Portland City Council Votes Unanimously to Rejoin Rose Quarter Project and Keep I-5 Bridge Process Moving

The approvals are interim steps on the two massive ODOT projects.

The current Interstate 5 bridge. (Henry Cromett)

The Portland City Council today voted unanimously to keep two major Oregon Department of Transportation projects moving forward.

The council signaled its support for rejoining the process and proceeding with the expansion of Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter. That expansion is part of a major transportation funding package the Legislature passed in 2017. Since then, the widening of the freeway has proceeded slowly because of concerns raised by environmental groups, the Albina Vision Trust, and Portland Public Schools, which operates Harriet Tubman Middle School adjacent to the current bottleneck at the Rose Quarter.

The city of Portland walked away from the Rose Quarter project in 2020 because of those concerns, including a preliminary design that Albina Vision Trust rejected for insufficient caps over the freeway and PPS disliked because of the air-quality impacts on Tubman.

Gov. Kate Brown helped broker a new design with larger caps and convinced the Legislature to fund a replacement for Tubman in a better location. Environmental groups still oppose ODOT’s plan. But with today’s vote the city of Portland officially comes back to the table on it.

Albina Vision Trust executive director Winta Yohannes testified in favor of the city rejoining the Rose Quarter deal. “We believe that transportation should heal and connect, that children should be safe in the city core, that the urban fabric should be repaired, stolen wealth should be restored, and we need to build for the future and we need to do that collectively,” Yohannes said. “This agreement before us today allows us to move forward and positions the city to guard and advance these values on behalf of the people of Portland.”

Portland Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty celebrated the vote but noted it’s only a conditional approval. “This agreement expires in July 2024,” Hardesty said. “It is limited to the environmental evaluation and preliminary engineering phase. In two years, the project will need to come back to City Council to make the case that ODOT has kept its promises and deserves to proceed to construction.”

The I-5 bridge replacement, a bistate project that has been on the drawing board for decades, also got a conditional green light from the council. That vote signals Portland’s approval to move forward with a review of the proposed bridge’s environmental impact.

“We have attached conditions of approval to our endorsement that make clear to the Interstate Bridge Replacement program what our requirements and expectations are,” Hardesty said. “This includes process and community engagement, how to implement the stated climate and equity commitments, and accountability to this council and our partners.”

The Metro Council is scheduled to vote on the bridge project tomorrow.

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