PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Activists behind an effort to block the Oregon Department of Transportation from expanding Interstate Five in the Rose Quarter say their opposition to the development isn’t just a climate issue, but a health and racial justice issue as well.

Members of No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air and Eliot Neighborhood Association, said ODOT’s proposed $800 million freeway expansion intrudes on Harriet Tubman Middle School and the surrounding community. They filed a joint lawsuit to halt the project on Monday.

“This is a historically Black neighborhood and was already heavily impacted when the freeway was put in in the 60s,” said climate scientist Rachel Freifelder.

On Friday a group of 150 people gathered at Harriet Tubman Middle School in North Portland to protest the project.

ODOT said the I-5 Rose Quarter project will reduce congestion on the freeway, but challengers said it will only pollute neighborhoods.

“This project underwent a robust environmental assessment that showed future air quality would improve in part due to the congestion relief provided by this project,” ODOT officials said in an emailed statement to KOIN 6 News. “Those findings were reviewed and confirmed by a panel of national air quality and transportation experts. We are confident in the findings. ODOT remains committed to centering the voices of the Black community through our engagement process and ensuring that this project reconnects the Albina community, including through highway covers that align with the community’s vision, support restorative justice goals, and generate opportunities for economic development that benefit the historically impacted community.”

But those who oppose the project are doubtful that it would actually reduce traffic.

“Any kind of freeway expansion has never lessened congestion,” said Scott Bailey, vice-chair of the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. “It’s like if you build it they will come.”

Portland activist Demetria Hester said the project would not be healthy for the community.

“Our Black and brown kids deserve better,” she said.