It’s one thing for critiques of a project to swirl around transportation and advocacy circles; it’s another thing when a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter hops onto the story.
That’s what happened today with the Willamette Week’s publication of an article titled Questions About the Footprint of the I-5 Rose Quarter Project Intensify. The news that ODOT is being intentionally dishonest about the true width of their I-5 expansion plans through the central city is not new. What’s important about Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss doing a story on it is that it gets the idea more firmly on the radar of influential local electeds and makes them comment about it on the record.
And Jaquiss has also furthered the story in a significant way: By highlighting new documents from the nonprofit No More Freeways that show the potential width of the freeway is even wider than anyone previously expected. Here’s an excerpt from his piece (emphasis mine):
Through public records requests, the group found two separate documents—one in a consultant’s report and another in a design drawing—that show the project’s right of way when it passes under the Broadway/Weidler interchange could be as wide as 160 feet but certainly no less than 126 feet.
More Freeways says the crucial point is that ODOT’s design calls for a footprint that is significantly wider than the current freeway at the Broadway/Weidler interchange, which the group pegs at 82 feet.
That opens the possibility for more lanes, traffic and emissions.
No More Freeways’ skepticism about the freeway width dates back to 2019. On March 12th 2019 BikePortland pointed out that ODOT’s marketing of this project is false because it hides the true width of the freeway footprint. On March 13th, City Observatory founder and economist Joe Cortright scrutinized the project further in an articled titled, The Hidden Rose Quarter Mega Freeway.
ODOT has denied that their project would increase driving capacity or that it should even be considered an expansion. In that March 2019 BikePortland article, ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said, “It’s imprecise to say the Rose Quarter Plan will build more freeway lanes… Saying it builds more freeway lanes leaves the impression that there will be a large scale expansion of the freeway.”
“In reality,” Cortright countered in his article, “ODOT is engineering a right-of-way that can easily hold an 8 lane freeway — effectively doubling the size of the current Interstate 5.”
In today’s Willamette Week story, ODOT still denies the reality of the expansion saying, “Those shoulders are just extra space.”
But thanks to Jaquiss’ digging, the issue has finally opened more eyes. And important ones at that. Metro Council President Lynn Peterson apparently didn’t know about the true freeway width until Jaquiss spoke to her for the story. “That was 24 feet wider than I had envisioned. That raises several questions,” she told him.
If past is prologue, ODOT will simply answer those questions and move on. Whether Peterson moves on and continues to support the project — and whether yet another crack in the foundation of this project does anything to stop it — remains to be seen.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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