Rose Quarter project swerves past further study, gets $129M

Multnomah County

The Oregon Transportation Commission rejects a more extensive environmental review of the project currently expected to cost $795 million

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

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Oregon Department of Transportation’s plan to add auxiliary lanes and to speed up Interstate 5 drivers in Portland’s Rose Quarter got two green lights in one day.

The Metro Council handed ODOT $129 million for the Rose Quarter Improvement Project on Thursday, April 2 — just hours after state commissioners sidestepped activists’ demands to conduct a more rigorous study of its environmental impacts, which would have delayed groundbreaking by years.

The Oregon Transportation Commission instead voted 5-0 to avoid doing a full Environmental Impact Study, saying the Environmental Assessment completed last February was sufficient.

An artist’s rendering of the completed project. (Courtesy ODOT)

“I just don’t see the need,” Commissioner Martin Callery said during the conference-call meeting that was live-streamed on Youtube, due to coronavirus concerns. “We’re not going to get any more additional information.”

Rose Quarter Project Manager Megan Channell told the commission the 1.8-mile stretch of I-5 near the Moda Center is the “top bottleneck in the state,” experiencing 12 hours of congestion per day and is the No. 19 jam-up nationwide.

It was a different story in the video’s comments section — where local activists raised a howl of opposition so loud that one of them, lawyer Alan Kessler, said he was banned from participating.

Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone brought up the specter of induced demand, a theory that building more lanes causes more people to drive, thus negating the added capacity. “Freeway expansion will not reduce the bottlenecks about which they seem so concerned,” she wrote.

Other concerns include the possibility of worsening air quality at nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School and the potential to cast undue shade over the Eastbank Esplanade, not to mention cost overruns. State lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown OK’d a $450 million price tag for the project in 2017, but ODOT’s analysis from January says it will cost between $715 million and $795 million, and that doesn’t include reinforced freeway covers that can support multi-story buildings in the Albina District.

Also on Thursday, the Metro Council voted 5-2 to approve pass-through funds to purchase construction staging areas and to fund preliminary engineering, with Councilors Bob Stacy and Sam Chase voting no, the website Bike Portland reported.

Aaron Brown, organizer of the No More Freeways coalition, says he’s disappointed by both votes. He said he’s considering a lawsuit, saying the project may violate Gov. Brown’s executive order to cut and cap greenhouse gases.

“We’re exploring legal options,” Brown told the Tribune. “ODOT’s malfeasance is well documented and we have a really good case that they are lying to the public.”

Though local politicos have made plenty of noise about the Rose Quarter project, both Metro President Lynn Peterson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler recently told ODOT they would support the plan as long as it hires minority contractors, implements rush-hour tolling and reduces carbon emissions, according to The Oregonian.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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