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Leaders Reviewing ODOT’s Latest Design for I-5 Through the Rose Quarter All Make the Same Demand: Cap It

Everybody wants caps above the highway to restore the Albina neighborhood.

On March 22, the Oregon Department of Transportation unveiled drawings that show what critics have warned for a month: State officials plan to make Interstate 5 more than 120 feet wide as it passes through the Rose Quarter.

WW asked Portland-area elected officials: Is this design going in the right or wrong direction?

The most newsworthy reply came from Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, who tore into the design for offering bus lanes no one had requested (see "Magic Bus Lanes"). But another theme also emerged: Everybody wants caps above the highway to restore the Albina neighborhood.

Here are four responses, edited for length.

State Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland):

"Not a traffic engineer. But first reaction: Not surprised by the on- or off-ramp lanes. The goal as I see it is to move vehicles, especially commercial traffic from the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon through the short area with little interaction with commuters. The bus lane helps that. Adding an auxiliary lane would seem safer for folks taking I-5 north from I-84. That is a dicey spot for vehicles coming north on I-5 and those merging to go north or to get off at Weidler. (It is my route to and from the Capitol and a real mess when there are events.)

"I remain upset that the highway covers are so small. I expect much more cover for the connection of the Lloyd area to the river. Much more than a bike/pedestrian bridge as shown here. Several covers are needed north and south of the Broadway/Weidler crossings. I'll not be supportive until the covers are adequately addressed."

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson:

"Interstate 5 devastated the heart of Portland's Black community when it was built, and the scars it left aren't addressed in what ODOT presented last week. Under what was presented, the freeway moves closer to Harriet Tubman Middle School, and the spaces necessary to revitalize the area and begin to stitch the neighborhood back together are omitted from this plan. Until a plan is in place to address the impacts to air quality around the school and what this means for the overall vision for the neighborhood, it's an incomplete plan.

"ODOT is focused on the throughput. I'm focused on outcomes, rooted in community and social and environmental justice. We need that in full."

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation:

"While the installation of the auxiliary lanes and new shoulders are intended to improve freeway traffic flow and decrease the number of congestion-causing fender benders, these are not the main elements of the project that we are most concerned about. We remain focused on ODOT's plans for the surrounding surface streets, including the highway caps—which are not included here. Our support for the project has been to ensure first-class pedestrian, transit and bike improvements and caps that are robust enough to support a variety of uses. We are also very much concerned with how the state intends to overcome the legacy of past decisions and actions that harmed Albina, Oregon's historically Black neighborhood. This requires a clear and comprehensive plan to address racial equity and environmental justice."

Jim Middaugh, spokesman for Mayor Ted Wheeler:

"At the end of the day, the mayor's goal is to ensure any project results in significant pedestrian, transit, and bike improvements and that it include freeway caps that support a broad variety of future uses that benefit the surrounding area. More importantly, the Mayor believes the project must address the ongoing legacy of past decisions and actions that bifurcated the Albina neighborhood and harmed the community that lived there. Any successful plan must address the harms of the past and be part of preventing future harm. That work remains incomplete."