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Mayor and Metro President lobby the Oregon Transportation Commission to build stronger caps over I-5 in the Rose Quarter area.

COURTESY ODOT - The Oregon Department of Transportation is proposing to cap I-5 as part of the Rose Quarter Improvement Project.Mayor Ted Wheeler and Metro President Lynn Peterson are calling on the Oregon Transportation Commission to rethink parts of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, although they say it is still needed.

The $500 million project is intended to improve the bottleneck caused by the complex intersections of I-5 and I-84 in the Rose Quarter area, and to encourage redevelopment by capping the freeways and creating bike and pedestrian connections over them.

In an April 4 letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission, Wheeler and Peterson admit "Interstate 5 is a critical economic artery for the Portland region and the entire West Coast" that needs improvements in the Rose Quarter area.

But the two leaders also urge the Oregon Department of Transportation to provide stronger connections over the freeway that can accommodate redevelopment projects. They cite the truss-hung retail space on the Interstate 80 cap in Reno and Margaret Hance Park above Interstate 10 in Phoenix as two examples.

"Any cap on Interstate 5 must be engineered so the urban streetscape can continue seamlessly over the freeway and accommodate built structures that support community continuity," reads the letter, which says the freeway disrupted Portland's historic African-American community when it was designed and built in the Eisenhower-era .

"If done right, this project presents a rare opportunity to repair past wrongs while simultaneously improving the ability of the facility to effectively serve our region," the letter said.

The 2017 Oregon Legislature declared Portland area congestion to be a statewide problem and approved the project. It also directed the commission to asked the Federal Highway Administration for permission to impose tolls on parts or all of I-5 in Portland to help fund it.

Federal authorities have indicted the project is eligible for toll funding. It is uncluear if tolls can be proposed if the project is stopped, as some community groups are trying to do.

You can read the letter here.

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

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