The Oregon Transportation Commission did the minimum necessary to keep the controversial I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project on track at its Thursday, Jan. 23, meeting.
The commission also approved numerous steps to address growing community and environmental concerns over the project, which would add auxiliary lanes on both sides of the existing freeway through the Rose Quarter area to reduce congestion and increase safety.
But the chair of the commission said the Oregon Legislature has directed it to ultimately design and build the project to reduce congestion and increase safety in the one-mile stretch of I-5 through the Rose Quarter.
"We are probably not going to make every single person happy every single day, but we are trying to be smart about it," said Bob Van Brocklin.
The comment came after regional and local leaders told the five-member citizen committee that advises ODOT that the project should address the displacement and other problems that happened when I-5 was built through the city's historic African-American neighborhood in the 1960s.
Those testifying included Metro President Lynn Peterson, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Portland Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, and Michael Alexander, a former head of the Urban League of Portland and the treasurer of the nonprofit Albina Vision Trust working to revitalize the Rose Quarter.
After taking public testimony, the commission voted to send a recently ODOT report on the cost of completing the project to the 2020 Oregon Legislature. The 2017 session that approved the project directed that the Cost to Complete report be submitted to the Joint Transportation Committee during the 35-day session that starts in Feb. 3.
The report said the estimated cost has increased significantly — from $450 million to $500 million in 2017 to between $715 million and $795 million. Much of the cost goes beyond I-5 itself but would be spent building caps over the freeway and improving local streets. Van Brocklin said ODOT may ask regional and local governments in the area to help pay for the cost increase — and any additional increases.
But the commission also postponed a vote on whether to conduct additional environmental studies until its March 20 meeting. Portland-area officials and community groups have complained ODOT has not fully studied the environmental impact of added auxiliary lanes on both sides of the existing freeway through the Rose Quarter area to reduce congestion and increase safety.
The commission also directed ODOT to take several steps to address growing community concerns. They include undertaking an estimated $1 million study about the cost of building caps over the freeway in the Rose Quarter strong enough to support multi-story buildings, creating two advisory committees with community participation, adopting statements of values and equity principals for the project, and continuing working with Portland Public Schools to mitigate the potential environmental impact to the nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School.
The commission also directed ODOT to continue working toward implementing congestion pricing — tolls that increase with congestion — on portions of I-5 and I-205 in the Portland region, including the Rose quarter region.
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