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Oregon Department of Transportation hiring consultant for caps over Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter.

VIA GOOGLE MAPS - The Moda Center is seen here from Interstate 5 in Portland's Rose Quarter. The plan to expand Interstate 5 in Portland's Rose Quarter has been listed as one of the top nine "highway boondoggles" in the nation by a liberal advocacy organization.

The dubious honors were bestowed on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project by U.S. PIRG, a coalition of public interest research groups, in a report published Tuesday, June 18.

"The project will increase the number of lane-miles of freeway in the project area by 50 percent, with extra-wide shoulders that could fit an even higher-capacity freeway in the future," according to the 45-page document, "Highway Boondoggles 5."

It continues: "If built, the project will mean more driving, more pollution, and a step backward for the city."

The Oregon Department of Transportation expects to spend at least $450 million to $500 million building ramp-to-ramp auxiliary lanes, new highway shoulders and relocated on-ramps between interstates 84 and 205. Those car-centric elements are married to more eco-minded improvements, including bike and pedestrian crossings and a cap built over the freeway.

ODOT expects to hire a consultant in July who will study modifying the proposed lids in order to spur community and economic development. It's still unclear if the cover will be sturdy enough to support buildings.

"We heard the concern from stakeholders that this project be built upon stronger partnerships and informed by our shared values," said Tammy Baney, chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission. "You spoke, we listened."

Metro's unfinalized transportation bond might help pay for the caps, though not the widening work itself. Students affiliated with the Sunrise Movement have been speaking at Metro's meetings in order to lobby the councilors — arguing that any monetary support would be an act of "climate denial," according to Willamette Week.

The Sunrise Movement is a political effort coordinated by Sunrise, a political action organization that advocates political action on climate change.

U.S. PIRG isn't mollified by the pedestrian parts of the plan, either.

"Our response would be, you can do all those things without expanding the highway," said Charlie Fisher, Oregon's state director for U.S. PIRG. "Our argument is not that the traffic isn't bad, it's that it won't fix it."

PIRG says the nine projects in its report will cost a total of $25 billion, though the current estimate for the Rose Quarter makes it the second cheapest on the list.

A spokesman for ODOT did not respond to a request for comment.

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