Activists wary as City of Portland plans vote to re-start work on I-5 Rose Quarter project

I-5 at the Rose Quarter in Portland.

After years of back and forth between the City of Portland and the Oregon Department of Transportation on the plan to widen I-5 at the Rose Quarter in Portland, a negotiation may be back on the table. At today’s Portland City Council meeting, the city will adopt an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with ODOT to provide the state transportation agency with planning and design services for the controversial project.

In July 2020, the Portland City Council, led by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and then-Portland Bureau of Transportation head Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, pulled all support for the Rose Quarter expansion and directed all city staff to cease working on the project. A few months later, the city entirely split from ODOT on this project. Eudaly wrote a letter to the Federal Highway Administration which said they were taking this unprecedented step because the project is “not aligned with the values of the city as articulated in [the Central City 2035 plan], Racial Equity Plan or Climate Emergency Resolution.”

With their updated plan for the expansion, some advocates feel ODOT has sufficiently addressed the equity concerns. But climate activists have not been satiated, and they’re calling on the city to call off their participation until ODOT shows they’re serious about tackling the climate emergency.

“The agreement coming to City Council is a big step for PBOT and the city. It marks a turning point for the project.”

– Dylan Rivera, PBOT

Activists have been concerned about the freeway expansion’s impact on the surrounding Albina area, which consists of historically Black neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland that were decimated when I-5 was constructed in the 1960s. The nonprofit group Albina Vision Trust (AVT), formed in 2017 to advocate for restoring the Albina area, has put pressure on ODOT to ensure the expansion won’t recreate the past damage.

While AVT pulled support for the Rose Quarter project in 2020, they rejoined the conversation last year after Oregon Governor Kate Brown stepped in to orchestrate a compromise that would require ODOT to cap the freeway enough to create a street grid over I-5. AVT’s primary goal has been ensuring a robust cap system over the Rose Quarter freeway to create opportunities for Albina neighborhood restoration. Now that ODOT has provided capping plans they find sufficient, AVT is back on board, and the city is following behind.

Current PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also signed on in support of this design (dubbed “Hybrid 3”) earlier this year, previewing this PBOT/ODOT Rose Quarter reconciliation.

The expansion and cap design AVT approved of.

Other freeway fighting groups, however, are still not pleased, and they’re asking the city to hold off on adopting an IGA with ODOT until they can more sufficiently leverage their power. Climate activists from groups like No More Freeways (NMF) say adding lanes to the freeway will encourage more driving and increase greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Right now, ODOT is planning a potential road use pricing plan on I-5 in addition to the lane expansion. But climate activists say ODOT is being wishy-washy on pricing, and they could manage congestion simply by adding road use fee requirements to disincentivize single passenger vehicle trips – no freeway expansion needed.

A June 20 letter to Portland City Council from NMF as well as Allan Rudwick of the Eliot Neighborhood Association and Mary Peveto from Neighbors for Clean Air asks Council to rethink adopting the IGA with ODOT until they analyze a pricing-only alternative to lane expansion. They cite the city of Portland’s Climate Emergency Declaration, adopted two years ago, as evidence moving forward with the project is in opposition with Council’s own goals.

“We are disappointed that the City is not using its leverage in returning to the table for this project to ensure accountability for the climate and environmental impacts of highway expansion,” the letter reads. “ODOT’s position on the timing of road pricing is plainly at odds with adopted city policy.”

Anti-freeway activists want ODOT to complete a lengthy Environmental Impact Statement of the expansion that meets their standards, which the state does not want to do. But they must comply with an environmental analysis requirement from the feds, which has set the timeline for this project back. According to a Council document outlining details of the IGA, the city will not be required to play a large role in the federal environmental review, but will “have an opportunity to review the supplemental environmental assessment” and provide comment to the state and the Federal Highway Administration on the results.

This could be an opportunity for the city to make requests of ODOT local climate activists are asking for.

“We urge you to withdraw the IGA from today’s agenda and renegotiate it to include a commitment to a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) including analysis of a pricing-only alternative,” the letter from NMF reads. “Anything less is willful neglect of your self-declared climate obligations and your duty to the community to ensure accountability for all the impacts of freeway expansion.”

“We urge you to withdraw the IGA from today’s agenda and renegotiate it.”

– No More Freeways

Portland Bureau of Transportation Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera told BikePortland via email this agreement is “a big step” for the bureau and the City of Portland.

“It marks a turning point for the project, enabled by the Hybrid 3 option that Commissioner Hardesty negotiated for the city in talks directly with the governor, regional leaders and community partners in the last year,” Rivera writes. “Everyone agrees that pricing is essential and that it is expected to be in place before the opening of the Rose Quarter project. With the agreement in place, the City will be able to engage and advocate for appropriate environmental study. Since Hybrid 3 is a new option, it requires a re-evaluation of the environmental assessment that ODOT did on the project.”

While the state could theoretically move forward with the project without city involvement, it would be a lot easier for ODOT if they could form a united front.

“At this time, the City of Portland’s participation is crucial to ensure a successful project that stays accountable to the commitments the State has made, and to ensure the interests and values of the City of Portland are represented,” the IGA ordinance impact statement says.

Given the widely-publicized controversy the Rose Quarter expansion project has attracted, it’s hard to imagine this IGA will slip under the radar without a hitch. Stay tuned for details about how the City Council discussion plays out today.

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cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago

The Rose Quarter is going to be ODOTs Vietnam. Long, expensive, and probably ruin some careers.

I say let them have it. It’s ODOT, this bad boy is going to be $1.5 billion+, go years over schedule, completely choke-out traffic on I-5 during construction, and at the end of all that, capacity will be about the same.

ODOT will never expand I-5 north of the Rose Quarter. This is their dying project. They think if they get a mega-bridge over I-5 and this project done, they can sucker us into expanding the rest of I-5 but that area is far too wealthy for freeway expansion to happen.

Zach Katz
Zach Katz
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Fortunately, they have a bright future building active transportation infrastructure. As soon as they realize they can spend billions of dollars on things like covered bike superhighways without any real resistance, they’ll wonder why they didn’t start that sooner.

Dennis Apgar
Dennis Apgar
5 months ago
Reply to  Zach Katz

Yes but it should be done without authoritarian coercive methods like road pricing. Instead the Federal Government should increase the gas tax by 30% and consider city and county gas taxes in addition to state and national gas taxes. These gas prices can be adjusted through level of demand.

ivan
ivan
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

It would be nice to believe that, but a) we’d still be stuck with the climate impacts and shitty infrastructure, which is a poor trade for teaching some state agency a lesson, and b) I’ve yet to hear of a state DOT being held accountable or penalized (to say nothing of “dying”) as a result of an expansion that costs a lot and doesn’t help.

Like the TxDOT expansions in Houston or the KY/IN expansion of the Ohio river interstate bridges, they will shrug at the cost overruns and successfully parlay any future congestion into the need to expand even more. Neither the agency nor state leaders will see failure as any kind of indictment of the expansion approach.

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  ivan

we’d still be stuck with the climate impacts and shitty infrastructure

I don’t really see what the climate impacts of this are, and it seems like its an improvement in the infrastructure.

People here are driving more due to Portlands unsafe roads and unsafe and slow public transit. They will continue to drive and add new drivers until that is fixed. To me its the same thing with tolls. They are just a tax because there is no realistic alternative to driving for most people in the Metro.

If TriMet ever moves its focus to public transit and away from land development, we could have a half-decent transit system. Until that happens, expect more driving.

pigs
pigs
5 months ago

The cover doesn’t even go by the middle school… Seems like the racial equity washing of the hybrid 3 proposal is enough to sway Hardesty and a lot of activists.

Steve
Steve
5 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Isn’t the school being moved as part of the deal?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Steve

Yes. PBOT is making the moving of Tubman away from the freeway part of the promised compromise with ODOT.

pigs
pigs
5 months ago

Did not know that, thanks for the info.

maccoinnich
5 months ago
Reply to  pigs

The ground to the west of Tubman slopes away really steeply, with the west side of the freeway quite far above N Thompson. While caps can restore the street grid at Hancock, they can’t further north.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
5 months ago

Hard to take stock of all the horrible ideas from the original plan, I’ve put some I recall below. Fortunately they’ve fixed most, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this is an unnecessary widening.

1) overhang on the esplanade
2) useless caps
3) make Tubman’s bad air worse (relocation planned)
4) Suicide criss-cross bike lanes into freeway ramps

P.S. If ODOT just wants to spend money, where’s the remove/bury I-5 option! Or just do smart things like ramp consolidation on Weidler and capping.

John
John
5 months ago

This expansion project is a complete boondoggle. They’re going to fritter away billions on this garbage and won’t improve anything, if they ever even actually finish it.
Hopefully people are starting to see this is not the solution to anything. Widening freeways is part of an obviously failed strategy starting in like the 50s. We know now that it’s a failed experiment, but ODOT hadn’t gotten the memo.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  John

Actually, the widening isn’t particularly expensive. What’s costly are the caps. And yes it does work.

X
X
5 months ago

The missing total cost estimate in this release has me thinking it’s now over $2Billion.

What development is possible on these decks or lids or whatever they are? I think skate parks are great but if that’s what it is they should say so.

The mauve arrows seem to indicate that Flint St is back in the future but one arrow also points to the projected steepest bike route in Portland. What’s up with that?

ivan
ivan
5 months ago

Obviously I think this is a terrible plan, but I also wonder what the idea with the labeled “Green Loop” on Broadway/Weidler.

Is that just a name, with zero funding for changing the infrastructure? Or are they actually proposing some way of mitigating the stupid and dangerous plan to direct pedestrians and bicyclists across two freeway ramps?

soren
soren
5 months ago

But climate activists have not been satiated, and they’re calling on the city to call off their participation until ODOT shows they’re serious about tackling the climate emergency.

The irony in this statement is that “climate activists” are fighting tooth and nail for a slightly smaller highway project or for the status quo. Both these options are the epitome of un-seriousness when it comes to the climate crisis.

These “rearranging deck chairs on the titanic” campaigns give the appearance of action while avoiding the anti-establishment (radical) politics necessary for systemic change. The democratic party and its bevy of associated non-profits are climate arsonists.

ivan
ivan
5 months ago
Reply to  soren

What climate activists are asking for “a slightly smaller highway project” much less “fighting tooth and nail”? No More Freeways seems pretty clear, as does the Sunrise Movement PDX and Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Climate Strike, that it shouldn’t be expanded.

And if you think they’re advocating for “the status quo” then you haven’t spent much time listening to these activists. Stopping a bad project is just step one; they all call for substantial changes to infrastructure and transportation in the region. Numerous people involved in these campaigns have engaged in nonviolent direct action.

Now they’re not Earth Firsters engaging in sabotage (at least that I know of!) and maybe that’s the track you’d like them to be on. But suggesting they’re just “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” is a pretty condescending attitude from someone posting on the internet to take toward people putting their bodies on the line.

(I fully agree with you that elected Democrats have done little to nothing to seriously address climate change, and there are plenty of milquetoast nonprofits that throw big banquets and vaguely call for environmentalism. But these activists are none of those people.)

soren
soren
5 months ago
Reply to  ivan

Stopping a bad project is just step one

It’s 40 years too late for a “step one” approach that does nothing to change the status quo.

Now they’re not Earth Firsters engaging in sabotage (at least that I know of!)

If this were the case, I’d be far less critical.

I fully agree with you that elected Democrats

NMF and Sunrise PDX have repeatedly given elected democrats cover by fixating on boring government workers who are literally just following top democrats’ orders.

putting their bodies on the line.

Give me a break, NMF’s grand “coalition” literally made a deal with Kate Brown.

maccoinnich
5 months ago
Reply to  soren

What deal did NMF make with Kate Brown?

pigs
pigs
5 months ago
Reply to  soren

NMF didn’t make any deals, it was only the groups that were singly looking at restorative justice that agreed to this comprised (which those groups do not claim to be climate activists such as Albina Vision Trust). As per the article:

A June 20 letter to Portland City Council from NMF as well as Allan Rudwick of the Eliot Neighborhood Association and Mary Peveto from Neighbors for Clean Air asks Council to rethink adopting the IGA with ODOT until they analyze a pricing-only alternative to lane expansion. They cite the city of Portland’s Climate Emergency Declaration, adopted two years ago, as evidence moving forward with the project is in opposition with Council’s own goals.

Besides voting and sending letters to the governor, the only real power one has is against the “boring government workers” and attack the process in which they rely upon to get the status quo done.

soren
soren
5 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Besides voting and sending letters to the governor, the only real power one has is against the “boring government workers”

This is such a safe middle class point of view.

Political movements to overthrow to climate arsonist establishment generally do not involve writing pleading “letters” or urging the minions of a climate arsonist governor to not be minions (a @#$%ing joke).

“I once asked Bill McKibben, after an energising speech to a capacity crowd, when – given that the situation is as urgent as he portrayed it and we all know it is – we escalate. He was visibly ill at ease. The first part of his response presented what we might call the objection from asymmetry: as soon as a social movement engages in violent acts, it moves onto the terrain favoured by the enemy, who is overwhelmingly superior in military capabilities. The state loves a fight of arms; it knows it will win. Our strength is in numbers. This is a pet argument for strategic pacifists, but it is disingenuous. Violence is not the sole field where asymmetry prevails. The enemy has overwhelmingly superior capabilities in virtually all fields, including media propaganda, institutional coordination, logistical resources, political legitimacy and, above all, money. If the movement should shun uphill battles, a divestment campaign [or localist environmentalism] seems like the worst possible choice: trying to sap fossil capital by means of capital.
― Andreas Malm

And to be very clear, the democratic party and its capitalism are the enemy. We will make zero progress until there is a credible mass movement that opposes extractive capitalism. I see no signs that any climate group is interested in creating a mass movement in opposition of the despicable democratic party.

pigs
pigs
5 months ago
Reply to  soren

I agree. Short of a revolution, I don’t see capitalism and the democratic party going away anytime soon. Despite that, apathy towards these issues because it is a product of capitalism and of neo liberal system is not doing any good. Environmentallism is incompatible with capitalism, but that does not mean we should not do whatever we can to make our lives better even if marginally so.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Environmentalism is entirely compatible with capitalism; I believe that capitalism is the only force capable of heading off a climate change disaster (and is already making progress even in the face of government inaction).

Government’s role is to set the incentives properly, for example by taxing externalities. That this is where we have fallen short so far — a predictably increasing carbon tax is the only government action needed to effect a huge decrease in CO2 emissions. Capitalism would take it from there.

There are plenty of problems that capitalism cannot solve, but it can address a range of environmental issues.

pigs
pigs
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

To quote Mark Fisher,

The relationship between capitalism and eco-disaster is neither coincidental nor accidental: capital’s ‘need of a constantly expanding market’, its ‘growth fetish’ means that capitalism is by its very nature opposed to any notion of sustainability.

They are at odds with each other, and it is a momentous uphill battle to fight the natural pressures that capitalism pushes for, absolute resource depletion to gain more capital

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  pigs

Capitalism is orthogonal to sustainability. To the extent we reward sustainability, capitalism will deliver sustainability. The problem is sustainability is opposed to “more cheap stuff”, which is popular, so leaders are rewarded for not disincentivizing destructive practices.

Besides, the alternatives don’t have a much better record. State run industry has a pretty terrible environmental record everywhere. Government can act as a check on capitalism (though it too seldom does), but there are no such checks in socialism.

soren
soren
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Environmentalism is entirely compatible with capitalism

I agree with Watts but I also disagree with Watts that this is a good thing.

X
X
5 months ago
Reply to  soren

Biden is right this moment trying to maintain economic growth* by declaring a gas tax holiday* so that the price of liquid fuel consumption* will not force people to make hard choices. How is the political future of an 80 year old guy more important than the truth, the need for leadership, and the life and livelihood of every person who lives below 10 m elevation and/or has a life expectancy beyond 2035^?

*What do three wrongs make?
^I’m guessing here, use numbers you like.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  X

Yeah… the idea of a gas tax holiday is BS. It’s too little to help individuals, but collectively takes a huge amount of infrastructure money away. It just feels like pandering, and, of course, it runs counter to what we need from a climate standpoint.

It’s bad policy and bad electioneering.

maxD
maxD
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

totally agree, no one is going to notice the cost savings at the pump, but collectively we will lose out on millions of dollars. If you are going to pander adn electioneer, at least be effective about it! Biden should just cancel all student debt!

soren
soren
5 months ago
Reply to  X

Buttigieg has been lionized (near canonized) by market urbanists/YIMBYs but there is nary a peep about his acquiescence to this travesty.

Left-leaning YIMBYs should ask themselves why their movement always compromises away from social/environmental justice.

There is a subset of YIMBYs who are not so deeply wedded to Friedmanite market fanatacism and who rightly look at exclusionary zoning as immoral and who have not yet realized that many YIMBYs use the language of social equity largely to push for further Randian deregulation of real estate speculation. I hope more of these more lefty YIMBYs begin to disavow this toxic movement.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago

Has Hardesty explained how she squares her newfound support for this awful project with her stated climate goals? Or is this just another example of politicians being unwilling to back up their tough talk when it comes time to actually vote?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Watts

Yes she and PBOT have both explained it. Stay tuned for a recap of today’s discussion which I will share Thursday morning.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago

That story said:

According to Hardesty, ODOT will: use congestion pricing to manage traffic and reduce emissions, move Harriet Tubman Middle School away from the freeway, work closely with Albina Vision Trust (AVT), and award construction contracts to Black-owned firms.

The first claim makes no sense; if congestion pricing will manage traffic, the expansion isn’t needed. The rest is just bribery.

robert wallis
robert wallis
5 months ago

Activists would be a lot more concerned if they knew how much profit project consultants will make when the freeway expansion finally moves ahead. Last time I looked, the project was being led by HDR. There is a reason that HDR has two former Mayors on staff. ODOT wants more freeway capacity and HDR is hellbent upon delivering that capacity. Financially-driven special interests, not public interest, drives mega engineering projects like the one proposed through the Rose Quarter.

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
5 months ago

Please follow up with who votes to allow the project to continue. I want to know who to vote out.

SD
SD
5 months ago

So f*ing tired of PBOT, city council and metro talking about holding ODOT accountable and then capitulating. The only tactic that has had any positive outcome has been direct, loud opposition to ODOT. They are going to get rolled like they always do.

RipCityBassWorks
RipCityBassWorks
5 months ago

ODOT wants to spend $1.5 billion on freeway expansion? Why not just bury the freeway and eliminate some of the excessives on/off ramps? Repurpose the land for housing and parks.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago

It’d be more accurate to say ODOT wants to spend $1.5 billion to cap a freeway and construct minor operational improvements

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago

In Portland adding 2 lanes to a 4 lane freeway is supposedly the end of the world.
In Phoenix, a city with a lot more to lose from climate change, adding 6 lanes to a 10 lane freeway invites no controversy at all.

These fringe activists either don’t realize or don’t care that Portland has been following their prescription of freeway non-expansion for 50 years with disastrous results.

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

In Portland adding 2 lanes to a 4 lane freeway is supposedly the end of the world.

In Phoenix, a city with a lot more to lose from climate change, adding 6 lanes to a 10 lane freeway invites no controversy at all.

Phoenix is literally the epitome of American stupidity in arrogance.Of course people dumb enough to live in Phoenix support mega-interstates.

These fringe activists either don’t realize or don’t care that Portland has been following their prescription of freeway non-expansion for 50 years with disastrous results.

Disasterous results? Portland is the most walkable/bikeable city in the country despite almost zero investment from the city almost entirely because we didn’t allow Moses to cut up our neighborhoods.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Portland has traffic problems befitting a much larger urban area. And when freeways take traffic off of surface streets, places become more walkable and bikable. The removal of Harbor Drive in 1974 was enabled by the construction of Interstates 5 and 405.

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Portland has traffic problems befitting a much larger urban area.

I live in Portland and spend almost no time stuck in traffic. What are you talking about? It’s suburbanites who spend time in traffic.

And when freeways take traffic off of surface streets, places become more walkable and bikable.

Ah yes, the famously walkable cities of LA and Dallas. LOL

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I found Dallas to be perfectly walkable

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

That’s fine, most people don’t, which is why they drive absolutely everywhere in both Phoenix and Dallas. I’d guess that if you actually lived in either of these places, you’d drive everywhere too.

kernals12
kernals12
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

In case you didn’t notice; People in Portland drive everywhere too

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  kernals12

Weird! I haven’t drive in a couple of weeks but I distinctly remember leaving the house.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

People generally do drive here most of the time, for most trips. I don’t, and apparently you don’t either, but we’re outliers.

cc_rider
cc_rider
5 months ago
Reply to  Watts

but we’re outliers.

It probably depends on where you are in the city. I’m guessing people who live in Roseway drive a lot more than people who live in the Pearl.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I found a lot more streets with sidewalks in LA than I see in Portland.

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Of course people dumb enough to live in Phoenix support mega-interstates.

Those stupid heads! Is this what passes for thoughtful analysis these days?

Dennis Apgar
Dennis Apgar
5 months ago

I do not want road pricing of any kind as that is dicriminatory to the poor and will even price out middle-class americans from driving. I propose instead that interstate 5 be re-routed onto Interstate 205 the way the Interstates were designed to be. Interstate 5 should be replaced with a 4-lane boulevard from the Southernmost interchange Oregon Highway 99 West to the South interchange with Interstate 405 and from the Northern Interchange with I-405 to the interchange with Main Street in Vancouver Washington. The segment of Interstate 5 between both interchanges with Interstate 405 should be completely demolished and replaced with a restored street grid while partially demolishing the Marquam Bridge repurposing the remaining bridge portion to a pedestrian pier. Interstate 84 shall receive a proper ending at Interstate 205 so the urban portion can be repurposed into an extended Lloyd Boulevard which will create amble space for housing (must include urban single-family and missing middle housing). Interstate 405 should be converted to an undivided 3-lane avenue with a turn lane. Highway 30 from Interstate 405 to Northwest Nicolai Street shall be converted to a street-level highway with protected bicycle lanes. The Freemont Bridge should be retrofitted to carry two10 foot lanes of car and truck traffic, 6 bicycle lanes with a landscaped median between directions and between the car lanes and the bike lanes. Very wide landscaped sidewalks on each side of the top level of the bridge. The bottom level of the bridge shall carry 2 light rail tracks. The best thing is that it reduces car dependency while being free of charge to drivers.