I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project faces more questions

Multnomah County

The chairman of the Oregon Transportation Commission recommends more discussions and possibly higher costs

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The future of the controversial I-5 Rose Quarter improvement project is up in the air.

The project proposed by the Oregon Department of Transportation is intended to reduce congestion, increase safety and improve livability along the one-mile stretch of I-5 in the Rose Quarter area. The five-member Oregon Transportation Commission is scheduled to receive a report on current cost estimates of the project at its Thursday, Jan. 23, meeting.

But Commission Chair Chairman Bob Van Brocklin has informed state lawmakers and key stakeholders that the final cost of the project could change. Although Van Brocklin wants the commission to approve the submission of the report to the 2020 Oregon Legislature, he also wants the commission to delay a decision on whether to conduct a larger environmental assessment while ODOT negotiates about the project with stakeholders, including Portland and Metro governments. Both the assessment and negotiations could increase the scope and cost of the project even more.

Van Brocklin made the recommendations in a letter released Friday, Jan. 17, three days after the ODOT report was released. It said cost estimates for the project have increased from up to $500 million in 2017 to as much as $795 million today. 

“The Project has statewide significance because it will improve traffic safety and improve the flow of goods, services, and the traveling public by reducing traffic congestion on the Rose Quarter segment of I-5, recently identified as the worst freight bottleneck on the entire I-5 corridor … The Project, of course, is also in the heart of our largest community and must attempt to reflect our shared community values,” Van Brocklin wrote.

In his letter, Van Brocklin said ODOT should consider changes to the project — including building caps over the reworked freeway strong enough to support multi-story buildings — that could increase the final cost to $1 billion or more. Such caps are proposed by  the nonprofit Albina Vision Trust, which is advocating for the revitalization of the Rose Quarter area. Van Brocklin wants a study on such caps completed and presented to the commission by July 1.

The letter also said ODOT should continue working to impose congestion pricing along I-5 in the Rose Quarter area. Congestion pricing is tolls that increase when traffic is the greatest. In his letter, Van Brocklin said the tolls should be imposed as soon after the project is finished. On Friday, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, who represents parts of North and Northwest Portland, said congestion pricing should be imposed from the Columbia River to Wilsonville as soon as possible, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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