Equity, mobility at forefront of I-205 tolling discussion

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FILE: Traffic on Interstate 205 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — State officials want to consider the impacts I-5 and I-205 tolling projects could have on historically underserved and underrepresented Oregonians.

Members of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s gathered virtually Wednesday, Aug. 26, for the group’s third in a series of meetings this year. The committee was created in acknowledgment that past land-use and transportation investments in the Portland metro area have caused negative cultural, economic and relational impacts to local communities, particularly those experiencing low-income, communities of color, the elderly and children, people with limited English proficiency and others. Most infamously, the original I-5 project displaced a large portion of Portland’s African American community.

The equity and mobility advisory committee was recently formed using a collaborative process between the state, local cities and counties. Its roster includes 17 members representing groups such as Clackamas County (Abe Moland), Washington County (Amanda Garcia-Snell), the Oregon Environmental Council (Dr. Philip Wu), Causa Oregon (Fabián Hidalgo Guerrero), the Portland Bureau of Transportation (Michael Espinoza) and TriMet (John Gardner), to name just a few.

The purpose and goal of Wednesday’s meeting was to dig into the “equity framework” and identify what populations might be considered underserved and underrepresented when it comes to transportation projects in those corridors, as well as what populations might be most adversely affected by rerouting of traffic and what factors affect equitable mobility in this area.

The committee — led by facilitator Christine Moses of Buffalo Cloud Consulting — began the meeting by adopting revisions to its own charter to include trauma-informed practices and another lens to view projects with the influence of COVID-19 on development and implementation of transportation projects. The committee learned about three crucial steps to implementing a trauma-informed approach, which includes asking the community what they need from the project, offering transparent and trustworthy information and honoring the community’s perspective.

The charter updates will task the equity and mobility advisory committee with applying new, independent and creative thinking “grounded in humility and a culture of continuous learning towards equity” to provide equitable outcomes in both projects and create a robust public engagement process.

In identifying populations potentially affected by tolling, committee members learned that Oregonians with disabilities are among those most adversely impacted. ODOT staff provided a chart using census tract data showing that 12% of residents within 1.5 miles of I-205 are living with some sort of disability. Ambulatory disabilities represent 6% of residents within that zone. Another 10% have some type of cognitive disability or disability that restricts their ability to live independently. Hearing, vision and self-care disabilities make up another 9% of local residents.

Committee members also learned that gaps in sidewalks are also a major problem in how local residents access public transit and affect equitable mobility, as well as weekday frequency of bus lines.

According to ODOT modeling scenarios for the year 2027, if tolls are implemented on I-205 to help fund the widening project, tolled sections of the freeway would see lower overall traffic volumes representing a 15-35% decrease. ODOT expects to see these diversions from freeway traffic in several different ways including other regional highways and major routes, as well as local routes through communities near I-205.

The committee was told Wednesday that areas such as downtown Canby (OR-99E), Gladstone (OR-99E), Oregon City (downtown and Arch Bridge) and West Linn (Willamette Falls Drive) would be most impacted by diversion from I-205.

The Oregon Transportation Commission is expecting recommendations from the advisory committee in the coming months that guides these two projects through an equity and mobility lens. To date, committee members have learned about locations of historically and currently underserved and underrepresented communities in the region, along with other factors that affect equitable mobility.

But several aspects of the conversation have yet to be filled in before the committee makes its recommendations. Those include effects to local businesses, access to employment, access to health care facilities, human health such as air and noise pollution caused by freeway widening, and the potential economic effects of tolls on people experiencing low income.

The committee will look to define equity outcomes, performance measures and how this project intersects with the environmental review process when they reconvene Sept. 29.

Clackamas County’s own Abe Moland said that while the committee’s discussions are preliminary, he’s excited to engage in these conversations with his fellow committee members and provide feedback to ODOT that allows these changes to the transportation system to benefit each region of the metro area fairly and educate the public about how tolling can help make transportation safer and healthier for everyone.

“I appreciate this committee because it has brought together people from different fields and different backgrounds. I think it really highlights how everybody has a role to play in shaping the transportation system,” Moland told Pamplin Media Group. “When we bring different perspectives, we come out with a stronger set of solutions, strategies and opportunities to improve health and potential health threats before they start.”

Anyone wishing to submit public comment on the I-205 and I-5 tolling projects is encouraged to do so by emailing oregontolling@odot.state.or.us or by calling 503-837-3536 and mentioning “committee public comment” in their voice message.

For more information about the I-205 tolling, visit the project’s open house page to learn more.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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