The Federal Highway Administration announced Wednesday a decision to rescind the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion as part of a reevaluation of the project. This FONSI was the subject of a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) lawsuit filed by No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air and the Eliot Neighborhood Association last April. The lawsuit alleged that ODOT did not conduct a thorough study about the impacts this proposed freeway expansion would have to the neighborhood, and demanded that ODOT conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that considered alternatives that didn’t include widening the freeway. The agency legally cannot move forward with the proposed expansion without this specific federal declaration.
“We are delighted to see that the federal government has revoked the Finding Of No Significant Impact for the Rose Quarter freeway expansion project,” said Aaron Brown, organizer with No More Freeways. “No More Freeways has said for a long time that ODOT has not meaningfully studied the disastrous impacts this proposed freeway expansion would have to our community. We look forward to continuing to encourage Governor Kate Brown to demand that ODOT complete an Environmental Impact Statement that will study alternatives to freeway expansion. We must find a way to support efforts to heal this neighborhood and build community-led freeway caps without allowing ODOT to displace two public schools, clog our neighborhood streets, pollute the air our children breathe, or destroy the planet they stand to inherit.”
“This decision gives ODOT, the Oregon Transportation Commission, the City of Portland and the Metro Council yet another chance to abandon the project and take a different approach to transportation for a better future.” said Allan Rudwick, co-chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, another plaintiff in the April 2021 lawsuit. “We remain concerned about this project disrupting our streets and discouraging development for years of construction before increasing traffic, congestion and pollution for future generations.”
“This decision is a victory for the integrity of requirements that legitimate and robust environmental impact analysis is a critical obligation of any publicly funded project,” said Mary Peveto, Executive Director of Neighbors for Clean Air. “The community has a right to know the true health and environmental cost of ODOT’s proposed expansion, and rescinding approval of the FONSI is an admission that this was not done on this project. ODOT must provide a full Environmental Impact Statement that provides data demonstrating exactly how much air pollution their proposed expansion will provide to the Albina neighborhood.”
“Young people have protested since April 2021 demanding a rapid decarbonization of our region’s transportation systems, a full EIS for the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion, and a paradigm shift towards alternatives to freeway expansions,” said Adah Crandall, an organizer with Sunrise PDX. “We are grateful to see ODOT finally held accountable for their neglect to fully study the impacts of this project, which is a direct threat to our communities and climate.”
Adah Crandall is a sophomore at Grant High School and an organizer with Sunrise Movement PDX. She’s a founder of the “Youth Vs ODOT” campaign, in which teenagers have held biweekly strikes outside ODOT’s downtown Portland office since April 2021. The recurring protests have drawn crowds of hundreds and attention from national press and policymakers, with visits and speeches in support of their cause from State Representatives Khanh Pham, Wlsvey Campos, and Maxine Dexter.
ODOT published a widely-critiqued draft Environmental Assessment for the proposed freeway expansion three years ago. Advocates uncovered that the agency hid numerous crucial documents from the public in their EA, including basic details about the width of the proposed freeway and the impacts to the air pollution at Tubman Middle School. The federal government issued the FONSI in November 2020 that was challenged by plaintiffs in April 2021. The lawsuit asserts that ODOT must conduct a full EIS, rather than a more truncated or shorthand EA, and that ODOT must fully evaluate alternatives to freeway expansion that will address traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.
No More Freeways’ independent analysis of ODOT’s traffic projections found that ODOT included multiple egregious errors and outdated assumptions to try to prop up the agency’s dubious claims that this freeway expansion would improve congestion, air pollution or carbon emissions. Dozens of local elected officials and community leaders issued statements demanding ODOT conduct a full EIS for the proposed expansion, with over 91% of the thousands of comments submitted to ODOT expressing opposition to the project. Community groups demanding a full EIS in 2019 included Audubon Society of Portland, OPAL – Environmental Justice Oregon, Oregon Walks, Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission, and Business for a Better Portland.
Community groups concerned about the displacement of Tubman Middle School and King Elementary School have brought increased scrutiny of the proposed expansion. ODOT’s proposed expansion would move Tubman students into the building currently held by Northeast Portland’s King Elementary; hundreds of parents and students protested the potential closure with a march last Friday.
Plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys Sean Malone, the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta, and Mike Sargetakis. The full complaint can be accessed on the No More Freeways website. Wednesday’s response from the Federal Highway Administration is also available on the NMF website.