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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:
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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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