OTC defers I-5 Rose Quarter project, moves ahead on tolling

Multnomah County

The Oregon Transportation Commission will meet again in January 2020 to discuss the Rose Quarter project

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Transportation officials voted Tuesday to delay further action on the Interstate 5 expansion project in Portland’s Rose Quarter but to move forward with tolling studies.

The $450 million Rose Quarter project aims to widen the I-5 corridor in an area that sees heavy traffic congestion. The project hopes to smooth traffic flow by adding more merging and shoulder lanes. Transportation officials also want improvements to surface streets, as well as a new bike and pedestrian-only bridge.

But at Tuesday’s meeting in Lebanon, the Oregon Transportation Commission decided to defer action on the Rose Quarter project to consider public, local and statewide stakeholder input. Commissioners plan to meet in January to talk about the next steps.

“Our decision to wait to discuss this matter … reflects the commission’s desire to carefully consider the input we heard today from the public and from our elected leaders,” said OTC Chair Robert Van Brocklin. “We want to make the best decision possible for the community and the state.”

A section of the I-5 Rose Quarter corridor, Dec. 10, 2019. (KOIN)

The decision comes on a week after several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Oregon Department of Transportation headquarters in Northwest Portland holding signs, singing and discussing their qualms with the project.

“It’s going to do far more harm than good and is going to be a waste of half-a-billion dollars,” said Leon Porter at the rally.

But transportation officials argue that widening the corridor will reduce crashes by up to 50%, save drivers millions of hours in traffic delays and create job opportunities.

Future tolling

Meanwhile, the commission approved the formation of a new committee to work with ODOT to develop an equity framework and performance measures for tolling projects, including I-5 through central Portland.

The idea is to raise money through tolling to help with interstate improvements and manage demand.

Moving forward with the project means studying the ways in which tolling will impact traffic in neighborhoods, whether additional investment is needed in transit and how tolling can be accomplished without burdening low income and communities of color.

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