Portland prepares to join Rose Quarter I-5 project – on terms – Blogtown

Rose Quarter Expressway 5. Oregon Department of Transportation

The city of Portland is preparing to officially join the Rose Quarter Interstate 5 project after pulling out in 2020 due to a lack of confidence in the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) partnership. While Portland City Council’s trust in ODOT has not been fully restored, the city is leveraging its primary involvement in the project to add restorative justice values ​​to the design of the highway, which originally displaced Portland’s black community.

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“The black community has borne the brunt of this highway and the city’s failed urban renewal efforts in this area,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said during a city council meeting on Wednesday. “If ODOT breaks its promises again, this agreement makes clear that the city will withdraw.”

The Rose Quarter Improvement Project (RQIP) is the state Department of Transportation’s plan to address congestion on the I-5 lane by adding additional merge lanes to the section of the highway that runs through the Rose Quarter neighborhood. After significant advocacy efforts from the community surrounding the project area in early 2010, ODOT agreed to also use the project as a way to return land to Alpina – a historically black neighborhood that was partially destroyed to build the original I-5 corridor in the 1960s. The original construction of the Highway destroyed 300 black-owned homes and businesses, and took nearly a billion dollars of modern-day wealth away from those families.

When Governor Kate Brown ordered that highway congestion be addressed in 2017, Portland officials believed ODOT was in agreement that the project should address congestion issues while aiming to undo the damage that the original highway construction had caused to Portland’s black community.

As the project progressed, Portland leaders and community stakeholders said ODOT was reluctant to actually invest in revitalizing the historic black neighborhood surrounding the highway, despite a promise that the project would include restorative justice investments.

“[The city’s support was] Conditional on a promise that the Rose Quarter Project would reconnect the neighborhood,” Hardesty said. “Over and over again, ODOT has reneged on its promise.”

The main part of the restorative justice aspect of the project proposed by the city partners were large concrete coverings that would sit above the highway and be large enough to build on. The covers were intended as a way for the state to return the land it took for the highway to the community by building city blocks over the driveway. While planning the project, city officials believed that the ODOT was reluctant to commit to funding the highway coverings and resisted input from the Albina Vision Trust (AVT)—a nonprofit organization leading efforts to redevelop the Albina neighborhood. ODOT too He refused to make an environmental impact statement — a careful study of how a project would affect the surrounding environment — for the project, opting for a less intense evaluation despite the concerns of environmental activists.

In June 2020, AVT decided to end its participation in the project, citing ODOT’s weak partnership. After the organization exited the project, then-Commissioner for Transportation Chloe Iodally left the project’s executive committee and Mayor Ted Wheeler withdrew his support for the project as well.

“At every step, I asked ODOT to achieve specific goals around climate, society, and economic development,” Wheeler chirp In June 2020. “These goals were not achieved. Therefore, I will be withdrawing my support for the I-5 Rose Quarter Project.”

This move was unprecedented – the city had never departed from a major transportation project in recent history. However, Portland’s participation was, and still is, necessary for the RQIP given the city’s ownership of the surrounding project area and Brown’s mandate to address the I-5 bottleneck.

Since walking away from the project in 2020, officials in Portland have chosen to work directly with Brown rather than ODOT. As a result of Brown’s oversight, ODOT agreed to include an eight-acre highway cover over the top of the project. The cover is designed to approach the highway and reconnect the city street network, while also being able to support multi-storey buildings.

The covers, and especially what is built on them, are a cornerstone of the AV translation plan for the Albina redevelopment.

During last week’s working session, audiovisual translation director Winta Johannes presented the organization’s vision of what Alpina could look like in 2050 to the City Council. The plans envision a neighborhood with many parks and green spaces, a mix of more than 2,000 affordable low to high-density housing units, and opportunities for business investment and entrepreneurship. The plans were developed from the input of Albina residents and Black Portlanders who told AVT they wanted the neighborhood to provide access to nature, wealth building opportunities within the Black community, and a strong sense of community.

View of residences, businesses, and parks in the Portlands Rose QuarterPresentation of the AVT plan for the Al-Bina neighborhood. Confidence in Albina’s vision

The project will be a huge undertaking that will require the cooperation of seemingly every office in the city. The first phase of the redevelopment effort will include the construction of a waterfront park, housing, and—pending the city’s return to RQIP—commercial and residential development over highway covers.

During the meeting, Wheeler indicated his support for the audiovisual translation plan and asked the organization to begin collaborating with city employees to develop action plans outlining what implementation of the project would actually look like. In the near future, Johannes asked for the support of the city council in making the current decisions that are compatible with the long-term audiovisual translation project.

“Our cooperation on the ongoing I-5 project will be critical,” Yohannes told the council. “More than anything, we need your sharp elbows when needed to protect the area.”

These sharp elbows are in the city’s proposed government agreement with ODOT to return to the project.

The agreement sets out the city’s expectations that ODOT will treat Portland as a collaborative partner in the planning and design process by having city and state employees work together, as well as providing City Council with updates throughout the design process. The agreement also requires that the project not negatively impact the city in any way, be it pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, health and safety, or equity within the city. If Portland officials believe ODOT does not meet any of these requirements, the city reserves the right to turn away again, which could effectively bring the project to a halt.

While the return to the project has been widely praised as a positive sign by many stakeholders, environmentalists are upset that the proposed city agreement also did not require the ODOT to implement toll-related congestion on the highway lane before any additional lanes were built. While ODOT plans to eventually introduce the toll to the I-5 lane, the toll will start after the highway has already been expanded to fit more cars, which environmental activists say will increase Portland’s carbon emissions. While the city’s proposed agreement to join the project includes a provision requiring the RQIP to contribute to reducing the city’s carbon footprint and not negatively impact the city’s environment, opponents of the highway project say this is not enough.

“We celebrate the achievements of our friends at Albina Vision […] “This is an important opportunity to reconnect Albina, but we regret a missed opportunity on climate,” Chris Smith, co-founder of environmental group No More Freeways, said during a board meeting on Wednesday. “What happened here is that we allowed climate justice to be pitted against racial justice.”

City Commissioner Mingus Maps also raised concerns about the project’s environmental impact, noting the number of concerned emails he’s received on the subject from voters. Wednesday’s meeting was the first reading of the proposed agreement for the project, so the council still has time to amend the agreement before a vote on it.

The city will conduct a second reading and vote on the agreement at a later date for the council that has not yet been set.

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