Youth activists pull new politicians into fray in fight against ODOT

Participants — including a state senator and Portland City Council candidate — pose for a group shot from week 23 of the Youth vs ODOT rally in Waterfront Park. (Photos: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

It’s been a challenging several weeks for the Oregon Department of Transportation and their lofty freeway expansion goals. Not only is ODOT now facing hurdles from the federal government and the Oregon Transportation Commission, but local anti-freeway activists have proven to be determined enough to hold their own against the Goliath state agency for more than a year, and their movement is only continuing to build political will.

Wednesday marked the 23rd Youth vs ODOT rally to protest the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway expansion. It was held at Salmon Street Springs in Waterfront Park where the cherry blossoms are just starting to bloom.

One of the main points the Youth vs ODOT protesters want to make clear is that young people need to have a seat at the political table, especially regarding climate issues that will have direct ramifications on their futures. Even though most of them aren’t old enough to vote, they’ve proven to be able to leverage political power and have asked local political representatives and candidates to come on board.

“We’re going to build a better Oregon because of the work that you’re doing here.”
— Akasha Lawrence Spence, Oregon State Senator

Akasha Lawrence Spence at the Youth vs ODOT rally on March 16.

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Akasha Lawrence Spence (above, left), a recently-appointed state senator who represents Oregon District 18, which encompasses Southwest Portland and Tigard, is one of those representatives. She spoke at Wednesday’s rally, and spoke about how important it is to her to make sure these students’ voices are heard.

“I’m committed and dedicated to continuing to work alongside you all,” Lawrence Spence said.

Lawrence Spence proudly rolled up to the rally on her bike: a signal to activists that she’s the real deal when it comes to caring about transportation reform.

AJ McCreary (above, right), who is running for Portland City Council position 2, was also at the rally. McCreary demonstrated her commitment to climate action by signing the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal pledge for elected officials, a promise to champion the Green New Deal climate legislature and reject the powerful oil, gas and coal industries.

“I am so very inspired by seeing all these young folks coming together and bringing us older folks along. I am so inspired by your commitment,” McCreary said.

Both Lawrence Spence and McCreary recognized the importance of having climate leaders on the ballot. Lawrence Spence in particular discussed how she plans to fight for the money coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to go to active transportation projects intended to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, and not freeway widening projects.

“We have been rallying alongside my fellow legislators to ensure that IIJA dollars are going to infrastructure that is pedestrian centered, that is bike centered,” Lawrence Spence said. “We’ve been really engaged in making sure this money goes to the right place.”

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“Community advocates concerned about air pollution, traffic congestion and climate change have won round one of the fight against ODOT’s proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion.”
— Aaron Brown, No More Freeways

One major setback happened in January, when the Federal Highway Administration said the project’s Environmental Assessment wasn’t sufficient, and retracted the “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI) it had previously given it.

Activists at No More Freeways, Eliot Neighborhood Association and Neighbors for Clean Air withdrew the lawsuit filed a federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) lawsuit against ODOT last April on the grounds they were underplaying the extent of negative impacts the freeway expansion would have. The co-plaintiffs withdrew the lawsuit this week, declaring victory on the first round of the fight against this project.

“This legal decision formalizes what we’ve said for weeks: community advocates concerned about air pollution, traffic congestion and climate change have won round one of the fight against ODOT’s proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion,” Aaron Brown, an organizer with No More Freeways, said in a Thursday press release.

“This project isn’t dead, but it’s floundering. If someone picks it up, finds a billion dollars and throws it back in, then it’s fine. But right now, it’s just kind of flopping around and we’re just watching and waiting for it to die,” Brown told me at the rally Wednesday. “But that doesn’t happen without us.”

Despite the slow progress the freeway protesters are seeing, there’s still a long road ahead.

Lawrence Spence acknowledged the challenge the youth protesters have undertaken, spending their high school years trying to convince people in power their futures are worth fighting for.

“We’re going to build a better Oregon because of the work that you’re doing here,” she said. “It might not feel like it, but it’s true.”

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Opus the Poet
3 months ago

That we need to “fight” any branch of government bodes not well.

ivan
ivan
3 months ago
Reply to  Opus the Poet

You must have lived a very privileged life, my friend. Fighting bad government policies is just a part of a vibrant democratic life.

Security Consultant
Security Consultant
3 months ago
Reply to  ivan

***[MODERATOR: repetitive, you already posted this in a previous comment. You have posted 13 comments back to back, some repeat themselves. Please try to consolidate your ideas.]***

X
X
3 months ago

We’ve seen a lot of folks in local and regional government list the problems with business-as-usual measures and then vote to pass them. ODOT keeps giving us highway projects because that’s what they went to school for. Corgis are cute as hell but they will never lay eggs.

If it takes a fight to replace officials and bureaucrats incapable of facing the future let’s get it on.

Todd/Boulanger
3 months ago
Reply to  X

Cadbury does have a corgi that lays chocolate eggs for easter during the Queen’s jubilee. Rule Britannia! 😉
https://www.justanswer.com/dog-health/ibkyz-15lb-dog-ate-around-10-cadbury-mini-eggs-ate.html

soren
3 months ago
Reply to  X

ODOT keeps giving us highway projects because that’s what they went to school for.

ODOT gives us highway projects because that’s what Governor Brown and the Joint Transportation Committee instructed it to give us.

If it takes a fight to replace officials and bureaucrats incapable of facing the future let’s get it on.

The barrier to replacing officials and bureaucrats incapable of facing our terrible and immoral future is the Democratic Party of Oregon which has controlled ODOT and the OTC for decades. Does anyone really believe that ODOT leadership would be able to implement policies that both Brown and the Joint Committee on Transportation oppose (e.g. no I5 RQ) without being dismissed and replaced?

dwk
dwk
3 months ago
Reply to  soren

Good point, I am sure Trump Republicans will do better, there are 17 of them running and Bob Tiernan is the most anti cyclist person I can ever remember who may get the Nod….
It is a failure of Brown and the establishment on many levels, including the city of Portland, which is just ripe for anyone with any functional skills at any level to take over no matter what the political orientation is.
Still rooting for bad outcomes with no real alternative is booing from the cheap seats.

soren
3 months ago
Reply to  dwk

I’m not rooting for bad outcomes. I’m pointing out that we are already in a bad outcome and that doing the same thing over and over again won’t make things better.

I think the willamette week has a more realistic take than the hopium from “nomorefreeways”:

If the bill passes, PPS and the Tubman community will begin the process of looking for a new school site. There will be political fallout as well: Funding Tubman would mute the school district as a loud and influential voice in the Rose Quarter debate.

Brown and ODOT have already mollified another powerful critic, agreeing to demands from the Albina Vision Trust that the project include significant caps over the freeway as a means of knitting back together the Albina neighborhood. That move also pleased some elected officials critical of the Rose Quarter project, all of which leaves environmentalists, led by the group No More Freeways, increasingly isolated.

Governor Brown and the Democratic Party of Oregon have played a machiavellian game to create a situation where there really isn’t any mainstream political opposition to the I5 RQ freeway expansion. The ability of Governor Brown to wave her fingers and allocate $120,000,000 to undermine some of the last vestiges of mainstream opposition is hardly a sign of weakness. I expect that the JTC and Governor Brown have a very good idea where the money to fund the I5 RQ project will come from*#.

PS: I think the I5 bridge is a different beast and it may very well fail due to lack of support from the legislature. There was no set-aside for the I5 bridge in the $5.3 billion dollar highway building bill.

*https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2021/11/13/oregon-receive-over-5-billion-five-years-infrastructure-bill/6396507001/

#https://www.opb.org/article/2022/02/09/oregon-revenue-forecast-800-million-kicker-tax/

soren
3 months ago

The idea that blocking a particular freeway expansion is any kind of victory is absurd. None of this does anything to address the profoundly immoral status quo of rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

As David Wallace-Wells recently noted:

To regard any progress as a sign of climate victory is a basic cognitive and moral error, one that reflects a nonsensical but weirdly pervasive American blend of complacency and fatalism.

Security Consultant
Security Consultant
3 months ago
Reply to  soren

Oil companies and government bureaucrats love youth environmental activists. Right now, those activists have driven Biden energy policies to where the price of oil, at ~$108/barrel, is making for handsome oil company profits, and hurting middle-class and poor Americans. The government bureaucrats are working OT raking in the dough to sit in meetings for weeks at a time mulling over what to do next to appease the activists. (hint: not much).
🙂

dwk
dwk
3 months ago

I am sure these teenagers had a lot to do with the price of oil which by the way is less expensive than it was in 1980…
You are full of nice talking points to post here, maybe a tiny bit of research ***[MODERATTOR: deleted last clause, personal attack]***

Racer X
Racer X
3 months ago

Wait until the Youth hear and react to that their legislative leaders vote to approve a state fuel tax “holiday” [with ODOTs tacit support] and then ODOT comes back later to say they cannot then make any progress on vision zero, multimodal, enforcement, climate resiliency, etc. but status quo (capacity enhancements) are still in the budget…

Opus the Poet
3 months ago
Reply to  Racer X

As in status quo “lots of money to kill people, no budget for saving people”.