Governor: Black community support key to I-5 Rose Quarter plan
A plan to smooth out Interstate 5's congested Rose Quarter kinks is losing allies fast.
In a press conference on Wednesday, July 1, Gov. Kate Brown said the state would not proceed with the proposal "without community support and engagement from the Black" community.
"It's my hope that this particular project can be part of righting historic wrongs and I'm committed to bringing people back to the table for that discussion," she told reporters.
Several elected leaders sitting on the steering committee guiding the project broke out in open revolt on Tuesday, June 30 — after news arrived that the influential nonprofit Albina Vision Trust had yanked its support for the project.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said it was crucial that the nonprofit led by Rukaiyah Adams stay at the table. "At every step, I have asked ODOT for specific goals to be met around climate, community, and economic development," Wheeler wrote on social media. "Those goals have not been met. Therefore, I am withdrawing my support for the I-5 Rose Quarter Project."
With the history of transportation infrastructure dividing communities, it is critical that entities like Albina Vision, which champions restorative justice, equity, and forward-thinking â€“ are at the table for this process.— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) June 30, 2020
The Rose Quarter project, if built, would add auxiliary lanes to a 1.8-mile stretch of the interstate, allowing motorists to make short trips between exits without merging. It has an estimated price tag of at least $715 million, but the cost could balloon to $1 billion if it included freeway caps sturdy enough to support buildings.
Winta Yohannes, managing director of the Albina Vision Trust, told the Tribune the group's support was always contingent on ODOT's willingness to address its "role in the decimation of lower Albina."
"We saw an opportunity for ODOT to think about their role, not only in healing, but in helping us build long-term wealth," she said. "We don't see a path for ODOT to deliver on those outcomes."
Yohannes noted that besides support for constructing new housing above the interstate, Albina Vision had also sought climate impacts. Advisory committees, however, had limited ability to shape the project.
"Given the heightened call for government agencies to be accountable to racial justice, and given our commitment to be responsible stewards for the redevelopment of lower Albina, this was the only logical decision to make at this point," she said.
At least two other Rose Quarter steering committee members have yanked their support of the build, per Willamette Week: Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the city transportation bureau and Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.
Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, however, has not abandoned the effort.
"Yes, ODOT has made strides in the right direction, but not enough," she said.
Eudaly called the I-5 corridor a "horizontal monument to the racist legacy of our transportation system," adding that ODOT should focus on more dangerous roadways.
"While the interchange is poorly designed and could stand to be reconfigured," she said in a statement, "there are many more urgent and worthy projects if you value human life."
Sen. Lew Frederick, who sits on the Joint Transportation Committee in Salem, said the project must include highway covers and neighborhood access.
In a statement, ODOT Urban Mobility Office's director, Brendan Finn, acknowledged that "historic transportation investments caused harm" and vowed to bring forth a project that addressed climate, congestion and safety concerns while also spurring economic opportunities for Black Americans.
"There is clearly more work to do, and we will be part of the solution moving forward," Finn said. "We've got to get it right and meet the community's needs — we will keep showing up to do just that."
Albina Vision gets grants:
Five years after it was first established, the Albina Vision Trust has taken a leap toward reforming the historic Northeast Portland district torn asunder by urban renewal projects from the 1940s to 1970s.
The nonprofit has selected architecture firm El Dorado to lead a new community investment team tasked with defining plans for Ablina's future as a diverse, inclusive, affordable and welcoming home for Black Portlanders who were pushed out.
The group will produce three scenarios for the revisioned Lower Albina neighborhood, with a variety of benchmarks to complete by 2021. The work is being funded by a $375,000 grant from Metro, as well as $75,000 from the coffers of the city of Portland. Meyer Memorial Trust will finance staffing costs.
Members of the team include Josh Shelton of El Dorado; Othello H. Meadows III of The Meadows Group; Marc Norman of Taubman College; Brie Hensold of Agency; Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton Davis of Soapbox Theory; and Mike Wilkerson of ECONorthwest.
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