“This lawsuit is our mechanism to try to force ODOT to answer to the community’s concerns.”
— Aaron Brown, No More Freeways
A lawsuit launched today against the United States Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration by a trio of Portland-based community advocacy groups seeks to force the agencies to declare that the State of Oregon’s I-5 Rose Quarter project is in violation of federal laws and should be paused until a more comprehensive analysis of environmental impacts and potential alternatives are considered.
The 24-page complaint (PDF) was filed in U.S. District Court on March 2nd by No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air, and the Eliot Neighborhood Association. It marks a high point in the fight against the Oregon Department of Transportation’s $800 million project launched by activists with No More Freeways in August 2017 and it’s just the latest salvo against the embattled proposal.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue the federal government erred when they declared a freeway expansion in Portland’s urban core adjacent to a middle school, housing, and parks would have “no significant impact” on the surrounding environment.
“Defendants’ authorization of the Project without preparing an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] violates NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] because the Project is a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” the complaint states. (In April 2020, in clear defiance of thousands of public comments and widespread opposition by community groups and elected officials, the Oregon Transportation Commission agreed with ODOT and ruled that a less-comprehensive Environmental Assessment would suffice).
In addition to a pause on the project to perform more comprehensive environmental analysis, the plaintiffs want ODOT to study more options that will address traffic issues without adding lanes to I-5. Page 20 of the complaint states, “The agencies failed to consider, in detail, an alternative that would not require hundreds of millions of dollars in public financing and still satisfy the purpose and need of the Project.” Instead more freeway lanes, plaintiffs want ODOT to consider alternatives like congestion pricing, lane closures, or more robust public transit.
In a statement released Monday, organizer Aaron Brown with lead plaintiff No More Freeways said, “This lawsuit is our mechanism to try to force ODOT to answer to the community’s concerns.” “The public has every right to know the impacts this proposed freeway expansion would have on our neighborhood streets, on the lungs of our children, and the planet they stand to inherit.”
Mary Peveto, Executive Director with Neighbors for Clear Air said, “Transportation infrastructure projects like the original I-5 freeway have created an environmental justice catastrophe for the surrounding Albina neighborhood. We’re eager to join this legal action to hold this agency accountable for the air pollution they are clearly intending to add to this already polluted neighborhood.”
Allan Rudwick, co-chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association whose members live in the path of I-5, added, “If close to a billion dollars is going to be spent in the area, we need to get immense returns on that investment. We shouldn’t spend a single dollar increasing pollution or prioritizing cars in a time of climate emergency.”
The plaintiffs are represented by four lawyers: Sean Malone (from Eugene), Mike Sargetakis, Doug Hageman, and Karl Anuta. As part of their demands, they want the court to compel the US DOT to require an EIS from ODOT and to declare that their actions thus far have been, “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, are not in accordance with law.”
This lawsuit is just the latest in a pile-on of bad news for ODOT and their handling of the I-5 Rose Quarter Project — from opposition of a key racial justice group and silencing of an advisory committee, to an unprecedented level of objection by the City of Portland.
In February the agency’s dubious claims about the width of the planned expansion were picked up by the Willamette Week. And last week ODOT staffers tried to greenwash the added lanes as bus lanes, much to the surprise of our regional transit agency.
Despite the very bumpy path this project has been on for years, influential regional and statewide elected officials have continued to allow its progress. This lawsuit might force them to rethink their positions.
In the years since No More Freeways has organized a massive local groundswell of opposition to the I-5 Rose Quarter expansion, a national movement is giving them even more momentum. In late March a county judge in Texas sued that state’s DOT over a proposed freeway project and the FHWA — under a newly-sympathetic Biden Administration — lent it key support.
On Friday, No More Freeways and youth climate change activists will hold a rally at Harriet Tubman Middle School, just yards away from where ODOT wants to add more lanes to the freeway and an increasingly powerful coalition wants to stop them.
Read the full complaint below:
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Amazing work Aaron et al! Really appreciate your efforts.
this is great timing. There are plenty of reasons to think of this project as teeing up the Columbia River Crossing to come back equally as big or bigger! The Columbia Bridge is gaining a lot of momentum at the moment. If the Rose Quarter can be stopped or significantly decreased, that will be an important factor to keeping the bridge replacement strategy focused on transit, bikes and ped, and limiting size for cars and freight.
Climate change is real, and we need to convince our political leaders that the future does not include increased reliance on personal vehicles, even if they are electric or on having everything delivered to our doors in a truck.
What’s wrong with electric if I can ask?
The carbon footprint is still significantly higher than biking/walking, and they will still kill people just as well as gas-powered vehicles. 40,000+ deaths on the roads every year won’t change if we just change the energy storage medium.
in addition to the large carbon footprint that Chris I mentioned that comes from manufacturing and shipping electric cars, they generate a lot of pollution from the mining required for their batteries, and from their operation (brakes and tires). I also want to add to Chris I’s point that a sustainable future cannot be based on everyone traveling around in single occupancy vehicles- they are too big and too dangerous.
I’ve often wondered why people have so much trouble understanding that hauling a 200-lb load (person plus baggage) is way better – environmentally speaking – than hauling a 3000-lb load (compact car chassis, engine, related systems, plus person and baggage).
The car – no matter if it’s electric- or gasoline-powered – requires 15X the motive power of a bike or scooter.
The future is low-powered! There’s no reason to keep hauling around all of this weight just b/c someone decided in 1890 to add a heavy chassis. It’s a logical thing to do if you thought gasoline is unlimited, pollution doesn’t matter, and there’s no such thing as climate change (catastrophe).
Exactly. Look at what people use in NYC for delivery/pickup of small/medium freight (I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a non-motorized delivery bike). If we want a place where everyone can afford to move around with limited space and without putting out a lot of effort, e-bikes are pretty much the answer.
I agree, the only economy and society that is sustainable in the long run is one in which all human energy needs are limited to the harvesting a modest portion of the energy which falls on the earth from the sun. Many people seem to think that such an energy budget can provide humans with a Star Trek type future with ships to mars, electric robot cars and fully heated and cooled 2000 square foot homes for all. But in reality it means a society with approximately the per person energy consumption of Tokugawa Era Japan. This period of Japanese history is agreed by many energy experts to represent the highest form of culture, and well being possible without resorting to fossil energy, imported resources or slaves. If we are very careful we can have the benefit of the incredible efficiency of the pedal bicycle, but 2000 lb personal vehicles of any kind are a dead end.
There is no such thing as man made climate change. Bicycles can’t keep grocery stores stocked. We have a 200 year domestic supply of oil. What else?
Do you really believe there’s no such thing as man-made climate change? I strongly disagree with you — and so does pretty much every serious scientist in the world.
The planet gets hotter, it gets colder, sometimes quickly, sometimes over eons, and there are a bunch of reasons why it does. Human-produced carbon might be one of the factors, but there’s simply no evidence that it is a significant one let alone the most important one. “Everybody says so” is itself a weak argument. Ralph Waldo Emerson said something about uniform thought — “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” I respect you have a different view, Jonathan, but I also recognize you promote a certain advocacy. Fair enough. In my experience, in the presence of polar opposite views the truth tends to be nearer the middle. Cheers.
I hear you Gregg. Thanks for the reply. I don’t think the entire scientific community should be reduced to a “weak argument”. I don’t think there’s any stronger argument than one backed up by the smartest people in the world.
And I’m glad to hear that you agree humans are a factor in carbon emissions!
You can’t “both sides” this one, buddy. The science is clear. You can choose to ignore it, if you want.
Greg, I find that most people who categorically deny man-made climate change don’t do so because they have carefully studied planetary thermodynamics or meteorology but because it is a direct challenge to their worldview. The truth of man made climate change is an surmountable challenge to free market capitalism or the religion of progress. Rather than accepting a new paradigm more in line with scientific reality it is easier to just refute man made climate change and continue believing in outmoded ideas. That is why the two sides talk past each other. Climate change deniers are like RJ Reynolds execs in 1965 denying that smoking was bad for you.
It’s unfortunate that the Oregon Department of Transportation has been so extraordinarily unresponsive to the desires and creative solutions of Oregon residents when they seem so stuck in the old ways of thinking about infrastructure. It truly seems like national leadership is more progressive and innovative about highways and their roles in our community. Thanks very much to No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air, and the Eliot Neighborhood Association for taking on a leadership role in this important fight. Let’s hope ODOT finally listens.
Appreciate the effort by these groups. My suspicion is that the whole process is rigged so that DOTs can get away with hiding facts and plowing ahead with projects. I hope to be proven wrong in the court of law.
I wonder if this lawsuit succeeds if we will just be left with the status quo rather than the proposed plan. This would leave us in a worse situation than moving forward with a project that has a lot of positive attributes. Some of these are reducing congestion which reduces fuel consumption, economic gains for commuters (which are disproportionately BIPOC and low income), improved freeway bicycle and pedestrian crossing points in the area (including new bicycle bridge over I-5) increased safety and guaranteed minority owned construction contracts.
As my Momma always said, “Be careful what you wish for”……
1) this freeway expansion will not decrease congestion or fuel consumption, ODOT’s own consultants admit at much
2) the commuters using I-5 are disproportionately wealthier and whiter than the students at Tubman, who breathe the air next to the building
3) All of the major bike/ped advocacy orgs oppose this project because the proposed plans are not actually improvements (and it actually removes the Flint Avenue bridge over I-5, which is one of the best routes in the city)
4) I totally hear you about the desire for more jobs for minority owned construction contracts. Investments in infrastructure for biking, walking and transit create 70% more jobs than those for highways. Let’s create even more jobs and Build Back Better by investing in green infrastructure instead of outdated, polluting infrastructure instead!
I completely disagree. ODOT has proven time and again that their only interest is that of single-user cars. Widening freeways has been proven to do nothing for congestion and transit times (source 1, source 2, source 3). If the project is dropped entirely and all the money that would have been spent on it evaporated that would still be a win for the kids at Harriet Tubman having less pollution, for the city of Portland being less centered on cars, and would set a precedent for future expansion proposals.
Thanks for the write-up, Jonathan!
Hope folks come to our rally on Friday!
I’m a Vancouver resident and hope this expansion NEVER happens. Vantucky and greater Clarkistan so desperately need to be forced to yank ourselves out of the 1960s as far as transportation. We are building houses by the gross out here and doing NOTHING to expand C-Tran (Clark Co’s bus system) in any meaningful way. Perhaps having less easy car access to Oregon will help commuters see beyond their own windshields and to look at other ways to travel to their jobs. Making more room for cars is a dead end, induced demand is very very real.