Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit that seeks to redevelop Portland's largest historically Black neighborhood, won't support the proposed expansion of Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter, according to an email obtained by WW.
"We can no longer support the project," Winta Yohannes, managing director of Albina Vision Trust, wrote in a June 30 email to the governor's office and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Yohannes also wrote that the group "is withdrawing its participation from all engagement with the I-5/RQIP."
The group's support was key politically, in part because Albina Vision is exerting pressure to address historic injustices in the neighborhood, including the bulldozing of homes in the largely Black neighborhood to build the highway.
The group had sought a commitment from the Oregon Department of Transportation to include caps over the highway as part of the project on which to redevelop the neighborhood.
ODOT and the governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
"Real change is demanded of all of us," says Yohannes, who said the "red flag" was the failure by ODOT to delineate how the project timeline and decision-making would change with input from the renewed discussions that began in January.
"I would say that we had to consider that our intensive outreach and discussion on the part of our team was not resulting in any changes in the project," she said. "We cannot accept their position that they'll change without changing."
Local politicians who have backed the need for the state to work with Albina Vision Trust say they cannot support the project now, either.
City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which would be a key partner in the I-5 widening, issued her most scathing criticism of the project to date.
"It became clear to me that ODOT was determined to move forward with the project as planned, that they were resistant to congestion pricing, that the steering committee was to be treated as an advisory body with no governing authority, that ODOT did not seem to grasp the concept of restorative justice, and we were unlikely to achieve the outcomes we were seeking," Eudaly said.
"I am so pleased that so many of us have now come to the same conclusion. This is the wrong project for our city. I am stepping down from the steering committee. I do not support the Rose Quarter I-5 Corridor project. And I urge the state to prioritize safety, climate change, and racial justice in all future transportation investments."
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, another steering committee member, also said she couldn't see a way to support the project without Albina Vision Trust's involvement.
"I've been involved in this process for over a year, and we've made little progress on what matters most: racial justice for the Black community and making amends for the harms the original freeway caused," Vega Pederson said.
"Without commitment on that front and without Albina Vision Trust at the table, this work is only about completing a freeway project, and that's not acceptable."
Metro President Lynn Peterson also pledged her support for Albina Vision Trust.
"For the past month, Oregonians have stood up to demand that the needs of Black community members be prioritized in decision-making," she said. "I stand by Albina Vision Trust in recognizing that there is still much work to be done in crafting a process that builds trust with agency partners and the community."