“Bringing these issues to you in our role as a partner agency is unprecedented in our region’s history… we hope that agency leadership will take them seriously.”
— Chloe Eudaly, Portland City Commissioner
For the first time in history, the City of Portland has officially withdrawn its status as a “partner agency” on a project with the Oregon Department of Transportation. It’s a major step beyond the “stop work directive” Portland issued on the I-5 Rose Quarter project back in July.
In a letter to Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator Phillip Ditzler dated Friday October 15th (embedded below), Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly wrote, “As a former Project partner, we felt it important to ensure the FHWA is aware of the current lack of local jurisdictional and stakeholder support… Bringing these issues to you in our role as a partner agency is unprecedented in our region’s history. Nonetheless, we hope that agency leadership will take them seriously.”
Portland’s withdrawal follows an exodus of support for this project from organizations and elected officials around the region. Major cracks in the facade started forming in early spring of 2019 when ODOT leaders heard withering criticisms at its first public hearing. By April, Metro planners called ODOT’s environmental analysis of the project, “inadequate” and “potentially misleading”. By July, every major elected official in the region had publicly pulled their support.
In their new letter to the FHWA, Commissioner Eudaly says ODOT has simply failed to adequately change course or address concerns. Here’s more from the letter:
“The land below and around Interstate-5 (I-5) in this area is special. Before the highway, Albina was the heart of Oregon’s African American community. The project area encompasses Harriet Tubman Middle School, which preceded the construction of I-5. The forced displacement and associated investment in the decades following I-5 construction is our shared history. This Project provided an opportunity to tell stories from Albina’s rich history, create new transportation systems that help heal and connect us, and demonstrate responsibility for the past and commitment to a shared future. Unfortunately, the Project has not leaned into this opportunity and ODOT’s efforts have fallen short.
Due to this lack of forward and transformational movement by ODOT, the Project concept as defined in the EA is not aligned with the values of the City as articulated in our Comprehensive Plan (Central City 2035), Racial Equity Plan or Climate Emergency Resolution.”
It’s notable that Commissioner Eudaly is in a fierce re-election campaign where polls show her trailing her challenger. Some observers will think this is a mere political stunt; but Eudaly has been critical of the project for a long time. In early 2019 she pushed ODOT to hold a public hearing on the project and then in March of that year heard a litany of opposition to it. By April 2019 Eudaly had begun publicly questioning the project. By June 2020 Eudaly voiced clear opposition. This formal withdrawal is a natural next step in a timeline of opposition.
Meanwhile, ODOT project staff are plowing ahead as if nothing’s wrong. In a recent briefing to the state legislature, ODOT made no mention of the loss of support from Portland. It remains to be seen how ODOT can move forward on a project of this scope without any local jurisdictional partners.
View the letter below:
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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