I-5 caps and Broadway ‘civic main street’ projects funded with $488 million federal grants

Before and after. (Image courtesy ODOT)

With the announcement Friday of two separate grants that total nearly a half-billion dollars, the U.S. Department of Transportation has made it clear they want to see the “Albina Vision” for the Rose Quarter area become a reality sooner than later.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced they have brought home $450 million to construct covers over Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter, as well as an additional $38.4 million for a complete makeover of Northeast Broadway and Weidler streets to create a new “civic main street” between NE 7th and the Broadway Bridge.

The grant is the largest ODOT has ever received from the federal government and makes good on promises made by these members of Congress in 2021.

Ironically, the $450 million federal grant is the same amount ODOT estimated the project would cost when they pitched it to lawmakers in 2017 as a way to alleviate traffic backups through Portland. Since then the project’s estimated cost has ballooned to an estimated $1.3 billion.

This new money isn’t for the freeway widening portion of the project. Instead, it must go toward a project Blumenauer says will, “heal communities torn apart by destructive federal projects.” Senator Merkley said the project will, “Help to right the shameful wrongs inflicted on historically Black neighborhoods and to make our city a stronger and safer community for generations to come.”

This is the first federal investment into construction of the I-5 Rose Quarter project since planning got underway in earnest nearly 14 years ago.

The grants are from the Biden Administration’s Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods grant program and come almost exactly one year after the same program awarded the nonprofit Albina Vision Trust an $800,000 planning grant. US DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg must have liked what he saw in those plans and during his visit to Portland last summer.

Friday’s announcement injects new life into a moribund project that had been on life support since just before Buttigieg’s visit and it makes good on a prediction by ODOT staff in 2021 that Buttigieg would be Oregon’s “new best friend.” Now ODOT will use this grant as leverage to encourage state lawmakers to fund the (much less popular and politically dicey) freeway-widening portion of their project as they negotiate what’s expected to be a large transportation funding package in the 2025 session.

Now there’s real money on the table to not just envision what lower Albina could look like if it were restored to its former glory as a vibrant neighborhood that was home to hundreds of Black Portlanders who were displaced by racist planning decisions; but to actually build it. This announcement comes after a string of home runs already hit by Albina Vision Trust, the group that has raised well over a billion dollars and closed multiple real estate development deals since it was first launched in 2017.

The grants are a “momentous leap forward in the longstanding fight to rebuild Albina,” said AVT Executive Director Winta Yohannes.

Nonprofit No More Freeways says ODOT should “construct the caps and lose the lanes.” “Albina deserves cleaner air and affordable housing, not air pollution and endless traffic congestion, and the Reconnecting Communities grant funding should be used to heal this neighborhood without ODOT further harming the neighborhood with air pollution and additional freeway lanes. ODOT’s insistence on a costly project that doubles the width of the highway and likely violates environmental standards is delaying the opportunity to heal this neighborhood.”

Broadway Main Street

The $38.4 million for PBOT will allow them break ground on their N/NE Broadway Main Street and Supporting Connections project. As BikePortland reported last fall, that project would extend and complement other surface street changes ODOT plans to make in the I-5 Rose Quarter project. The idea would be to change what are currently unwelcoming, wide, arterials into what PBOT calls a “civic main street.” At a meeting last September, a PBOT staffer said the project goal is to create a streetscape that would allow someone to, “take a pleasant walk with their young child from NE 7th to Waterfront Park.”

The great news for cash-strapped PBOT is that the grant requires no matching funds. The great news for people who breathe is that PBOT can get started on this regardless of what ODOT does with the freeway. PBOT has said the Broadway Main Street changes could even come ahead of major construction on the Rose Quarter project.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
2 months ago

The freeway “lids” (unbuildable) were always a part of ODOT’s package for the I-5 RQ expansion project as approved by the OTC in 2012 and funded in 2017. I don’t see anywhere that this money is described as adding buildablilty to the covers to serve Lower Albina. They seem to present it only as the cash infusion ODOT needs to re-awaken the freeway expansion project.

The word “buildable” does not appear here in ODOT​’s website announcement.

 https://i5rosequarter.org/news/the-i-5-rose-quarter-improvement-project-receives-450-million-in-federal-grant-funding/

Nor does it appear here in the Oregonian’s article:

https://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/2024/03/feds-grant-450-million-toward-i-5-freeway-caps-in-north-portlands-albina-district.html

nor here in Blumenauer, Wyden and Merkley’s announcement:

https://blumenauer.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/blumenauer-wyden-merkley-announce-nearly-half-a-billion-for-albina-vision-infrastructure-projects#:~:text=This%20catalytic%20federal%20investment%20represents,of%20the%20Albina%20Vision%20Trust.

Does this money actually add ​buildable strength to the “​retained scaffolding/lids” that ODOT had included from the beginning? (​I do see on the current ODOT website – with a disclaimer about the size and shape of the cover depicted, and ​in the drawings from the application for PBOT’S Broadway Civic Main Street Project, one contiguous lid/cap/cover, instead of the original separate ‘retained scaffolding/lids’. Is this what the Feds are funding with this money – a bigger single lid?)

[Jonathan: Nice line​s:  Without the highway covers or the political cover of AVT’s vision, this project would be absolutely dead in the water. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see how/if ODOT can leverage this new funding into funding for expanding the freeway. ] 

​I second the ​motion​ to use this money to build the freeway cover without building the freeway expansion.

 

​Failing that, if the I-5RQ Expansion Project is getting a fresh life, we all need to renew our vigilance of the bike/ped/transit/surface street components while they are still on the drawing board.

MontyP
MontyP
2 months ago

Can the caps still be built if I-5 isn’t widened?

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

unpopular part of the project

Do you think the actual widening of the freeway is generally unpopular, or only unpopular among certain narrow subcultures? For that matter, is building a cap particularly popular?

I honestly have no idea what a more “typical Portlander” thinks about the project, if anything. It does seem clear that the entire project is very popular where it counts — in the legislature and in Gov. Kotek’s office, which leads me to further conclude that this grant, while not for highway building, does bring this project, in its entirety, much closer to the finish line.

It looks to me like ODOT’s cynical ploy of framing this project as “for the black community” is working.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago

I think in general, spending money so that people can take their private cars through the center of a city,

The status quo is unpopular says the person in a dwindling minority subculture.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago

Both can be true, I think.

People in general know that SOV usage is harming the environment and causing excess vehicular traffic and can see that it’s unsustainable. At the same time, those same people are generally unlikely, or unwilling, to make the sacrifices to assuage those concerns. They want everyone else to do it.

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray

In my anecdotal experience, the response is, almost 100% of the time, “just get everyone an electric car”.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

Everyone who drives regularly does need to get an electric car. That alone won’t save us from climate change, but it’s a necessary part of the solution.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

When I can make a 400+ mile drive to visit friends or family and don’t have to extend that an extra hour because I can’t find a charging station en route or have to wait 30+ minutes for a charge to complete the drive, and the vehicle is affordable, for me. Only then will I consider an EV.

Plug-in Hybrids are a different situation.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray

People in general know that eating meat as a major source of calories requires unimaginable cruelty and is harmful to animal agriculture workers but they still eat meat.
Both can be true.

People in general know that convenient shopping at online mega-corps is associated with the hollowing out of local commerce and a massive increase in GHG emissions but they still shop online.
Both can be true

People in general know that using uber and lyft undercuts public transportation and results in increased vehicle traffic but they still hail rides.
Both can be true.

Etc.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago

Then you see my point.

People simply don’t want to sacrifice personal convenience for “The Greater Good.” They know they are making decisions that are harmful in certain ways, yet they lament the damage others are causing when others make the same decisions. That’s why there has to be an outside influence in curtailing the demise. But then Freedom becomes a part of the conversation.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

$488 million is apparently the price to get JM to support this project, proof that everyone has a price.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

JM, on your front page headline, you have a subtext

Everything about this project is wildly popular – except for the freeway widening part.

But when you go into the story itself, it’s not until very far into it, after several paragraphs of glorifying the project, that you barely mention any opposition to it, then you finish the overtly positive article with even more pleasant pro-ODOT and pro-PBOT budget messages, what a great project this is, etc.

For a guy who has written extensively condemning the freeway widening in the past, this looks a lot like a near 180 degree turn on your part (maybe 165 degrees?)

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

JM, your sarcasm is way too subtle for me, but it sounds absolutely fabulous for an ODOT press release.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

Without the highway covers or the political cover of AVT’s vision, this project would be absolutely dead in the water. 

I agree. Thank you for saving this urban freeway widening project, Albina Vision Trust!

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I think the “typical Portlander” probably doesn’t have an opinion on it. The “typical Portlander” probably drives everywhere, or if they don’t, they still strongly favor the status quo of car convenience.

You’re right about the popularity where it matters – government and big businesses trip over themselves with glee when DOTs widen freeways.

PDXAlex
PDXAlex
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

This is from 2022 but I’d bet you’d get consistent findings today. https://i5rosequarter.org/media/koipvvzg/public_attitudes_remediated.pdf

MontyP
MontyP
2 months ago

I suppose I should’ve phrased it as “Can the caps still be built *with this money* if I-5 isn’t widened.

This will indeed be interesting to see how it plays out and how ODOT uses this as leverage.

PDXAlex
PDXAlex
2 months ago

I think you are parsing this too much. The freeway cap and the highway widening with aux lanes are one single project, being designed and delivered that way.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

If this project is about “healing black neighborhoods”, why not invest the money in the neighborhoods where so many black people live, rather than in the neighborhood where they used to live but have been gentrified out of?

https://www.wweek.com/news/city/2021/08/25/the-black-population-of-inner-north-and-northeast-portland-continues-to-shrink/

Will
Will
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Because those neighborhoods still have the highest percentages of Black Portlanders living in them.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Will

Here’s what the city data shows: https://www.prcprojects.us/civic

Will
Will
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Right, it shows that the neighborhoods with the highest percent of Black Portlanders are still centered around Boise-Elliot and inner NE.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Will

Particularly that part of historic Albina east of I-205, 82nd to 175th.

Will
Will
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Look, if you think NE doesn’t still have the highest percent of black residents in the city, then maybe you’ve been gone for too long. Neighborhood: % Black or African American: Quadrant

  1. Woodlawn 17.6% NE
  2. Humbolt 17.4% NE
  3. King 16.2% NE
  4. Vernon 15.9% NE
  5. Bridgeton 15.1% NE
  6. Portsmouth 14.7% N
  7. Eliot 14.1% NE
  8. Argay Terrace 13.5% E
  9. Glenfair 13.1% E
  10. Woodland Park 12.8% E
  11. Boise 12.7% NE
  12. Piedmont 12.0% N/NE
  13. Wilkes 11.4% E
  14. Sunderland 11.3% NE
  15. Concordia 11.2% NE
  16. West Portland Park 10.9% NE
  17. Hazelwood 10.4% E
  18. Parkrose Heights 10.4% E
  19. East Columbia 10.2% NE
  20. Lloyd 10.2% NE
Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Will

Thank you Will. What a great morning, I love fooling with maps and numbers. Portland percentages always bother me because they often don’t have the raw numbers, and I always have trouble knowing how many people we are talking about–there is often no density information. But it turns out that the Civic Life maps have the raw numbers. Here’s a screen shot. I hate it when people say “you are both right,” but your percentage list is correct. And I think I’ve pulled the raw numbers correctly, which shows that more Black people live in East Portland, although their percentage of total population is lower.

comment image

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

OK, serious procrastinating this morning. Why? I like maps because they are reality checks. So I went to DistrictR and plotted how many Black people live east of 82nd and how many are still around the historical black neighborhoods (I didn’t include St Johns.)

I got around 9,000 Blacks out of a total population of around 82,000 for Albina+. Or about 11.3%

East Portland has 12,382 Blacks out of total population of 14,5674. Or about 8.5%.

A lot of people live east of 82nd. And these are pretty back of the napkin calculations.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

Will & Lisa, does the census distinguish between African-Americans whose ancestors have lived in the USA since before 1865 (back during slavery, not that all were enslaved even back then) versus recent immigrants from Africa (i.e. immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Congo, Ethiopia, etc.)?

What is interesting about the total numbers is that Powellhurst-Gilbert is also the largest neighborhood in the city, with between 25,000 and 32,000 residents (depending how you count the overlap of claimed areas), followed by Centennial, Hazelwood (all in EP), then Montevilla in SEUL, then Lents in EP. Woodland Park in EP is the city’s second smallest NA with around 300 residents (not to be confused with Woodlawn).

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  David Hampsten

From what I can tell, the census doesn’t distinguish ancestry, immigrant versus families which have been in America for generations. The Somalian community in W Portland Park is grouped in with everyone who identifies as Black.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

I thought I’d help the conversation by showing the image of the map Watts has linked to. The caps are mainly in the Eliot neighborhood, but from what I can tell, stradle into the Lloyd neighborhood to the south, where a lot of the road work is being done:

comment image

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

FYI, the super dark blue splotches in EP on the map above are overlap areas between adjacent NAs – they are not necessarily exceptionally high density areas for African-Americans in Portland.

maccoinnich
maccoinnich
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

The advocacy for investment investment in Lower Albina has come from within the Black community.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

Which particular Black community? Those who were around for the Albina Plan are mostly long dead; most of those who were pushed out by gentrification mostly live outside of Portland and most of the few who do live in Portland live in East Portland now; many Blacks who live in inner Portland have no historic association with Albina – they often come from elsewhere – but they do happen to be Black. Those who are Black and were born in Albina and still live there are a very tiny minority indeed.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Those who were around for the Albina Plan are mostly long dead

The Albina Plan was adopted in 1993–31 years ago. I’d hardly say people who were around then (as adults even) are mostly long dead.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

As folks frequently comment on this and other sites, most of the people who participate in neighborhood associations and public open houses tend to be older, even elderly, so those homeowners who were in their 50s 31 years ago are now in their 80s, if they are alive at all – retirees from 1993 are now at least 96!

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

You’re making two mistakes.

First, you’re making a leap from people “who were around” to people who typically attend neighborhood meetings. Lots of people were “around” in N/NE in 1993 who are not “long dead” because they were younger than the “older, even elderly” people you mention. So when you point out that people typically attending neighborhood meetings and open houses are older than the typical people living in those areas, you’re agreeing that the attendees aren’t representative of “who was around”.

Second, based on my experience attending maybe 50 or more Albina Plan meetings and hearings, there were lots of meeting attendees (the majority) much younger than the “older, even nd elderly” you describe.

The Albina Plan wasn’t like a typical neighborhood meeting involving moving a bus stop or changing the time the park lights go on. It proposed huge impacts to businesses. The typical meeting-attending business person was certainly not retired or even particularly old.

It also impacted schools, children and families heavily. People attending meetings about those were not old or elderly. It also impacted institutions–again, meetings about those weren’t attended much by old or elderly people.

Also, in neighborhoods like Eliot, where I was, the typical neighborhood meeting attendee was much more likely to be a young activist, new property owner or renter than an older person.

And you didn’t just say “dead”, you said “long dead”.

Those are reasons I disagree with you.

joan
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

In lower Albina, the Black community wasn’t gentrified out. They were forced out when their houses were bulldozed. We are talking about an area with very little actual housing. It’s mostly parking lots, the school administrative building, and sports facilities. A local Black-led organization with ties to inner NE Portland wants to build and rebuild that community, and, along the way, build the infrastructure of Black contractors, bankers, etc, to support that vision.

We need more housing in Portland, and especially housing affordable to lower and middle income people. AVT is working to build an extraordinary central city neighborhood with affordable housing, and focusing on creating opportunities, training, and housing for Black residents, some but not all of whom are the descendants of displaced residents of the neighborhood.

AVT has a plan to make lower Albina better for everyone, including those of us who walk and cycle through.

What on earth could possibly be wrong with this? It’s an incredible project, and I do not understand your suggestion that Black leaders in Portland should focus their attention elsewhere.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

What on earth could possibly be wrong with this?

Nothing inherently; my dislike of the project is not what it does, but that it is providing political cover for what I see as a very damaging highway expansion.

joan
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes, that is a concern, but I’m not blaming AVT for that. The caps without the expansion are what I’d like to see.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

The caps without the expansion are what I’d like to see.

That would be great. I am also pretty certain it’s not on the table. Once the caps are installed, further I-5 expansion will become very difficult, so ODOT will present it as a now-or-never situation, and they’ll be right.

And I agree that ATV is not (principally) to blame for being used the way they are, though they are certainly a willing participant. Perhaps, like many Portlanders, project leaders support highway expansion.

Regardless, it sours me on the project if the caps come with a big expansion of I-5 beneath them.

SD
SD
2 months ago

Cap it and bury it.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

Or just fill it in

SD
SD
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Vaporize it!

dw
dw
2 months ago

I like the connectivity provided by the cap and Broadway/Weilder project. I do question how much noise and air pollution will actually be mitigated with the massive 84 and 405 interchanges so close by. I live by Tabor and can still hear the din of I84 when when I step out my front door.

In my fantasy world, we’d do our own “Big Dig” and put I-5 and MAX completely underground through the central city. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would cost.

Monty P
Monty P
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

Have you listened to the Big Dig podcast from GBH news? Quite the history to it all.

blumdrew
2 months ago

Something I haven’t seen discussed (since it’s new) is the proposed flyover ramp from I5 SB to Weidler. This is in addition to the very bad ramp onto Wheeler! (see page 26). The stated reason for this is to improve traffic conditions around the Rose Quarter, but the net result is going to be a truly horrible intersection of Weidler/Victoria, where two exit ramps meet at a slip lane onto Weidler directly adjacent to BIPOC Village. Actually, based on page 19 here, it looks like the safe rest shelter there will be destroyed for a temporary construction easement, and that some of the land it’s on will be converted to the monstrous dual exit

rick
rick
2 months ago

I thought the motordom people called for removing the North Flint overpass? That’s the bike-friendly overpass.