Despite the City of Portland’s attempts to calm them down, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees remain deeply concerned about the I-5 Rose Quarter Project.
The controversial, $1.4 billion Oregon Department of Transportation project that seeks to widen I-5 through Portland’s central city and build a large cover over freeway traffic in order to “reconnect” the Albina neighborhood that was devastated by its construction decades ago. ODOT opened a second public comment period in mid-November as part of their federally obligated environmental review process. Many local advocacy groups and committees have written letters outlining their feedback and concerns about the revised design proposal. What is clear — and what will become even more clear at a People’s Public Hearing being hosted by nonprofit No More Freeways in north Portland tonight — is that despite a compromise forged by Governor Tina Kotek and a recent return to the project by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the project remains very unpopular with many Portlanders who care about the safety of people who walk and bike.
On December 27th, members of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) sent a letter to City Council members that will act as its official comment on the project. “We are deeply concerned that this project fails to meet a wide variety of city, county, regional, and statewide goals,” their letter states. “While the buildable highway cover is a laudable step toward restorative justice,” the letter continues, “the project would still add several lane miles of highway, compromise one of the most heavily used bikeways in the city, expand I-5’s footprint, and increase emissions including greenhouse gasses (GHG) in a marginalized community previously impacted by highway construction.”
The BAC is especially worried about the proposed location of the I-5 southbound off-ramp that will dump thousands of drivers onto North Williams Avenue. They say that decision, which ODOT admits will increase stress for bicycle riders and walkers if built as proposed, “Presents significant safety issues for the most vulnerable roadway users and is inconsistent with the City’s design standards.” The also says they feel putting the Green Loop alignment on Broadway and Weidler is unacceptable and they want the project to add back the formerly proposed Clackamas Crossing Bridge(see above) that would have created a carfree crossing over I-5 south of Weidler between from the Lloyd to the Rose Quarter.
The city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee PAC is so opposed to the project they want PBOT to withdraw their support completely. Their official letter hasn’t been finalized yet, but a draft version states,
“We call on PBOT to withdraw support of the Hybrid 3 concept, which would introduce a highway off-ramp into an area with heavy foot traffic, remove crosswalks, and generally worsen conditions for active modes. The current proposal goes in the wrong direction on climate, the wrong direction on safety, and the wrong direction on our modal goals, while providing little promise of accountability and follow-through for the few positive claims it can make.”
Their letter with that language was approved by the committee, but when it was submitted to PBOT, the city’s liaison to the project, Sharon Daleo, urged them to revise it. According to an email exchange with PAC members, Daleo said she hoped the PAC could change the wording of the letter so it was more supportive and “less inflammatory” of the project.
Daleo and PBOT are finding out how hard it is to walk the fine line between honoring their constituents concerns and serving their partners at ODOT. Former PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly wasn’t willing to do that, so she walked away entirely from the project and made the unprecedented move of pulling all City of Portland staff off the project. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty reversed that position and PBOT now finds themselves in this unenviable position.
For Pedestrian Advisory Committee members, the project isn’t worth the cost of PBOT staff time that they feel would be better spent elsewhere.
“These negative impacts to pedestrian safety and comfort are notable even before considering how much ODOT is leaning on the City of Portland to contribute staff time and funding toward surface street changes and other support when those resources are urgently needed to mitigate deadly conditions in hundreds of other locations citywide,” their letter states. “We urge PBOT to withdraw its support.”
So far, the PAC hasn’t re-submitted a revised letter. The public comment period ends tomorrow, January 4th.
— The People’s Public Hearing begins at 6:00 pm tonight (Tuesday, January 3rd) at Harriet Tubman Middle School. You can watch a livestream and/or a recap here.
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Note: the current awful design with buy-in from ODOT, Albina Vision, and the former Governor (the BP article this article links to says nothing about Tina Kotek) is a direct consequence of Eudaly pulling the city and its interests out of the project.
This was not a stroke of strategic genius but misguided virtue signaling and a misunderstanding of how ODOT and local, regional, and state politics works. It allowed ODOT to craft and advance-through-the-environmental-process a revised solution optimized for the interests of fewer players and without the one organization at the table (the city) that might have pressed it to pursue high quality local street environments.
Look at the pre-Hybrid 3 design and the one ODOT is pushing now and tell me how the current one is better; for those who point to the larger caps, project staff are still squirrelly about how buildable these caps actually are and the streets surrounding them will still be choked with traffic and pollution.
The design got worse, not better, after the city left the project. Leaving the project didn’t improve the situation a few years ago. Why would it now? Clearly the state can proceed with or without Portland involvement.
So staff refused to deliver the PAC letter that they had been given? What, the staffer will be in trouble for not stage-managing the committee? I urge the committee to send a letter, signed by all members, and send directly to PBOT, telling them that city staffer refused do send it.
Fully agree. What is the point of the committee if not to advise PBOT on the interests of pedestrians?
PBOT must have been shocked to hear that this project is not serving the interests of pedestrians. (Or the community, for that matter.)
It’s far more likely that the staffer is communicating the concerns of PBOT management?
As a former member of the BAC and early BTA Alice Award recipient, I would urge both committees to stand strong and adhere to their original vision.
The state and the city both have lofty policies and goals on the books when it comes to transportation and climate, but at the same time are terrible at actually implementing those goals and policies.
The BAC (or any other citizen’s advisory committee) should never be asked or told to rubber stamp any large expensive, misguided transportation project that doesn’t benefit local users when there are so many local projects in need of funding and attention.
And if the project backers expect federal funds to flow towards these megaprojects there should definitively be some assurances at all levels that local projects will receive an equal amount of matching funds (for mitigation if nothing else).
Bottom line – this project and other related projects like the I-5 bridge replacement exemplify the city and the state’s hypocrisy when it comes to their transportation and climate commitments. Also, someone should cue the ethics ombudsperson at the city/state/federal level about all this BS.
I too am a former BAC member, though I never got an Alice Award – just an “Independent Spirit of Portland Award” from the city in 2013 – otherwise known by city bureaucrats as the “Neighborhood Asshole of the Year Award”.
It will be interesting to see how committees like the BAC are reorganized when the city switches to the district form of government – will there be 3 reps from each district? Will downtown organizations have as much influence as they do now?
I’m always amazed that in a city as well educated as Portland is, that the BACPAC keeps issuing such dumb rants in their letters rather than constructive feedback. It’s the very conservative Democratic-controlled state legislature and governor who are trying to ram the RQ and new Columbia River bridge through Portland, not ODOT, so their maybe letter should be addressed to Salem instead of Portland?
Not that anyone is going to listen to a rant, from anyone else. City Council will of course ignore the BACPAC – anything they don’t want to hear always falls on deaf ears – and they always have the option of getting rid of everyone on both committees and replacing them with lackeys from PBA, freight, and East Portland.
PBOT has to work with the state legislature and ODOT – they simply have no other choice if they want to get state resources for all of their other projects – and the BACPAC needs to recognize this. The BACPAC needs to “support” the RQ and CRC2 projects, but cleverly add so many extras and safety items as to add costs and delay the projects so long that they get cancelled during the next recession.
Why do so many advocates/enthusiasts continue to buddy up to an agency that is demonstrably not a friend of active transportation?
Um – because PBOT is the agency responsible for transportation??
What alternative do they have?
I see your point about “buddying up” – they don’t have to be buddies. But the point about staying engaged is key here. If you aren’t at the table, you really have no voice in what happens.
Jonathan Maus and BikePortland do it b/c they feel they have to, but there are other options for engagement w/o tacit endorsement.
The idea that the only choice is to “stay at the table” is such an establishment point of view. Have you ever heard of protest that impedes/blocks traffic, street theater/absurdism, shaming/bird-dogging (politicians and government staff), installing infrastructure without approval, non-violent sabotage (e.g. removing do not cross signs at legal crosswalks), and many, many other forms of direct action?
That jug-handle off-ramp really is insanely horrible. This would become the single most dangerous crosswalk in the Metro area, as Vancouver drivers come flying around the corner at Interstate speeds and blast through the red light to turn right without so much as a glance for pedestrian/bike traffic.
I just hope they set up a CC camera to catch the near-daily overshoots that would happen. They better build a strong wall on that outside curve.
Thanks for the video that shows a similar configuration in downtown Seattle. The best part of the video is towards the end, where the local government acknowledges being aware of the issue for years, and their response was to put up more signs advising drivers to slow down. It’s no surprise that more signs didn’t eliminate the danger caused by poorly designed infrastructure.
My cynical opinion:
I don’t believe ODOT has any intention of ever building that ridiculous off-ramp, and that they have presented it only to manipulate public opinion so they can say, “We tried, but it’s not possible to safely do the buildable lid designs to accommodate the Albina Vision.”
This redesign is even worse for bicyclists and pedestrians than the previous one. They are presenting it in an attempt to pit active transportation advocates against land use advocates, specifically AVT, and environmental/climate advocates. All three of these groups are otherwise natural allies in opposing the project.
If the Blazers are not publicly voicing concern about that off-ramp, it’s because they have privately been assured by ODOT that it will never happen.
I heard Kris Strickler in October (at the Cleveland High School meeting regarding safety on Powell Blvd. after Sarah Pliner was killed) repeatedly use one of ODOT’s common forms of bullshit: i.e., “leaving a false impression”. If I had not been involved in past years with the Powell Blvd. Safety Project, and had my email memory bank to refer to, I would not have been able to recognize that and call it out.
When I recognize ODOT trying to bullshit the public regarding the few things that I actually know something about, it makes me doubt their honesty on everything.
Reading through the SEA, it honestly looks like the most obvious answer was the one not considered: remove the Broadway/Weidler interchange entirely. We don’t need an interchange along I-5 every 1/2 mile through Portland, and taking away the option would do much more to reduce car traffic through the area, including the freeway, than the Frankenstein’s monster ODOT is proposing at Ramsay/Wheeler/Williams.
Of course, I’m of the mind that I-5 should be removed entirely and realigned through I-205…
I actually asked ODOT this directly once, and they said they “studied it” but linked a pdf to me that had no conclusions about the impacts of removing the ramp at all, just a table with a bunch of “considered options”. It’s incredibly frustrating how difficult it is to get a straight answer out of ODOT.
I agree with you that removing the Broadway/Weidler interchange would improve traffic conditions both on and off the freeway. However, the Blazers, Winterhawks, Moda Center, concert operators are not going to allow that to happen. I just don’t see it as a viable alternative.
Really, your imagination is so small you can’t see people attending a concert or sporting event w/o being offered VIP access via a multibillion dollar highway boondoggle as a fait accompli?
Uh, no, FDUP. I’m pointing out the realities of closing the interchange. I wasn’t commenting on the project. Read much?
Yes, let’s move as much traffic through the poorest part of the city, where all the ethnic minorities live, just like other cities in the country do it. Since Portland is regressing anyway, let’s help it slide even further.
Of course, once I-205 is overburdened and I-84 with it, all that traffic will then need to traverse the city to downtown and the west side, so naturally they take the least congested streets – you know which ones – the ones with the bike facilities…
If they removed the interchange altogether, they could squeeze 3 through lanes in each direction with some minor modifications, and we wouldn’t need the project at all.
But all of the tax-dodgers and Camas wouldn’t be able to get to Trailblazers games and concerts at the Rose Quarter, and we can’t have that.
Exactly! The new I-5 would follow the Hwy 30 alignment and the new Columbia River crossing would be 16 lanes wide, 300 feet high, and located up by St Helens.
It’s going to happen, one day.
Welcome to Houston, Oregon.
What’s the point of an advisory committee if they can’t even give a recommendation? All public agencies really want is a bunch of “citizens” to rubber stamp their projects so they can check a box of “public engagement”. It’s frankly unacceptable that a PBOT staffer would even consider rejecting a letter from a citizen advisory board – are they just supposed to support any project willy-nilly?
I agree blumdrew! This is really a concerning chasm to cross for a PBOT staffer.
You nailed it, blumdrew. The goal of most public agencies in Portland is The Illusion of Inclusion™.
Have they considered the option of widening 405 and flipping the traffic that direction? 405 looks like it can accommodate a couple more lanes from the Fremont bridge thru nw pdx to I-5 south
I hope u r being facetious.
Or maybe have bus only lanes on I-405 that allows for transit to get through clogged areas. Why must everything about transportation be about cars? Haven’t we progressed past that notion?
Watching ODOT and the Rose Quarter debacle from day one, it is clear that the only way to “negotiate” with ODOT is direct forceful opposition without compromise. It is the only thing they respond to and the only thing that affects their positions. If you give ODOT an inch they will gladly turn it into a mile of 12 lane highway. Consider PBOT, in its current form, captured and simply an extension of ODOT.
Several advisory groups have had to walk away from the ODOT RQ table because of their lies and manipulation multiple times.
When was another time time that PBOT capitulated to ODOT? There are many but one of them was 26th and Powell. How has that turned out?
This is gross.
We heard from Joe Cortright the other night that this project is now estimated to be $1.45 billion dollars for 1.5 miles, making it one of the most expensive highway projects ever, and ODOT doesn’t have the money. It’s likely that if they somehow push this through, they’ll run out of money at the end for caps, for safety improvements, for moving Tubman, for everything they’d said they’d offer as a compromise. I don’t want this either way, but I am cynical enough to think that ODOT knows it won’t build what it’s saying either.
$1.45 billion? At that price, I can’t believe even ODOT isn’t questioning going ahead. For that price, they could put up “NO CROSSING” sings at every corner of every highway in Portland that they haven’t been able to get to yet.