Four top Portland-area elected officials are calling for a more thorough review of the proposed $450 million expansion of Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler today joined Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in calling for a full-blown environmental impact statement, which would delay the project.
Eudaly had previously called for an environmental impact statement, as have Portland Public Schools and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland).
Eudaly, Wheeler, Peterson and Vega Pederson have been among the officials meeting with the Oregon Department of Transportation for the last six months to work on improving the project.
"Over the past six months, our agencies have participated in an informal process with the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) with the sincere desire to collaboratively pursue a path forward," reads the Dec. 12 letter sent by Peterson and the others to Gov. Kate Brown and the members of OTC, which guides state transportation policy. "The OTC has yet to articulate how our input would be addressed or how our recommendations would be incorporated. We continue to have concerns about the stewardship and outcomes of the Project."
This development adds new pressure for the Oregon Transportation Commission to approve an EIS at its Dec. 17 meeting next week.
Wheeler has been under significant pressure from climate activists to ask for the review. In an April letter, with Peterson, he raised questions about the project without formally calling for a more thorough review. "They feel initial requests weren't being addressed," says spokesman Timothy Becker.
Asked what had changed for her, Peterson denied changing course.
"Our message hasn't changed throughout this entire process," Peterson tells WW. "Every letter that we've written has been asking and requesting an EIS or asking why they didn't do an EIS."
It's unclear why Peterson would claim she'd always called for an EIS, since her previous correspondence with OTC did not call for an EIS and did not even mention the concept. (A scathing letter sent by Metro bureaucrats also did not call for an EIS.)
Vega Pederson highlighted the concerns about equity, given the highway's original construction which ran through a traditionally black neighborhood.
"There have been ongoing discussions with ODOT about the importance of this project on the Albina community," she tells WW. "But we haven't seen action on ODOT's part that they've been incorporating community needs, and that has to happen. This letter is calling out the importance of the project moving forward in the right way. We don't want to repeat the sins of the past, let alone make them worse."
Critics of the project celebrated, saying they hoped the OTC will listen to the elected officials.
"We're grateful that local elected officials realized they could no longer ignore the thousands of constituents, community organizations, and youth climate leaders who correctly pointed out months ago that ODOT's abysmal freeway expansion proposal warrants far greater scrutiny and better community engagement," says Aaron Brown, organizer with No More Freeways, a group opposing the project.