On April 4, 2019, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler sent a joint letter to Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney about the Rose Quarter Improvement Project.
Dear Chair Baney and Members of the Commission:
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today about the next steps for the Rose Quarter Improvement Project. We appreciate ODOT‘s work to move the project forward in line with the Legislature’s direction and in a good-faith effort to address community needs.
Interstate 5 is a critical economic artery for the Portland region and the entire West Coast. We need it to continue to serve our growing and changing communities now and into the future. However, we must also recognize that this facility, designed 60 years ago and essentially unchanged today, was and continues to be damaging to the immediately surrounding environment and its communities. If done right, this project presents a rare opportunity to repair past wrongs while simultaneously improving the ability of the facility to effectively serve our region.
With the public comment phase on the Environmental Assessment closed, we want to summarize some points we hope the Transportation Commission can use as it works with ODOT on next steps for the Rose Quarter project.
Any Rose Quarter project must serve a community vision and adopted Central City 2035 policy objectives for development. Whatever happens in the Rose Quarter, it must account for the history of the construction of Interstate 5, take meaningful steps to repair the damage that construction caused and offer environmental, social and economic justice to Portland’s Black community.
Like any complicated project, there are a lot of details remaining to get right. But at the end of the day, a primary goal must be a successful, healthy Lower Albina community. In addition, community engagement is of the utmost importance.
Crossing Interstate 5 should be safe, comfortable and easy for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. Those users have been coping with the Eisenhower-era design of Interstate 5 for too long, and it’s time to recognize the world has changed and work on opportunities because of what we can put in place for the next 60 years.
- Any design must be inclusive to all. The Rose Quarter must feel comfortable to commuters, residents, businesses, and visitors passing through or staying in the area. The project should not detract from the significant investments the City of Portland and Metro have made in the Rose Quarter, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Oregon Convention Center and accompanying visitor facilities. The local transportation system proposed by the project including reconfigured I-5 access must accommodate the specialized access needs of these important regional assets.
- When Interstate 5 was constructed through Portland, geologists had not yet discovered the threat from the Cascadia earthquake. In fact, scientists wouldn’t start to understand the scope of our region’s seismic hazards until the mid 1980s. When a large earthquake occurs in the Northwest, the existing vintage-1960s bridges pose a significant threat to all users, whether they are cyclists traveling over Interstate 5 or drivers underneath. This is a hazard that cannot be ignored.
- We, as a region, have an opportunity to knit together communities that have been divided by Interstate 5. We look at this as an opportunity to reconnect neighborhoods, provide active transportation connections and improve our transit service to accommodate redevelopment that will occur. ODOT, through the freeway caps, has an opportunity to provide open space in an area that sorely needs more public space. Through this and subsequent efforts we can rebuild our community with Portland and Oregon values at the forefront.
- Any cap on Interstate 5 must be engineered so the urban streetscape can continue seamlessly over the freeway and accommodate built structures that support community continuity. Whether that’s through an innovative design, such as the truss-hung retail space on the Interstate 80 cap in Reno, or more robust engineering like Margaret Hance Park above Interstate 10 in Phoenix, the freeway cap must meet the community’s needs, particularly those of the developing Lower Albina restoration effort.
- Our economy relies on the success of this project. But we must make sure the completion of any new lanes in the Rose Quarter is simultaneous to the implementation of congestion pricing and demand management. That means ODOT needs to ensure its congestion pricing work is occurring with the same target date of implementation. Further review may show environmental justice implications of spot pricing instead of spreading the pricing over a wider area. This could also mitigate our concerns about commuters using local streets to avoid tolling.
- Demand management will help with emissions, but it will not solve the problem. Any Rose Quarter project must include tested, community-supported efforts to limit exposure to the pollution released by motor vehicles, particularly for students of Harriet Tubman Middle School.
- This project is going to be long and disruptive. Any final proposal from ODOT must include plans to keep the Portland region moving during construction. That means specific plans for increased transit service, continued operations of MAX and the Portland Streetcar, enhanced bike/pedestrian corridors, continued freight mobility, and other mitigation efforts to ensure Portland’s transportation system remains functional while the project is being built.
We want to work with ODOT and be explicit about the outcomes we expect from this project. This is about more than removing a long and noted bottleneck on the West Coast’s commercial spine. It’s also about rebuilding and repairing a community that was bisected 60 years ago, and doing so in a way that attempts to offer some justice to those most negatively impacted by the construction of Interstate 5, the Oregon Convention Center, the Memorial Coliseum, Emanuel Hospital and other works of urban “renewal.”
We will only get one shot to help heal the wound Interstate 5 cut in Albina 60 years ago. We have to do it right.
Thank you again for your time and commitment to work with community leaders and elected officials to ensure these issues are addressed in a final proposal for the Rose Quarter.
Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland
Lynn Peterson, Metro Council President