ODOT again cowers in the face of community demands for accountability and transparency, refuses to defend their work in a court of law; second time in last four months agency has withdrawn critical approvals to avoid scrutiny
PORTLAND – The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has once again retreated from a critical approval step for the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion to avoid having to defend their work in court.
In April 2021, ODOT issued “findings of compatibility” with Portland’s Comprehensive Plan. The following month, ODOT was sued at the state level by No More Freeways, contending that ODOT’s proposed freeway was wider and more impactful than the facility plan that Portland first approved in 2012 and later incorporated in the Comprehensive Plan. The case had moved to the Oregon Circuit Court after the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) decided that they didn’t have jurisdiction. No More Freeways challenged the finding of compatibility on grounds that numerous specific details of ODOT’s proposed expansion did not align with the city’s tentative approval of the project back in 2012.
“For the second time this year, local neighborhood advocates dared ODOT to defend their proposed expansion in a court of law, and faced with a moment of potential accountability the agency instead retreated to avoid public scrutiny,” said Aaron Brown, a co-founder of No More Freeways. “Despite the agency’s continued arrogance and bluster, this legal result is further proof that ODOT is simply unprepared to be held accountable by community leaders demanding clean air, safer streets and climate action.”
“Community 2, ODOT 0,” said Chris Smith, a co-founder of No More Freeways. “Elected officials should take note that No More Freeways and our partners will continue to use the tools at our disposal to demonstrate how ODOT’s proposed freeway expansions are legally incompatible with any coherent, desirable vision of a region with cleaner air, reduced traffic congestion and fewer carbon emissions.”
“ODOT is a climate villain. The agency is actively making the climate crisis worse and has been too busy greenwashing their proposed expansions to adequately respond to our legitimate demands for climate accountability and transparency,” said Adah Crandall, a teenage climate advocate and organizer with Sunrise PDX. “It’s clear that these proposed expansions have no place in a livable future, and we will continue to organize until our elected officials find the guts to stand up to ODOT and demand they invest in our futures instead of more freeways.” Leaders of Sunrise Movement PDX have been hosting a bi-weekly “Youth Vs ODOT” climate strike for over a year, which has been attended by numerous elected officials at local and state government. Adah Crandall is a co-organizer of the Youth Climate Strike planned outside Portland City Hall on Friday May 20th; the event is expected to draw a crowd of thousands. The Portland Climate Strike names the Oregon Department of Transportation as one of the four local “climate villains.” “We see the clear connection between transportation and climate and refuse to allow our leaders to build projects that will increase our emissions,” said Crandall.
Opposition to ODOT’s proposed freeway expansions garnered national attention last month, with longform coverage of the ongoing advocacy of youth climate activism and freeway skepticism in an April 21 article published in the New York Times. ODOT was also named as one of four “climate villains” by the organizers of the Youth Climate Strike on May 21st, which drew a crowd of thousands.
This legal announcement follows the January decision by the Federal Highway Administration 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 co-plaintiffs No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air and the Eliot Neighborhood Association in April 2021. 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.
“ODOT’s abject failure to follow the law is causing significant delays, increasing the already exorbitant pricetag for this proposed boondoggle through massive legal costs and dramatically rising inflation,” said Joe Cortright, a co-founder of No More Freeways and a Portland-based economist. “ODOT currently doesn’t have a Finding of No Significant Impact, doesn’t have a land use compatibility statement, and doesn’t have a plan to raise the billions of dollars necessary to build this monstrosity of a freeway expansion. ODOT is currently funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to consultants to continue to mislead the public that there is any feasible path forward for this deeply flawed proposed freeway expansion in its current form. We once again urge Governor Kate Brown and other local officials to acknowledge this current state of affairs and order ODOT to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that studies affordable alternatives to freeway expansion.”
Plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys Sean Malone, the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta, and Mike Sargetakis.