Oregon congressmen to ODOT: Build robust I-5 caps, we’ll give you money for Rose Quarter project

Blumenauer, Wyden, Merkley. (Photos: BikePortland)

In a letter (below) sent to Governor Kate Brown today, three members of Oregon’s congressional delegation gave the Oregon Department of Transportation an ultimatum: Create buildable caps over Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter, and they’ll bring home federal funding for the state’s highest transportation priority.

For months, ODOT has been wrangling with consultants, neighborhood advocates, local electeds, and backers of Albina Vision Trust over the highway caps issue. ODOT supports caps, but they have been loathe to commit to ones that would be large enough to build the type of housing and other developments that could actually create a neighborhood. ODOT’s concepts thus far have been more about caps that would facilitate parks and plazas; while Albina Vision Trust (who walked away from the project in opposition last summer) wants to see apartments, condominiums, restaurants and shops.

The tension between these two visions has been simmering for a long time.

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The Willamette Week, who has done excellent reporting on this issue in the past weeks, reported just yesterday that one reason ODOT doesn’t want to build more robust highway caps is because it would cost about $200 million more.

Now Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with Representative Earl Blumenauer have seen enough. Their letter makes it clear to ODOT that if they want federal funding for the I-5 Rose Quarter project, they need to meet the demands of Albina Vision Trust and others who see the project as an avenue to truly rebuild a neighborhood and not just widen a freeway through it. Again.

Here’s the key excerpt from the letter:

“The Reconnecting Communities Program will offer Oregon, a historic opportunity to repair the harm done to the Albina community: the Rose Quarter Improvement Project.

In its current iteration, the plan for the Rose Quarter improvement Project from the Oregon Department of Transportation does not take advantage of the opportunity to reconnect a community divided by a freeway to help ensure economic opportunities and a more equitable future. Based on conversations with members of the community it has become clear that the Albina neighborhood and the entire Portland region would benefit from buildable caps over I-5 that would reconnect the historic Albina neighborhood and provide opportunities to heal the social, economic and environmental damage done to the community in the 50 years since the highway corridors creation.

It’s time to put the power to build back better firmly in the hands of the Albina community. If the project includes these buildable caps we will fight to secure additional federal funds to help deliver racial justice to a critical transportation infrastructure project in our state.”

Full letter below:
[pdf-embedder url=”https://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/FILE_3843.pdf”]

ODOT is asking for community feedback on design and scope of the highway caps. Their latest survey asks for feedback to, “help identify alternative designs for the covers that will more closely align with the Black Historic Albina community’s vision and goals for the area.” Albina Vision Trust says they support options that, “repair the urban fabric and restore stolen wealth by maximizing the opportunity for creating developable land.”

Learn more about Rose Quarter history and how advocates are pushing for a new future at the Albina Vision Trust Teach-In event Saturday. Panelists include Representative Blumenauer, State Senator Lew Frederick, PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, and Albina Vision Trust Board Member Rukaiyah Adams.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago

So no one is against making the caps buildable – but are they promising the federal dollars would pay for it, or are they expecting the state to pay $500-700 million for them?

Psmith
Psmith
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff

The article and letter make it pretty clear that this new federal program the Senators and Congressman refer to would be the funding source for the buildable caps. They’re just asking ODOT to rescope the project to include them.

stephan vertal
stephan vertal
1 year ago

The building of caps suitable for housing sounds like real progress. One issue which I think should be addressed is who, and what income level, will be able to take advantage of housing and business opportunities this would create. Years ago Vera Katz, the 49th mayor, began a discussion of capping the I-405 through Goose Hollow. I wonder if this could reignite such discussions.

drs
drs
1 year ago
Reply to  stephan vertal

With Portland’s inclusionary zoning requirements, at least some of the units that would be built there would be obligated to be affordable at 80% of MFI.

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Lisa Caballero
1 year ago
Reply to  stephan vertal

You’re reading my mind, Stephan. The report that came out of Katz’s capping I405 push is beautiful, old-style PBOT? graphics and aesthetics. Hand drawn as I remember.

dan
dan
1 year ago
Reply to  stephan vertal

In PNW idiom, we don’t use articles (e.g., “the”) when referring to freeways. We take 26 to Beaverton, not “the 26”. Usage like “the I-405” makes you sound like you haven’t been in town very long.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

I’m more than a bit disappointed, building ‘robust’ caps is not the same as putting the road in a tunnel and closing the most egregious east-side entrances/exits, of which Broadway is one of the worst!

Douglas Kelso
Douglas Kelso
1 year ago

That’s nice.

We’re still losing the Flint Avenue viaduct, though?

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

Exactly!

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

Caps should reconnect the street grid that the interstate destroyed when built, not make it worse.

Douglas Kelso
Douglas Kelso
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

I’ve got a mental map of a protected bikeway/multi-use path connecting the Eastbank Esplanade all the way to Cathedral Park. The Greeley bikeway is part of it. Keeping (or replacing) the Flint viaduct would be a key component of the path.

nic.cota
nic.cota
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

Douglas you might want to gander here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/468306
Lots of planning has already been done, but its been put on the shelf (for now) Hopefully North Portland in Motion will change that.

Douglas Kelso
Douglas Kelso
1 year ago
Reply to  nic.cota

The bike path in my head has the City of Portland figure out how to weave a bike path from Mississippi to Russell through its vehicle fleet parking lots under I-5. There’s plenty of space there, and the land is already in public ownership. It’s really just a question of operations: where do you put the bikeway to allow safe riding, and minimize interference with vehicle access and egress?

The north end would connect to the Greeley path at Interstate by threading a bikeway from Mississippi to Interstate under the spaghetti tangle of the Fremont Bridge interchange.

South of Russell the path would use Commercial Avenue, and a retaining wall above the freeway next to the school, to connect to Flint.

Protected paths on Flint and Wheeler would take the trail the rest of the way to the Eastbank Esplanade.

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

No. Of the three currently updated concepts you can vote on, two restore the Flint overpass. Vote for concept 5, as it is the one that both restores the Flint overpass AND builds the covers and other street grid connections that supports the Albina Vision. I think this comment opportunity ends at midnight today, Sunday, June 20
(?) https://openhouse.jla.us.com/project/rq-ica-3

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

Opposed to widening the I-5 freeway through the Rose Quarter? Vote anyway. Make sure your voice is heard. If the freeway does get widened, the surface street changes and covers will be very important to bike/ped/transit, a livable affordable neighborhood, restorative justice, and mitigating environmental harm. If the freeway does not get widened, these surface street changes and covers can and may be done anyway. Like Joanne Hardesty said at Albina Vision Trust’s Teach-In yesterday, “If you’re not at the table, you’re for lunch.”

Rihnay Hincoop
Rihnay Hincoop
1 year ago

Yes! Bring on the federal PORK! Can’t wait to get me one of those nice $850,000 gentrified condos on top of I-5. I could use a nice pied-à-terre to go with my Vail ski lodge and Hawaiian beach bungalow.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

This is not an acceptable ‘compromise’, it is just more BS; I expect better from our delegation, especially Earl!

drs
drs
1 year ago

Build the cap and leave the highway in its current configuration. Win-win.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
1 year ago

I see parallels here similar to Texas spending millions on a border wall while its power grid collapses.

Angelica Cortez
Angelica Cortez
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

Mike,
I see your point. Portland is in chaos (crime, murders, homeless crisis, traffic deaths) and we’re talking about billions being spent on a freeway cap. That being said it would have so many more benefits than a border wall. It would be wonderful to have a walkable neighborhood and the positive financial impacts would be substantial.

The Dude
The Dude
1 year ago

Yep. With Oregon Democrats there’s enough money to build new freeways, but never enough money to address the core problems.

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago

Building this freeway cap helps address 3 of the 7 evidence-based approaches to reducing violence without police.
https://johnjayrec.nyc/2020/11/09/av2020/

Luke S
Luke S
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

LOL. This group you posted with “Evidence based” approaches specifically states they used “collective judgment” and were unconstrained by giving priority to RCT’s which are the gold standard, So basically they can say anything they want and it is “evidence-based”.

“This report summarizes the collective judgment of an experienced group of researchers who were free to consider all evidence, unconstrained by the conventional priority given to randomized controlled trials”

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke S

Luke S, that’s great that you read the report I cited out of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, REDUCING VIOLENCE WITHOUT POLICE: A REVIEW OF RESEARCH EVIDENCE (November 9, 2020). https://johnjayrec.nyc/2020/11/09/av2020/

I’m glad you brought up randomized controlled trials in public safety research methodology. It’s important for average people, policymakers, and researchers alike to understand the limitations of RCTs in yielding the information needed to understand and improve important social issues like violence reduction.

For example,

“In the criminal justice context, the narrow dichotomous or categorical causal mechanism expected in RCTs is often too simplistic to capture real-world policy interventions. Causal mechanisms in social policy studies – particularly those intended to affect human behavior (which, in some way, is the subject of virtually all criminal justice interventions) – cannot be adequately described with dichotomous variables. This includes virtually all criminal justice policies and practices (often with multifaceted causal mechanisms), those with continuous outcomes (with interventions often arbitrarily targeting points along the continuum, often referred to as policy discontinuities), and a wide range of phenomena outside the researcher’s control, such as the American population that is growing older and more diverse with increasing income inequality.”

Citation: Jeffrey A. Butts & John K. Roman (2018): Good Questions: Building Evaluation Evidence in a Competitive Policy Environment, Justice Evaluation Journal. https://doi.org/10.1080/24751979.2018.1478237

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

You’re having an interesting discussion about the difficulty/expense of reaching statistical significance in the public policy/social science arena. One way around that, which economists use, is the “natural experiment.”

With 50 states, each with unique policies, one can often compare results between states. For example, many conservative states are deciding to forgo federal unemployment insurance benefits. We’ll be able to see how that works out a year from now. The statistical rigor is still there, although things obviously can’t be double-blinded.

nic.cota
nic.cota
1 year ago

I’m still scratching my head why ODOT has been such a stalwart opponent to the buildable caps or lessening the width through all this…

Does the freight lobby have that much pull in closed door ODOT conversations?

Or is ODOT is in a sunken-cost fallacy with how much they’ve already designed and shelved out to consultants?

Both??

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

That reminds me of the old warning about medical problems. Say you have knee pain. The surgeon will want to solve it with surgery, the physical therapist with exercises and stretching, the nutritionist with diet changes…

No surprise, as you said, what solution a highway-building agency comes up with. It’s also the reason that cutting N/NE Portland in two wasn’t seen as a big deal when the freeway was put in–it wasn’t relevant to ODOT or other decision-makers.

Bubba Gump
Bubba Gump
1 year ago
Reply to  nic.cota

I’d say door #3. ODOT has X dollars to build a project, and they don’t want to say, do, or lean toward anything that might tie their hands into spending a lot more money. Every state DOT follows this script – continuously say ‘no’ and/or ‘not feasible’ until someone else opens up the checkbook.

Roberta
Roberta
1 year ago

Thank you leadership team in DC. At this point I think we should call in the USDOT federal oversight is needed at this point. Gov. KB appointed Garret to oversea the distribution of federal Wildfire funding. He has a history of biased state transport funding distribution towards white firms (MBE went down during his tenure). Garret had his predecessor Strickland put in place. Strickland had previously overseen the Vancouver WA Regional Administrator head of that region. Oregon Dems and Republicans love the cash flow through ODOT.

The entire RQ data was morphed and transport models from two decades ago used as base scenarios are not accurate. The Oregon Engineering Board is refusing to address the mismatch.

Please oh Please someone come in and cap ODOT. Please don’t give them funding. They sat on the private consultants report on reducing the footprint. They sat on that study in order to “tack-on” the other two freeway project funding via tolling. This is a complete scam on Oregon taxpayers. They hired ODOT consultants to OK the NEPA and air quality work.

Something stinks at ODOT.

Lesley F.
Lesley F.
1 year ago
Reply to  Roberta

Roberta,
Do you have a citation/evidence for this?
“He has a history of biased state transport funding distribution towards white firms (MBE went down during his tenure)”
Even though it is currently in fashion, I don’t think it is helpful to racialize all battles.

mark
mark
1 year ago

Oooh, caps with housing right on top of a major freeway! Let’s restore a marginalized community by providing them chance to live the in most polluted air anywhere in the city. Is this how a ghetto is built?

More asthma please!

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

Here’s an article in the Mercury about this, it includes a drawing which does indeed show the Flint St. overcrossing going away.

https://www.portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2021/06/18/34301180/oregon-lawmakers-offer-federal-funds-for-i-5-expansion-odot-says-its-more-complicated

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

See my more detailed reply and link above. Two of the three current options being considered rebuild the Flint overpass.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

‘they’ make a lot of promises they don’t keep; the best solution is simply to just leave well enough alone and not do this project at all!

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
1 year ago

What do people think about ODOT’s proposed option of doing away with the Clackamas Crossing bike/ped bridge, replacing it with bike infrastructure on Broadway/Weidler as part of the Green Loop? I got the idea when this gift to bikes/peds was designed, that they actually would have preferred safe passage on the more direct business corridor where they/we have destinations, over climbing up and over and around and down on this bridge.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

ODOT’s designs almost always include hills and out-of-direction routes for cyclists, under the false equivalency that getting cyclists out of the way of motorists is a better solution than offering cyclists the most direct, low topography route possible. PBOT engineers typically suffer from the same delusion, as do a fair percentage of ‘advocates’. Don’t drink their Kool Aid…

dan
dan
1 year ago

So there’s been a reasonable amount of conversation about the health impacts of living next to the freeway and being exposed to the exhaust. What happens when it’s capped? I imagine that exhaust will be concentrated at the start and end of the cap, with negative health impacts as a result. Is there a remediation plan for that?

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  dan

There will probably be some sort of active or passive ventilation, just don’t get too close to the discharge point!