ODOT wins ‘diversity leadership’ award for I-5 Rose Quarter project

(Source: ODOT project website)

Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter is a monument to the systemic racism that pervaded the Federal Highway Administration and their enablers at the Oregon Department of Transportation in the 1960s. The path of the freeway cut through the heart of Portland’s Black community like a “meat axe” and displaced hundreds of people. The loss of personal wealth and social capital for Portland’s Black residents was incalculable.

Sixty years later, ODOT wants to make the freeway even wider. But this time around, they’ve received an award for improving the lives of Black people.

Last Wednesday, the Portland chapter of the nonprofit Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) bestowed its 2022 Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award to the ODOT Urban Mobility Office for their work on the I-5 Rose Quarter Project. The mission of WTS is to, “Advance both the transportation industry and the professional women who lead it.”

Here’s the email sent from WTS Portland Chapter Vice President Lisa Patterson to ODOT:

I am writing with congratulations – the WTS Portland Chapter selected ODOT’s Urban Mobility Office as our 2022 Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award winner. The Rosa Parks Leadership Diversity Award recognizes an organization, project or individual that contributes significantly to promoting diversity, inclusion and multicultural awareness within their organization, the transportation industry, or in a project or activity that supports the goals and mission of WTS. Our Board and awards committee were impressed by the group’s determination to address past harms born upon Black Portlanders by previous government policies and investments and approaches to lead with equity in your programs. Of note was the description of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project and how your team is using the project to help grow minority businesses, create new civic capacity and deliver a project based upon the vision of the community.

The project director of the I-5 Rose Quarter project is a Megan Channell. She recused herself from voting because she also happens to be president of the WTS Portland chapter.

While critics of this project say it will double-down on the negative community impacts of the initial freeway construction, Channell and her project team say it will enrich the lives of many by “connecting the community” and providing millions of dollars in high-paying jobs. ODOT is promising two million labor hours with up to $150 million in payroll and benefits with a goal of up to 22% of the total project contract value to be awarded to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs, which must include at least 51% minority ownership).

ODOT has also gone to great lengths to make sure the project respects the lives of Black Portlanders past and present. In September 2020 they shut down the project’s Community Advisory Committee and created the Historic Albina Advisory Board in its place. In April 2021 ODOT launched a full rebranding effort which was revealed back in March. The new logo features the cupola of one of the old storefronts the freeway displaced.

This award comes at a time when ODOT needs good news. Also last week, a judge ruled against the agency in a public records case.

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Martha Roskowski
Martha Roskowski
1 month ago

Oof. So a project through a black community wins diversity awards if you talk to people from that community? Handy.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 month ago

Wow. Just. Wow.

X
X
1 month ago

It was somewhat modest of Ms. Channelle to recuse herself. What’s the stature of this organization to give an award in the matter of racial equity? I’m curious to know who has received this award in the past, and I hazard a guess that no one connected to Rosa Parks has heard anything about it.

This is another instance of gratuitously plugging in “transportation” for “highways”.

Jessica Roberts
Jessica A Roberts
1 month ago
Reply to  X

No, this isn’t true. WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar) is an extremely well-established general transportation networking and professional development organization. I’ve been part of WTS for well over a decade, and served on the board for a while, and the Portland chapter is particularly strong on multimodal balance. I’ll also say that it’s always impressed me that it is THE big tent for transportation professionals of any gender in Portland. So while you can critique this particular award, if you like, I can tell you from personal experience that this group is legit and not a “highways only” group.

X
X
1 month ago

You probably have better information than me, thanks. What’s the history of the award named for Rosa Parks?

JaredO
JaredO
1 month ago

Thereupon I drop my WTS membership.

Pretty egregious failure to understand opportunity cost, induced demand, or the equity impacts of traffic violence.

Also, pretty egregious self-dealing – awarding an award to the President that would be helpful for the President’s political lobbying for an inexcusable project.

joan
1 month ago
Reply to  JaredO

It’s certainly interesting that this award is coming right in the midst of a series of some pretty terrible news for ODOT around this project.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago

This is basically a group of Transportation Professionals (i.e. engineers) who happen to be women giving themselves a giant pat on their own back. ODOT and David Evans & Associates are both ‘Titanium’ sponsors. A significant portion of the Portland chapter’s membership are likely ODOT staffers.

https://www.wtsinternational.org/chapters/portland

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

That last sentence: do you know that to be true? Did these ODOT staffer get to vote to give the award to themselves? Or are you just imagining things and stating them for clout on a local bike blog?

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

I said ‘significant portion’ and ‘likely’, those are qualifying statements; I could not find a published membership list on their web site. I did see Mia Burk in one of the photos, but these days I suppose she is pretty corporate also.

joan
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

At least six of the current committee chairs, including the President and the chair of “Awards and Recognition,” use ODOT emails on the WTS Portland website.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  joan

Hypocrisy in action!

JaredO
JaredO
1 month ago
Reply to  joan

Given what we’ve learned, feels like the article title should be “ODOT votes to give itself diversity award.”

J_R
J_R
1 month ago

It seems like the only project that many BP readers feel would be worth giving an award to is a massive project removing miles and miles of streets and highways as long as no traffic was diverted to any other street as a result. Also, if the removal would need to be accomplished with no use of fossil fuels and all the removed materials were converted into housing the homeless and treating drug addiction.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  J_R

U r pretty cynical, eh?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  J_R

Crowd-funded of course, with the work done by Parks or a community nonprofit rather than by ODOT, TriMet or PBOT.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Depave Portland!

https://depave.org/

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
1 month ago
Reply to  J_R

There is a damned-if you-do/damned-if-you-don’t aspect to the criticism.

According to Jonathan’s reporting, the award is given specifically to the

Urban Mobility Office as our 2022 Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award winner. The Rosa Parks Leadership Diversity Award recognizes an organization, project or individual that contributes significantly to promoting diversity, inclusion and multicultural awareness within their organization, the transportation industry, or in a project or activity that supports the goals and mission of WTS

It looks to me like UMO has done a good job. Their web page tab about the Rose Quarter project is informative and interesting.

I don’t have a dog in the freeway capping compromise, so I’ve stayed out of it. But, if you want to cap a freeway, and mitigate historical wrongs, the southernmost stretch of 405, between the Ross Island Bridge and PSU is also a deserving candidate, and perhaps offers greater ROI.

I broached the subject in these two interviews:

https://bikeportland.org/2021/07/30/air-rights-and-freeway-caps-an-interview-with-developer-matt-edlen-335749

https://bikeportland.org/2021/07/02/capping-freeways-an-interview-with-architect-rick-potestio-334306

Given the project selection, however, it seems like UMO has done an outstanding job and deserves the award.

Robert Wallis
Robert Wallis
1 month ago

Great comments. I agree completely. Please keep in mind that the DOT’s have a long history of keeping cities in line because of the way they control federal funds. Less so with Portland, but most cities are careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. They are increasingly using that strategy to get projects built that should not get built. This award was the end result of bribes, handled well, but bribes nonetheless. Bribes have their good side and bad side. I just hope in this case the good outweighs the bad. If seldom does.

X
X
1 month ago

Lisa,
This not a case of a civic organization recognizing a worthy effort by a person they see working effectively in the community. It’s a group of peers giving a pat on the back to person who shares their goals. Many of the members and leaders of this group have a goal of covering soil with concrete.

Is this the “first annual” RP award? Who else has received it? I’ll be interested to see what other achievements are worthy of tacking on the name of Rosa Parks.

Patrick Kennedy
Patrick Kennedy
1 month ago

It seems antithetical to the name of the award to be used for a highway project.