Everyone agrees the area around the Rose Quarter is an urban planning disaster.
Interstate 5 cuts through the Lloyd District between the Moda Center and the Oregon Convention Center, dividing the neighborhood and limiting connections to just a few bridges. The freeway has only two through lanes at that point, contributing to the traffic congestion that now lasts up to 12 hours per day. The 2017 Oregon Legislature declared the congestion a statewide problem and directed the Oregon Department of Transportation to reduce it.
But now the estimated cost of a comprehensive solution to the area's problems has officially increased 59%. ODOT released the Cost to Complete Report for the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project on Tuesday, Jan. 14. It estimates the cost of the project at up to $795 million, compared to the maximum $500 million it told the Legislature in 2017.
Project Manager Megan Channell insists ODOT did not intentionally mislead state lawmakers when they included the project in HB 2017, the $5.3 billion transportation funding package approved in 2017. The bill committed $450 million in construction funds to the project.
"That was our best estimate at time, given the very preliminary design for the project. We're much further along now," Channell told the Portland Tribune.
According to the report, there are several reasons why the estimate is higher now. For starters, the original estimate was in 2017 dollars and the new one is in 2025 dollars; the estimated midpoint of the project. The new estimate also includes inflation, new federal safety requirements, new tax requirements and right-of-way acquisition costs for staging and storage areas.
The report will be presented to the five-member Oregon Transportation Commission, appointed by the Oregon governor to oversee ODOT, at its Jan. 23 meeting. ODOT officials will ask the commission to accept the report for presentation to the 2020 Legislature that starts on Feb. 1, as required by HB 2017.
State lawmakers do not have to vote again for the project to continue. But ODOT must identify sources for the additional $345 million for the project to continue. Channell says some or all of the money could come from federal grants, Metro, Multnomah County and the City of Portland.
Such regional and local support makes sense because freeway construction only accounts for 55% of the cost of the project. ODOT is proposing to build two auxiliary lanes within the existing I-5 right-of-way between I-84 and I-405. The cost of that work is estimated at up to $442.4 million. ODOT predicts they will cut congestion in half and increase safety to improving access to the numerous closely spaced on- and off-ramps on the mile-long stretch of I-5.
According to the report, up to $352.6 million will be spent on local street improvements and creating connections over the I-5 for neighborhood travel and activities, including sidewalks, bike paths and community gathering spaces. Such concepts are included in the Albina Vision developed by a nonprofit organization for the area and endorsed by the City Council. Metro, the elected regional government, is already considering including $55 million for Albina Vision-related projects in the regional transportation funding measure it is planning for the 2020 general election ballot.
ODOT recently created a new office to help form such partnerships and move the project forward, along with others in the region identified in HB 2017. The Office of Urban Mobility and Mega Project Delivery also will work on implementing congestion pricing (tolls) on portions of I-5 and I-205, along with the I-205 and Abernathy Bridge Project, which is intended to make all of I-205 a three-lane freeway and replace the bridge with one that will withstand a large earthquake.
Despite the support for the Albina Vision, the proposed freeway work is controversial. A coalition of community groups called No More Freeways is actively opposing the auxiliary lanes because they think it will increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions in the Rose Quarter area, even though ODOT predicts emissions will drop because traffic will move faster. The Portland Public Schools Board is on record expressing concern for the project's effect on Harriet Tubman Middle School, a historically Black school located along I-5.
Metro Council members and Portland Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly also have expressed reservations about the project. And Gov. Kate Brown has called for more study of the project's environmental impact, something the Oregon Transportation Commission is expected to decide in coming months.
You can read the report at https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Get-Involved/OTCSupportMaterials/Agenda_H1_Attach_1_I-5_Rose_Quater_Cost_to_Complete_Study.pdf
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