOT long ago figured out work-arounds to such mandates. This sort of political rivalry and conflict has been a regular feature of state versus city relationships since Oregon was formed in 1858. In such cases, typically the staff of each agency have informal meetings in which official minutes aren’t taken to work out technical conflicts on a project that doesn’t have official approval by one or the other political jurisdiction. (It’s quite possible, common even, for Portland to do a project with State of Oregon official opposition.)

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

ODOT reminds me of those Japanese Soldiers who remained on some of the pacific Islands after the end of the war, and kept on fighting long after WWII was over.

maxD
Guest
maxD

This seems so corrupt and cynical, even for ODOT, and yet the leadership seems silent. Is there anyone out there with insider information as to why no one from the City of Portland, Metro, or the Governor’s office is not making a statement about this?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Part of the reason is that it is too close to the national elections, November 3rd, and everyone is holding their breath, so to speak, and they don’t want to rock the boat. For many jurisdictions, not just in Oregon, if one particular party has a majority of both houses in Washington, then there is an expectation that the feds will pay a greater cost of their project. If it’s the other party, then their states will get more money. If it’s a divided congress again, then all bets are off. (Who gets the top job isn’t very important in this case.)