PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A crowd of people gathered in the rain Tuesday night to protest the I-5 Rose Quarter widening project.
The freeway is two lanes wide through the Rose Quarter corridor and hasn’t been altered since it first opened in the 1960s. Work to expand the I-5 corridor could start in 2023.
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 ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton told KOIN 6 News adding more lanes will mean less traffic congestion and will make it safer for drivers.
“The Rose Quarter project is going to make a real significant change in people’s lives for the better,” said Hamilton, who was present at the rally. “We’re going to see crashes drop by up to 50% in there.”
Aaron Brown with the group “No More Freeways” strongly disagreed.
“There isn’t a single freeway expansion anywhere in North America that has ever solved traffic congestion, not a single one,” he said.
Brown said his group carried out research that debunks ODOT’s claim that the project won’t harm air quality.
“We need elected officials who will listen to us,” he said. “Let’s look at investments that are actually going to address congestion and are also going to address climate and air pollution.”
Students from Harriet Tubman Middle School also attended the rally. The school sits next to the corridor and officials say the areas surrounding the school have some of the worst air quality on the country.
Protesters want an environmental impact statement from ODOT but transportation officials said only the federal government can commission one.
A report released in June by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group claims states keep spending billions of dollars on creating new or expanding existing highways and don’t address the actual problems in transportation.
The $450 million I-5 Rose Quarter widening project is among those cited.
But ODOT officials have said it will alleviate current issues plaguing the freeway.
“This project will upgrade all forms of transportation in a congested corridor. It will add new highway crossings for people walking and riding bicycles, remove seismically deficient overpasses, improve community access to transit, improve connections for neighborhoods divided for a half-century by I-5, add new safety shoulders and auxiliary lanes on I-5, reduce freeway crashes, and reduce congestion by an estimated 2.5 million hours per year.”