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A peer review panel assessment of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement project also calls for closer work with the community and partners going forward

PMG FILE PHOTO - This stretch of I-5 through the Rose Quarter is the most congested in the state during normal times.The Oregon Department of Transportation should spend more money on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement project during the construction phase to reduce adverse impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, according to a peer panel appointed to review the agency's environmental studies.

"The biggest impact on the community is going to be during the construction phase, and the benefits to the community will accrue after the project is completed," said panelist Beverly Scott, Ph.D., CEO of Beverly Scott and Associates.

According to Scott and other panel members, ODOT should require contractors to do such things as building better temporary sound barriers and using electric construction equipment, even though that will increase the cost of the project beyond the current $715 million to $795 million estimate.

The panel's report was released Tuesday, June 2. It also found that ODOT has met its environmental review standards for the project, but has not communicated its findings well and has the lost the trust of some community members and even partner agencies.

The review of the project's Environmental Assessment was commissioned by the appointed Oregon Transportation Commission that oversees ODOT in January 2020 after hearing stakeholder concerns over the potential impacts from the project related to air quality, noise and greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Peer Review Panel also reached out to partner agencies involved with the project.

The report supported ODOT's findings for air, greenhouse gas, and noise impacts for the project. It also provided recommendations to incorporate into the project's future design and construction phases, such as the requirement of low-emission construction equipment, including electric vehicles.

The report also suggested that this is an opportunity for ODOT, partner agencies, and local community partners to repair relations and produce a project in which everyone can take pride. One panel member called it a "we" opportunity.

"It appears that some trust has been lost between the public and ODOT, and perhaps between the other Partner Agencies and ODOT," the report said. "The Panel found ODOT to be very cooperative, intelligent, and prompt with their responses. ODOT expressed interest in the Panel's suggestions on improving relations with the community and Partner Agencies."

"While we are confident of the technical work that went into the Environmental Assessment, we were open to it being reviewed by subject matter experts and look forward to addressing their recommendations as we move forward," said ODOT Project Director Megan Channell.

Among other things, the reviewers said the way the information was written in the Environmental Assessment could have been better presented for a non-technical audience.

The panel was not directed to consider the effects of congestion pricing tolls on I-5 in the Rose Quarter area currently being planned by ODOT. Scott suggested that any traffic reductions resulting from the tolls could be offset by drivers currently using neighborhood streets to avoid the freeway congestion.

The review process occurred between April and May 2020. Staff from the city of Portland, Metro and Portland Public Schools participated in the process and were able to ask the panelist questions.

The panel inluded: Song Bai, Ph.D., P.E., Manager, Emissions and Community Exposure Assessment,Bay Area Air Quality Management District; Andrew Eilbert, MS, Physical Scientist, Environmental Measurement and Modeling Division, US Department of Transportation Volpe Center; Deborah Jue, MS, Principal and CEO, Wilson Ihrig Acoustics, Noise and Vibration; Beverly Scott, Ph.D., CEO, Beverly Scott and Associates; Tim Sexton, MS, MPH, AICP, ENV SP, Assistant Commissioner, Chief Sustainability Officer, Minnesota Department of Transportation; and Charles Shamoon, J.D., Assistant Counsel, New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

You can read the report here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the project here.

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