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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?

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?

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

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?