Over the next two months, we have the chance to shape the transportation future of our city, and I’m urging you to take it.
In mid-February, the 30-day public comment period for the environmental assessment of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project will open. On March 7th, a Public Open House will be held, followed by a Public Hearing on March 12th. We have been successful in delaying forward movement on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project in order to allow the community time to mobilize on this issue, and we are continuing to push for an extension of the public comment period to maximize public engagement. And we are working with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to form a steering committee to advise on thoughtful, community-oriented execution.
We are prioritizing public engagement because this project is one of the most significant transportation efforts in recent years. It will have an enormous impact on how people from across the region and even across the state travel to, through, and around Portland. I want to ensure that this project reflects our values, particularly our commitment to equity, sustainability, and safety.
ODOT and other state transportation leaders need to hear that the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project must do more than make it easier to merge on highways in the Rose Quarter. Consistent with Central City 2035 (adopted by City Council in May 2018), a project that focuses exclusively on the comfort of highway drivers is unacceptable. This is why the City partnered with ODOT to ensure that this venture prioritizes the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. It should make it dramatically easier and safer for people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving in the Rose Quarter.
I also want them to hear that this development must reconnect the Lower Albina district with the rest of the Rose Quarter. The original I-5 project went right through the heart of this vibrant African American neighborhood, isolating it from the rest of the city and cutting it off from economic development in the Rose Quarter. It’s time that we begin to remedy the harmful legacy of these past decisions. The I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project should be a catalyst for a flourishing Lower Albina that shares in our city’s economic vitality.
I am confident that if we raise our voices together, we can continue to make improvements. Remember how this project started out: in 1987, when redevelopment was first proposed, it was an old-fashioned highway expansion project. It would have had tremendous impacts on surface streets in the Rose Quarter and also would have done very little for the safety and comfort of people traveling on local streets. Finally, it would have maintained the isolation of Lower Albina.
But that is not where we ended up. Instead, Portlanders pushed for a better project. They participated in countless committee meetings, planning sessions, and open houses. Gradually, we evolved from a freeway-focused project to one with fewer community impacts and safer and more accessible local connections.
Now is the time to push this evolution further and faster. Please join me during the public comment period, at the Public Open House, and at the Public Hearing, to advocate for an I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project that works for all of us.