Greetings, fellow freeway rabblerouser! We’ve been awfully busy in the last two months. Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to, where we’re heading, and how you can help us stop the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion. We haven’t emailed you in a while, so we have quite a few updates.
TLDR: The public comment went great, we’re testifying at committees across the state, we’re building grassroots power and momentum to stop this freeway, and if you want to help you can buy a button at the bottom of this post!
Resounding Opposition to Rose Quarter Freeway in Public Comment Period.
Will ODOT listen?
First, let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for the overwhelming turnout we got for the entire public comment period. Freeway opponents dominated the public hearing event in March, and followed that up with submitting over 2000 public comments to ODOT before the April 1st deadline. We have a round-up of dozens of letters from prominent community leaders on our public comment page of our website – here’s a selection of some of our favorite letters submitted:
“We ask that ODOT undertake a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement to study the impact that implementation of value pricing could have on carbon emissions, air pollution and traffic congestion before moving forward with plans to expand the Rose Quarter Freeway. This position is wholly consistent with our years of advocacy and engagement with the state legislature to pass HB 2017 – implementation of value pricing should inform how ODOT moves forward with the Rose Quarter. There are simply too many significant impacts to the local community to not prioritize studying value pricing and understanding its impacts to traffic patterns before moving forward with a $500 million freeway expansion.” – Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Climate Solutions, Center for Sustainable Economy, and Sierra Club – Oregon Chapter
“The EA states (section 3.2.2) that the project does not create new capacity or add substantial capacity to I-5. This statement is not objectively true and is potentially misleading; auxiliary lanes clearly add capacity” – Oregon Metro
“We find it unjust to ask current and future Tubman students to pay decades of bonding debt to pay for this project, as well as pay for the enormous costs of the additional carbon in the atmosphere and air pollutants in the neighborhood. As parents, citizens, community members, students, and Portlanders, we state our firm opposition to ODOT’s Rose Quarter freeway widening proposal.” – Parents from Harriet Tubman PTSA
“Given the large and growing role of transportation in the State’s GHG emissions, the mandate to decrease emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, the inadequacy of the EA, and the history of damage to the adjacent communities inflicted by the freeway, it is the position of 350PDX that ODOT should not move forward with the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening project based on the Environmental Assessment and should instead complete a full Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the effects of the project.” – 350 PDX
“Given the legacy of institutional racism in Portland and how it has manifested in the location of this project, it is imperative that our leaders act with respect, courage and integrity. We are calling on leaders to tap the brakes on this project and ensure $500 million in taxpayer funds are thoughtfully invested in projects that deliver community benefit while paying more than lip service to equity.” – Business for a Better Portland
“Portland has long been known for its bike- and pedestrian-friendly allure and strong transit grid, and we know we must do more in order to preserve Oregon’s cherished natural beauty and livability. In light of the dire IPCC report issued last year, I believe we must be scrutinizing each major initiative and doing all we can, as fast as we can, to ensure a livable planet for our future generations.” – Oregon Representative Karin Power (District 41)
“The Oregon Department of Transportation is an emperor wearing no clothes, If we have any meaningful commitment to alleviating gridlock and congestion, eradicating the senseless violence of traffic fatalities, improving air quality so school doesn’t make kids sick, restoring a neighborhood scarred by the worst racist impulses of our forefathers, or tackling climate change for current and future generations, this project must be abandoned. The Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion mega project has no place in our community.”
– No More Freeways submitted our own official letter, as well as a Technical Traffic Analysis debunking ODOT’s findings and this Legal Memo that details all of the points in which ODOT’s public comment process did not follow the NEPA process.
We encourage you to check out the Public Comment page of our website, which includes these and numerous other letters, including those from the Audubon Society of Portland, Eliot Neighborhood Association, Community Cycling Center, City of Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Albina Vision Trust, Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, and BikeLoudPDX.
What’s next for the RQ Freeway?
ODOT is now tasked with responding to each and every single one of the 2000 comments that we sent in to the public comment period. We are hopeful that the dozens of prominent community advocates and thousands of Oregonians who testified and wrote letters to point out the egregious flaws in ODOT’s traffic projections will help prod the agency to redesign or reconsider this project. It’s noteworthy the number of advocacy organizations, advisory committees, and citizens who have asked ODOT to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement – we hope the agency will honor these requests before proceeding with spending $500 million to expand a freeway into the backyard of Harriet Tubman Middle School when we as a planet have eleven years to tackle climate change.
According to a PBOT presentation at the Bureau Budget Advisory Committee this month, ODOT is expected to hear back from the Federal Highway Administration this “May/June” as to whether they have permission to proceed with their Environmental Assessment or if they will be asked to conduct the more thorough Environmental Impact Statement that all of our organizations requested.
TL, DR: We’re awaiting the federal government’s verdict on if ODOT can proceed with the project, and we expect to hear in the next few weeks. Our next steps in using the NEPA process to challenge this project depend on whether the federal government pushes ODOT to honor the community’s unequivocal voice of opposition to this expansion. Whatever happens, we’re ready to act (especially with your support – see the donation link at the bottom).
NMF road tripped to Salem to speak to the Oregon Transportation Commission.
The Oregon Transportation Commission is the Governor-appointed body that establishes state transportation policy. We weren’t sure if this governing body had been given accurate information from ODOT’s staff about how the agency had conducted themselves during this Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion debacle, so this month we took a quick trip to Salem to testify about the data misinformation, the overwhelming opposition to the project, the fierce, unapologetic necessity about urgently reconfiguring our transportation policy so that current and future Oregonians won’t have to grapple with a charred dystopian planet.
“[The Audubon Society of Portland was] deeply troubled by the Environmental Assessment. I work on a lot of EAs and EISs; its kind of what I do. For a project of this scale, complexity and cost, the EA was one of the weakest I’ve ever seen. It simply did not provide the kind of detail in order to assess the costs, benefits, the impacts, the alternatives that i would expect for a much smaller project, let alone something for a half a billion dollars.”
“The essence of democracy is transparency and honesty on the part of public servants. If we’re going to make good decisions we have to do it in an open honest and transparent way. in the case of the I5 Rose Quarter project, what’s happened hasn’t served the interests of the citizens of Oregon well. What ODOT has done is to suppress basic traffic data; they released an environmental assessment that contains no figures on average daily traffic, the most fundamental unit that you regularly use to measure traffic.”
“An Oregonian born today is likely to be alive in 2100. If we have 11 years to solve climate change, I hope that every single one of you on this Commission – and I’m not trying to be antagonistic, I’m asking and begging you, as the youngest person in this room that will remember this meeting 50 years from now – what did Chair Baney do, what did the Oregon Transportation Commission do when provided with these facts?”
Harriet Tubman Middle School’s Earth Day Demonstration
The kids are alright.
Kudos to the students of Harriet Tubman Middle School in Mr. Scrutchion’s class who partnered with Neighbors for Clean Air to demonstrate in support of HB 2007 on the Flint Avenue overpass on Earth Day. Diesel is a carcinogen, a greenhouse gas, and has no place in our community and in our children’s lungs. We’re thrilled that the campaign to stop the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion is bringing transportation, climate, and clean air advocates together to cross-pollinate in our advocacies and build resilience against infrastructure that makes our community sick. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with the Tubman community in support of cleaner air and fewer lanes of freeway in their backyard.
10 public comments at Metro’s #GetMoving2020 task force. All 10 were about climate change.
The Metro Council is currently planning to refer a massive transportation funding package to the Portland Region on the November 2020 ballot. This enormous package is something that the No More Freeways campaign has been keeping an eye on for a while – this once-in-a-generation opportunity could be used to fully fund infrastructure that decarbonizes our transportation system effectively, or could direct billions of dollars to roads, highways and freeway projects guaranteeing that the greater Portland region meets none of our anti-congestion, anti-carbon emissions, anti-air pollution or anti-poverty initiatives. It’s a big deal!
After Metro President Lynn Peterson’s recent remarks at Portland City Club event suggesting that the 2020 bond might be split “50/50” between transit and road projects, we decided to swing by the Task Force meeting last week and testify. We’ve got twelve months to push heavily on the Metro Council and the numerous community groups on the Metro Task Force to urge them to make this package better for current and future generations by honoring our commitment to investments in a transportation system that addresses climate change, air pollution, fixing congestion, and traffic safety (hint: to do these things, we can’t build more freeways). Kudos to the representatives from Portland Forward, 350 PDX, OPAL – Environmental Justice Oregon, The Street Trust, and others who testified and made it explicit: this regional package *must* be designed with climate justice and decarbonization as a top tier priority.
We’ll continue to monitor this committee – the next meeting is at 5:30 Wednesday, May 15 at Oregon Metro (600 NE Grand), and you’re encouraged to join us in attendance in the crowd.
Shoutout to the Community Partners
Sign OPAL’s letter for government accountability and transparency: OPAL’s been tracking a particularly nefarious bill in the Oregon Legislature that would remove the ability for local jurisdictions to have much oversight or regulatory ability of TNCs like Uber and Lyft. Sign their letter (and help protect initiatives like the Clean Energy Fund while you’re at it!)
Fight Dirty Diesel: To learn more about HB 2007, which would create deadlines for removing the worst polluting diesel engines from Oregon’s streets, check out the Oregon Environmental Council’s webpage. Stay tuned – there will be opportunities to weigh in on this bill as it winds through the legislature in the weeks ahead.
A personal note: Aaron Brown’s testimony to ODOT, submitted 4:59pm, April 1st
For the past nineteen months (and especially for the past month and a half), I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own personal and professional time writing angry letters to ODOT. “Letters to ODOT” sounds like the name of some urban planner’s regrettable punk rock band they played bass in back in college, but it adequately assesses the general state of how I’ve spent much of 2019. I, along with literally hundreds of other community members, have been attending dozen of community meetings and watching ODOT’s staff speak demonstrable untruths with barely-concealed slights-of-hand, and spent many a rainy weekend pouring through egregiously depressing data about climate change, air pollution, traffic congestion, and traffic fatalities. Every bit of evidence furthers our case that this project highlights the urgency with which metropolitan America needs to retire the freeway industrial complex.
But instead, with my last five minutes before the public comment period closes, I want to write a quick love letter. A love letter to the dozens of parents I met at Tubman Middle School, figuring out how to build a PTSA that will stick up for their entire community and learn how to work together despite having students and families from enormously different backgrounds. A love letter to the individuals who have taken their personal trauma stemming from losing a loved one to senseless traffic violence and weaponized these unspeakable losses into voices that clamor for government agencies to be more vigilant in their investments to prevent future tragedies. A love letter to the youth who are increasingly organizing to take over the world and prevent the older generation from dooming us to climate apocalypse. A love letter to the hundreds of community members who have shown up to dig through ODOT’s public records and, frankly, out-hustle ODOT’s staff to point out the obvious clerical errors that you hoped to hide from public scrutiny. A love letter to the good community members and citizens who have stood up for freeway revolts in the past, present, and future of my hometown. A love letter to all who are working to understand the intersections of transportation, climate, social justice, white supremacy, the patriarchy, and are working to untangle all of these for a more verdant and sustainable future.
Thank you, ODOT, for giving me an excuse to wallow in the trenches for the past few months. Please kill this damn project.