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The Federal Highway Administration finds 'no significant impact' for Interstate 5 revised environmental assessment.

PMG PHOTO: ALVARO FONTAN - The Oregon Department of Transportion plans to add lanes to Interstate 5 as it weaves past the Moda Center, Oregon Convention Center and other parts of the Rose Quarter's historically-Black Albina District in Portland.The Eastbank Esplanade will be saved from the shadows when new lanes are added to the tangle of three interstates in Portland's Rose Quarter, according to state planners.

The Oregon Department of Transportation's solution?

VIA ODOT - A rendering by ODOT shows how the Rose Quarter would change as highway covers and new road and bike connections are added to the area. Repaint Interstate 5 in both directions between the Interstate 84 and Morrison Bridge offramps — adding ODOT's desired new southbound auxiliary lane without physically widening the viaduct.

The modified design is part of a required stamp of approval by the Federal Highway Administration, with the feds finding no "significant adverse impact on the human or natural environment" in the revised environmental assessment issued Oct. 30.

"It allows us to get into the action phase," said project manager Megan Channell. But only in a sense, as the blueprints will be just 20% designed by the end of the year.

"It's still conceptual," Channell said in an interview. "There are a lot of design decisions that need to be made."

ODOT officials said they hope the change will mollify one concern raised by activists and shared at Portland City Hall — though it also opens up new avenues of attack. The state agency has justified the $800 million project in part by saying wider shoulders are needed for first responders moving through traffic, for motorists moving cars out of the roadway after fender benders, and perhaps even rapid bus lanes.

City Hall ordered all bureau workers to stop communicating with ODOT regarding the project in June, and Mayor Ted Wheeler and outgoing Commissioner Chloe Eudaly left the steering committee. Commissioner-elect Mingus Mapps, who will replace Eudaly, says he is "basically a no" for the plan as well.

"I don't think that's the future of our transportation system. I don't personally rely on a car to get around. If you expand freeways, they fill up," Mapps said. "But I'm willing to talk with our state partners about how to create a greener transportation system for the future."

Planning documents say the I-5 shoulders will be tapered down — to between 3 feet to 9 feet —in both directions along the 1,200-foot segment near the Esplanade.

Channell said not rebuilding that stretch of the viaduct will "definitely" cut the total price tag, but the specifics won't be known until another cost-to-complete report is issued at 30% design. Asked whether the exit-to-exit lanes could be accomplished with paint alone along the entire stretch of I-5 in the Rose Quarter, Channell said she didn't know.

"The segment between (interstates) 84 and 405 is that key bottleneck where the shoulders have the most profound effect," she said.

The revised environmental assessment runs to more than 1,000 pages. Among other findings, ODOT rejects the notion that adding lanes to I-5 will induce demand, saying a predicted 5% to 14% increase in car trips in the project area will be due to shifting use from city streets.

For the purposes of the environmental assessment, tolling is not considered "reasonably foreseeable" for I-5, because it has not yet been adapted into regional transportation or land-use plans, and the exact area where tolls would be collected has not been determined. The Columbia River Crossing project bridging Oregon and Washington was factored into baseline assumptions, however.


Zane Sparling
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