The Portland Metropolitan area needs a complete transportation system for the 21st century. To build that future, we must improve and expand our transit system and add bike lanes and sidewalks to provide more convenient options for people. But we also need a functional highway system that meets the needs of our residents and our economy.
The Rose Quarter interchange between Interstate 84 and the Fremont Bridge is the 28th most severe bottleneck in the country, negatively impacting commute times for individuals and the reliability of freight deliveries. The Oregon Department of Transportation has developed a plan to improve this stretch of the freeway and construct a lid over it to re-connect the Rose Quarter with the Albina District. These changes will reduce crashes and congestion, make it safer to walk and bike in the neighborhood, and — equally important — begin to address historic racial injustices in our region.
It's impossible to meaningfully discuss the Rose Quarter project without reflecting on the area's history as an African American community. In the 1960s, the construction of I-5 devastated the Albina District by cutting it in half, displacing residents, and destroying the cultural and economic vitality of the community. We must address this injustice.
Albina Vision Trust and other community groups, and the city of Portland, have advocated for a freeway lid to help knit the community back together. Last week, ODOT responded to community concerns by committing to a public process as the design moves forward to meet community needs and environmental goals. While opponents of the Rose Quarter project hope that our region will refrain from investing in this stretch of freeway, it is important to note that without the Rose Quarter I-5 improvement project, there is no freeway lid.
Opponents also contend that the Rose Quarter project runs counter to our region's climate action goals. When fully implemented, the regional Climate Smart Strategy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% per capita by 2035. But these investments in multimodal transportation options don't mean that we can stop investing in our critical highway infrastructure. Due to anticipated population and economic growth over the next 20 years, total vehicle miles traveled in our region will still increase by as much as 30% — even as we simultaneously double transit use and increase bicycle and pedestrian trips by half.
Multimodal options don't replace our need for a functioning I-5. We must commit to addressing historic racial injustice and adding transportation options for residents that don't rely on a car. But we also must make improvements to this segment of I-5 to reduce congestion, improve safety and help restore the Albina community. That's how you create a complete transportation system. And now, as we look forward to rebuilding our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jobs created by this project and the improved transportation system it will help create will be vital to our region.
For a detailed description of the plan and its benefits, visit www.i5rosequarter.org.
Craig Dirksen is an elected member of the Metro Council, serving District 3, which includes much of Southeastern Washington County.
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