This post written by No More Freeways co-founder Chris Smith. You can also read it on BikePortland. Please share widely!
Fighting freeway expansion is a marathon, not a sprint, but right now we need to sprint to Salem.
Longtime advocates who have followed our freeway fights know that a decade ago we battled the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) to a standstill, only to have the freeway lobby shift their expansion efforts south to Rose Quarter. While ODOT is still grappling with trying to find a design that satisfies multiple stakeholders (and fill a $1 billion funding hole), expansion advocates have revived the CRC with the Orwellian name of the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR).
The IBR project team is more sophisticated than a decade ago; they’ve already spent something on the order of $10 million on greenwashing communications pushing their narrative that we have to replace this bridge before it collapses in an earthquake (and inflation drives the price tag up even further) while soft pedaling the five miles and seven interchanges of freeway expansion that are not related to the seismic concerns of the existing span.
But our side has also gotten more sophisticated. No More Freeways is part of the 33-member Just Crossing Alliance (JCA) to make sure that an eventual bridge replacement is centered in environmental and climate justice. JCA members truly do want to see the existing bridge replaced, but only with a right-sized bridge with excellent transit options that doesn’t include billions of dollars of wasteful spending on additional freeway interchange expansions. We fear that without significant oversight from the Oregon Legislature, ODOT and the IBR team will stumble forward with a bloated, massively oversized project that will once again fail to deliver a new bridge because of agency hubris, exorbitant cost overruns, and numerous forms of likely litigation related to the Coast Guard’s concerns and advocates’ insistence ODOT’s freeways pass basic scrutiny of environmental law.
Virtually every major ODOT project in the past twenty years has gone substantially over budget, robbing the state of billions of dollars we need for other crucial statewide transportation investments.
Here’s why we need your support right now.
The current center of the battle is legislation to provide Oregon’s “down payment” of $1 billion on the $7.5 billion project. The imaginative proposal from the Joint Transportation Committee: borrow it from future General Funds (the ones that pay for housing, education, health care) and future gas tax and vehicle registration fee revenue (when ODOT already says it cannot maintain the roads adequately). In other words, we’ll force our kids to pay for it, while neglecting to fund the basic road safety, climate, seismic and maintenance initiatives that we should pay for ourselves at present to prepare for our children’s future.
The JCA believes that the Oregon Legislature should honor their obligation to financial stewardship of the state’s limited resources by only providing funding with stipulations directing ODOT to right-size this proposal. The legislature has the power of the purse string to put specific guardrails on this project to demand ODOT explore options like a lift bridge or a tunnel that would significantly reduce costs and project bloat, ensuring Oregon has the resources we need in the years ahead for the substantial investments in transit, passenger rail, street safety and maintenance across the state. This financial commitment from the state will allow ODOT to continue to pursue federal funding to assist with this project and keep the IBR on schedule without committing to the disastrously oversized project as currently proposed, along with its attentive cost overruns.
Join Just Crossing Alliance in Salem on April 13
The 33 member organizations of the Just Crossing Alliance will be in Salem next week for a Day of Action on April 13th showing legislators there’s a more responsible path to ensure this bridge gets built to our community standards without bankrupting the state. We’ll be focusing on our Right Size, Right Now campaign with our SAFER platform:
Fund Transit & Safe Bike, Walk, and Roll
Resilient to Earthquakes
We’re a people-powered campaign and we need you to join us. You can help by:
This is the most significant opportunity for us to demonstrate to legislators across the state that Oregonians are eager to support good transportation investments that don’t bankrupt the state, don’t fry the planet, and don’t fill our communities with air pollution. Can you join us?
Many community advocates will be taking the 7am Amtrak Bus leaving Union Station. Tickets still available – come ride down with us!
TL; DR: No More Freeways has so much to be thankful for, and we’re having a Happy Hour to celebrate all of our volunteers on Thursday, 1/19, 4:30-6:30 at The Waypost in N Portland.Hope to see you there so we can thank you and celebrate our accomplishments organizing for a future with No More Freeways!
Thanks to our diligent team of advocates, lawyers and traffic engineers that helped No More Freeways submit our official testimony in opposition to the project, along with 12 gigabytes of files of video, academic literature, public records, historic documents and photos to be included in the public record.
Thanks to the dozens of you who attended our People’s Public Hearing last week at Harriet Tubman Middle School, and shared stories about the urgency of investing in traffic safety, climate action, livable streets and clean air – and no more freeways. Thanks also to the dozen of you who volunteered – over the holidays no less! – to make this event work.You can watch full video of the event on our webpage; be sure to check out the testimony from Michelle DuBarry with Families for Safe Streets, Ukiah Steiner-Halloran, with Rural Sunrise Oregon, and Paul Rippey’s epic song about Induced Demand.
Thanks to the dozens of you who wrote postcards to Governor Tina Kotek, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and ODOT’s planners demanding a full Environmental Impact Statement. We love to send snail mail!
Thanks to everyone who read about our freeway fight in the past few weeks. The Portland Mercury published a fantastic write up about the street safety concerns, BikePortland got some terrific portraits of testifiers at our event, and Portland once again got a nod in the New York Times for our struggles against freeway expansion. Our folklore hero Paul Rippey also got national coverage in Bloomberg!
No More Freeways will be having an informal “Thank You” party for everyone who was involved with the public comment period. This is your chance to grab a drink and celebrate our accomplishments against the freeway industrial complex, and learn more about what we’ve got lined up in the weeks and months ahead. Waypost has both indoor and covered outdoor seating available.
No More Freeways volunteer appreciation party
Thursday, January 19 4:30-6:30pm The Waypost 3120 N Williams accessible via 4, 24, 44 TriMet bus lines
It’s that time of year again! This year, our grassroots effort to stop ODOT’s proposed freeway expansions put thousands of hours of volunteer labor into empowering youth climate leaders, uplifting freeway fighters into national conferences and publications, filing and winning lawsuits slowing ODOT, collaborating with elected officials and local advocacy organizations, and leading the charge against the wasteful spending of billions of dollars on toxic, polluting, climate-destroying infrastructure.
Here’s a run down of the top accomplishments against the freeway industrial complex in 2022:
Legal Fights: No More Freeways 2, ODOT 0 (for now)
In 2021, No More Freeways filed two lawsuits against ODOT’s proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion – one using the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and another challenging ODOT in state court via the Local Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). The federal government withdrew their Finding of No Significant Impact in January, and ODOT withdrew their findings of local compatibility in April. These are crucial approvals that ODOT needs to proceed with their proposed freeway expansion. 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. Despite the agency’s continued arrogance and bluster, these legal results are further proof that ODOT is simply unprepared to be held accountable by community leaders demanding clean air, safer streets and climate action.
YouthVSODOT started in April 21 with a half dozen climate activists standing outside ODOT’s downtown Portland headquarters to protest freeway expansions. In 2022, YouthVsODOT continued to grow, drawing the attention of elected officials including State Senator Akasha Lawrence-Spence, Beaverton City Councilors Kevin Teater and Nadia Hasan, Representatives-Elect Hoa Nguyen and Anessa Hartman, TriMet Board Member Kathy Wai, and Portland transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. The Portland Youth Climate Strike also listed the Oregon Department of Transportation as one of four “climate villains”, and carried numerous signs calling out ODOT on the May climate strike which featured thousands of Oregonians.When President Biden visited Oregon in April, Youth Vs ODOT held a rally at Tubman that was covered by numerous local television outlets.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that this biweekly strike has had on changing the conversation about freeway expansions, locally and nationally. Their laser-sharp focus on ODOT’s climate arson has put the agency on the defensive on their emissions, and inspired numerous community leaders and elected officials to begin to pay attention to the disastrous implications of allowing ODOT to move forward with the continued status quo expansion of spending billions on freeways instead of investing in safer streets and public transit.
YouthVsODOT’s Adah Crandall was featured in Willamette Week as one of “five people with ideas for a fractured city,” and also penned an op-ed in the Oregonian this May pleading for adults to get involved with the youth climate movement. Adah and Sunrise’s Cassie Wilson also garnered national attention this year, with glowing write-ups in both VICE and Bloomberg’s CityLab. While the biweekly rallies ended this summer, the youth climate leaders with Sunrise are helping co-host our People’s Public Hearing on January 3rd, and are gearing up to help push for green transportation policy in the upcoming 2023 Oregon Legislative session.
Freeway Fightin’ Joins the Abundant Housing Movement At YIMBYtown
This spring, housing advocates from across the country convened in Portland, Oregon, for the fourth iteration of the YIMBYtown housing conference. With an emphasis on connecting the importance of shaping housing policy in line with climate policy, YIMBYtown featured numerous local and national speakers working on various freeway fighting.
The Urbanist‘s Ryan Packer moderated a panel about freeway fighting with Alex Contreras, Martha Roskowski, and YouthVsODOT’s own Adah Crandall. On the mainstage, Congress for New Urbanism helped put together a presentation on freeway removal. YouthVsODOT also held Week 25 of their protest, which featured New Orleans’ freeway fighter Amy Stelley and America Walks’ Executive Director Mike McGinn.
Finally, Albina Vision Trust’s Rukaiyah Adams spoke on a panel about housing later rebroadcast as an episode of Think Out Loud (and OPB’s Dave Miller gives No More Freeways a shout out!)
portland’s freeway fighters get our day in the old gray lady
After years of organizing locally, No More Freeways blew up on the national radar in 2022. In addition to the aforementioned glowing press coverage in Vice and Citylab, this April the New York Times published a detailed article chronicling our ongoing work to challenge ODOT and the freeway industrial complex. The article is worth reading in depth – it accurately captures the political and technical planning dynamics of our fight against ODOT, with quotes from NMF’s Joe Cortright as well as Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Albina Vision Trust’s Rukaiyah Adams, Sunrise’s Adah Crandall, and Verde’s Vivian Satterfield.
Just Crossing Alliance launches
About a decade ago, ODOT and WSDOT spent literal hundreds of millions of dollars on their effort to expand I-5 between North Portland and downtown Vancouver, Washington. With efforts to revive this massive freeway expansion underway, advocates demanding a fiscally responsible, right-sized bridge replacement as an alternative to massive freeway expansion gathered and launched the Just Crossing Alliance. No More Freeways joined as a founding member of JCA along with 1000 Friends of Oregon, Disability Mobility Initiative, The Street Trust, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Verde, and Oregon Walks. JCA calls for prioritizing a right-sized bridge replacement without additional interchanges north and south of the bridge, as well as including congestion pricing and high capacity transit service.
Meanwhile, things don’t seem to be going so rosy for the bridge expansion team at IBR. They recently disclosed this month that estimated costs for the freeway expansion have escalated to over $7 billion; meanwhile, the Coast Guard is expressing grave concern about the currently proposed design. Stay tuned to learn how you can follow the Just Crossing Alliance’s work monitoring the Oregon Legislature’s consideration of allocating $1 billion for the freeway expansion this spring.
launch of Freeway Fighters national network
No More Freeways is proud to be a founding member of the newly launched Freeway Fighters National Network, spearheaded by our national partners America Walks, Transportation for America and Congress for New Urbanism. The Freeway Fighters Network represents a broad coalition of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. The entity consists of local organizations across the country who dedicate themselves to championing design, equity, and policy principles that center people before highways. NMF was quoted in national transportation advocacy publication Streetsblog about our participation.
Circuit Court Agrees: ODOT misleads the public
Much of the work that No More Freeways has accomplished over the years has stemmed from using the Public Records process to obtain documents that ODOT has otherwise tried to hide from the public. You can imagine that ODOT doesn’t like participating in these public records requests, and this summer our allies’ lawsuit against ODOT demonstrated the agency was operation in brazen violation of public records laws designed to allow for transparency and accountability to the public. ODOT knows that the more the public learns about the project, the less they support it – and therefore ODOT will go to enormous lengths to keep private numerous basic details of the project. Friend of NMF Alan Kessler caught ODOT providing an incomplete (and even fabricated and doctored documents!) public record in response to a request he filed in 2019. As we told BikePortland, deliberate withholding of information represents merely the latest example of ODOT doing what it can to hide from the public basic details of the proposed freeway expansion.
Ending the year needing your help: Submit Public Comment by 1/4/23 and come to our 1/3/23 Hearing at Tubman
If you’ve appreciated all the work that we’ve undertaken over the year (and the above doesn’t even include our spitballs on the I-205 expansion or our advocacy in support of directing IIJA funding away from roads!), well, we now have a favor to ask. This is the momentin which our Rose Quarter comments and spitballs matter. ODOT’s Supplemental Environmental Assessment is out for public review and what a surprise – the agency scheduled the public comment period to coincide with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year, which ultimately suppresses the public from meaningfully engaging with the document.
Once you’ve written your letter to ODOT, save the date to come join us on January 3rd. Since ODOT refused to host an in-person public hearing, No More Freeways is hosting our own at Harriet Tubman Middle School.
Look, we know we’re badgering you for a lot right now. Submitting comments, attending our event, spreading the word, on and on and on. But for us to have the resources we need to fight ODOT, well, we gotta keep passing the hat around. Please consider including No More Freeways in your end-of-year donations; every dollar you give empowers so, so many hours of volunteer labor reading ODOT’s technical reports, filing lawsuits, and organizing rallies. Whether you donate $5000, $500, $150, $50 or $15, we will send you a hand written thank you card and a button/sticker to thank you for supporting our all-volunteer, grassroots fight against the multimillion dollar freeway industrial complex.
Here’s the thing about fighting the Oregon Department of Transportation: we’re an army of Davids against a massive Goliath.ODOT is a massive state agency that consistently pays literal millions of dollars to consultants and traffic engineers to find ways to hide from the public that they want to spend billions of dollars on roads that’ll give kids more asthma, give our communities more congestion, and give our climate more chaos.
ODOT attempts to charge us exorbitant fees for public records requests. ODOT doesn’t even fully disclose everything they should on the few public records requests they do provide, which earned ODOT a visit to court to be reprimanded by a judge.
ODOT spends God knows how much sending shiny but factually inaccurate (and embarrassingly typo-ridden) mailers to thousands of people.
When faced with criticism for lack of community engagement, ODOT refuses to alter the plans for the project but instead redesigns the logos of the proposed freeway expansion to better appropriate the neighborhood that ODOT intends to fill with air pollution.
ODOT refuses to share the most basic details of their highway projects with the public, treating facts like “how wide is the proposed freeway” as some sort of state secret.
ODOT hid from the public – and from Portland Public Schools! – their plan to widen the freeway into the backyard of Harriet Tubman Middle School.
The agency has repeatedly lied about the cost of their freeway expansion and hasn’t built a freeway that didn’t go ridiculously over budget in the past 20 years – check out Rep Khanh Pham’s editorial in the Oregonian about the cost overruns on the Interstate Bridge Replacement.
Yet the thing is, despite their political power and might – our scrappy little campaign is winning. Thanks to the valiant effort of countless Oregonians, our held-together-by-scotch-tape-and-bubble-gum campaign has spent the last five years consistently, effectively shooting spitballs, catching their every sleight-of-hand buried in 400 pages of technical documents, filing public records requests, filling board rooms and zoom calls with passionate and morally-correct testimony, coordinating with nonprofits and local elected leaders to demand restorative justice for Albina shouldn’t come with strings – or auxiliary lanes – attached.With countless hours of all-volunteer labor over the last five years holding the agency accountable, ODOT is against the ropes, publicly claiming they’ll start construction on the Rose Quarter next year despite the numerous lawsuits, massive cost-overruns and lack of coherent funding sources, and community organizations expressing opposition that stand in their way. While we’re scrappy, not everything is donated – we spend money on fliers, on social media ads, on buttons and stickers on events, on this e-mail service, on public records requests, on legal assistance, and yes, on buttons.
What can you give to help us slay this Goliath?
Every dollar you give unlocks so much more volunteer hustle. Donating to No More Freeways is an enormously cost-effective investment in halting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, in stopping the increase of air pollution in our neighborhoods, in a fiscally-responsible state agency that invests in street safety and transit instead of traffic congestion and air pollution. We have a litigious year ahead, and candidly, we’ve got a lot of money to raise in the next few weeks to make sure we can hold ODOT accountable for this miserable Environmental Assessment. Please consider throwing a few bucks to the NMF legal fund as part of your end-of-year giving.Whether you have a large check, a medium check, or a small check to write, we’ll happily mail you a thank you card and a button and/or sticker for your support.
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.
PORTLAND – Weeks after the Federal Government rescinded the Record of Decision for ODOT’s proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion, co-plaintiffs No More Freeways, Eliot Neighborhood Association and Neighbors for Clean Air officially withdrew their federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) lawsuit against the project filed last April. The voluntary dismissal was done “without prejudice” meaning that the plaintiffs reserve the right to sue again when ODOT’s re-evaluation of the environmental impacts is complete.
“This legal decision formalizes what we’ve said for weeks: community advocates concerned about air pollution, traffic congestion and climate change have won round one of the fight against ODOT’s proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion,” said Aaron Brown, an organizer with No More Freeways. “Now would be an excellent time for local elected officials to pressure ODOT to acknowledge what we’ve all known for years: a polluting freeway expansion this large and disruptive to the community should be subject to a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that studies alternatives to spending billions on additional lanes of freeways. If necessary, No More Freeways stands ready and willing to refile a NEPA complaint in the months ahead to achieve the basic demand that ODOT do their homework and conduct an EIS.”
“The Eliot Neighborhood Association is pleased to see that the federal government’s pressure has motivated ODOT to reassess the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion,” said Allan Rudwick, a spokesperson of the Eliot Neighborhood Association and parent of future students at Harriet Tubman Middle School. “We know that ODOT has not done honest assessments of the traffic impacts or safety impacts of this project. We know that ODOT is lying about the air pollution their freeway will cause, and that their claims that this project improves traffic safety are dubious. Our neighborhood remains concerned about the impacts the existing highway has on our lungs and are determined to fight any change to our road network that does not move us in a cleaner direction. We continue to demand that ODOT conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that studies alternatives to freeway widening.”
The Federal Highway Administration announced in January their 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. In addition to the NEPA lawsuit, No More Freeways has also filed a lawsuit in Oregon Circuit Court, challenging ODOT’s asserted findings of compliance with Portland’s Comprehensive Plan. This case is actively continuing.
ODOT published a widely-critiqued draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed freeway expansion three years ago. Advocates uncovered that the agency hid from the public numerous crucial documents 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 leaders demanding a full EIS in March 2019 included then-Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, State Representative Karin Power, Metro, Audubon Society of Portland, Business for Better Portland, Oregon Walks, The Street Trust, Albina Vision Trust, the Eliot Neighborhood Association, the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees, the Planning and Sustainability Commission, and many more. Metro’s letter calling for an EIS called ODOT’s claims that this project wasn’t a freeway expansion “not objectively true and is potentially misleading.” Subsequent calls for an Environmental Impact Statement were made later in 2019 by other leaders including then-House Speaker Tina Kotek, Representative Rob Nosse, Senator Michael Dembrow, and Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Skepticism of the proposed freeway expansion continues to grow, even from institutions historically aligned with freeway construction. Without a current Record of Decision from the federal government, ODOT is legally unable to move forward with the project. As the Oregonian reported in January, the proposed freeway expansion also currently faces a $500 million shortfall, a number that has surely increased in recent months with rampant inflation. Oregon Transportation Commissioner Julie Browh expressed skepticism whether the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion and other road expansions truly represented a statewide priority at their March meeting held last week.
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.
The Oregon Transportation Commission is, ostensibly, the entity that that oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation. Given recent headlines about how scary the climate apocalypse is getting and also how truly terrible ODOT has been on drawing up a meaningful climate action plan, you’d think the OTC would be issuing orders for ODOT to prioritize investments in public transportation, biking and walking instead of freeway expansion.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. At this point, the OTC seems eager to continue obliviously promoting the status quo and allowing ODOT to move forward with spending billions of dollars on freeway expansions all over the Portland region while traffic fatalities on ODOT’s orphan highways continue to skyrocket, carbon emissions continue to rise, and the agency gets increasingly skeptical press coverage from The Oregonian.
Thanks to the passage of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the OTC will be responsible for directing how ODOT should spend upwards of $1.2 billion in federal money. No More Freeways joined the Clean and Just Transportation Network on a letter to the OTC last month demanding investments in transportation infrastructure that reduces carbon emissions instead of increases them.
Now, No More Freeways is calling on you to join us. We need you to email the Oregon Transportation Commission and tell them to invest in green transportation options – and no more freeway expansions.
If you’ve ever wanted to speak directly to individuals responsible for oversight of ODOT’s carbon emissions, and the political body theoretically capable of pushing the agency to a greener future, we need you now to drop the Oregon Transportation Commission an email. You can share your climate story, your frustration with abysmal transit service across the Portland region (and across the entire state), or your anger at ODOT’s unwillingness to invest to stop rising traffic violence. This is your chance to demand that Oregon’s appointed officials rise to the challenge that this political moment requires and push for a greener, less polluting ODOT.
Potential talking points:
ODOT should only invest in projects proven to reduce carbon emissions
Y’all responded, big time. Metro received 300+ emails from across the region, each of you demanding that the elected leaders demonstrate their commitment to reducing carbon emissions by asking ODOT tough questions about how the proposed freeway expansion would impact carbon emissions, air pollution and traffic congestion.
Unfortunately, the Metro Council didn’t hear you, and therefore needs to hear from you again. Metro wrote to advocates in a letter this week stating that they believe the proposed budgetary allocation included in the MTIP amendment is ultimately necessary for ODOT to have the resources to study the climate impacts as the advocates have been demanding.
We’re skeptical of that, to say the least. There are deep flaws in ODOT’s process and proposal. Allowing this to proceed now and failing to ask tough questions now, will make it far more difficult to insist on getting honest answers later on. We need our leaders to hear from us how we expect them to hold ODOT accountable to not setting the planet on fire before their vote on Tuesday.
We need you to contact the Metro Council and urge them to commit to drawing a line in the sand and opposing any iteration of a proposed Interstate Bridge Replacement that increases vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Simply put, we cannot spend billions of dollars to encourage more driving with more lanes of freeway as the planet slides into climate chaos. The region desperately needs to invest in transportation infrastructure to connect Portland with Vancouver and SW Washington; ODOT and WSDOT are not proposing anything but the failed status quo of continued freeway expansion they’ve delivered at great cost for decades.
Today (Wednesday, January 5th), the Sunrise youth’s bi-weekly climate strike moves across the river. The YouthVsODOT strike (garnering plenty of local and national attention lately) will be held outside the Metro Council building. In attendance will be members of No More Freeways, testimonials from the teenage climate activists with Sunrise PDX, and Beaverton City Council candidate Kevin Teater. We will be handing out postcards to write to the Metro Council pleading for climate action.
Bring a K95 mask; we hope to see you there!
Wednesday January 5 4:30-6:00pm Metro Regional Center (we’ll meet in the Plaza) 600 NE Grand Portland OR 97232
2 – Testify to the Metro Council during the hearing Thursday morning.
Want to speak to your elected officials directly? Metro Council will be taking public testimony before their vote on the morning of Thursday, January 6. Metro’s website has the link to the zoom, and provides information on how to sign up to testify virtually:
Those wishing to testify orally are encouraged to sign up in advance by either: (a) contacting the legislative coordinator by phone at 503-797-1916 and providing your name and the agenda item on which you wish to testify; or (b) registering by email by sending your name and request to testify on AGENDA ITEM 4.3 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those requesting to comment during the meeting can do so by using the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom or emailing the legislative coordinator at email@example.com. Individuals will have three minutes to testify unless otherwise stated at the meeting.
3 – Write the Metro Council an email asking if we can trust them with our future.
Can’t make it to either event on Wednesday or Thursday? You can still send the Metro Councilor an email before their vote Thursday morning. Use our form below to remind the Metro Council that we are counting on brave, unapologetic climate leadership, and that climate leaders don’t widen freeways. No More Freeways is asking Metro to
delay approving the MTIP amendment for additional funding until ODOT provides a public hearing to learn more about the project, and
pass a resolution about Metro’s vision for the bridge proposal, with specific language detailing how the agency will only support a project that reduced carbon emissions and vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
Thanks for your support – let’s make sure Metro knows we’ll have their back when they side with the planet over the freeway-builders!
Fill out the form below to email the Metro Council:
This, unsurprisingly, was our big news of the year. In early April, No More Freeways joined with co-plaintiffs Neighbors for Clean Air and the Eliot Neighborhood Association and filed a lawsuit against the federal government demanding a full Environmental Impact Statement that studied alternatives to freeway expansion for tackling the traffic congestion at the Rose Quarter. We also wrote Secretary Pete Buttigieg a letter stating our concerns about the federal government’s approval of ODOT’s Environmental Assessment, encouraging him to revisit the project, and followed up in July.
In our main federal NEPA lawsuit, seeking a full Environmental Impact Statement and consideration of pricing and transit alternatives to the I-5 Rose Quarter “Improvements”, the court has finalized a date by which ODOT and the FHWA must produce the record of the decision making process for their Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The case will then be argued later in the spring.
Our second suit at the state level contends that ODOT’s findings of compatibility with Portland’s Comprehensive Plan are flawed and premature since ODOT continues to redesign the project. There is relatively little case law in this area and the Land Use Board of Appeals has recently decided that they do not have jurisdiction. That means that the case will now move to Oregon Circuit Court where we’ll have the opportunity to depose and take testimony from officials involved in making the findings.
Our litigation earned significant local media coverage, and got picked up by national publications including Streetsblog and Bloomberg’s CityLab. You can read our full complaint here.
hundreds attend tubman rally
In one of the first in-person events many of us attended since May 2020, No More Freeways partnered with the Eliot Neighborhood Association to hold a rally at Harriet Tubman Middle School to celebrate our lawsuit and demand a full Environmental Impact Statement for the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion. We were blessed with numerous amazing speakers, including former Tubman students and teachers, advocates from Oregon Walks and Neighbors for Clean Air, and youth climate justice advocates.
youth vs odot: EIGHTEEN weeks and counting
It started with a simple idea from Aurelia, a sixteen year old climate organizer with Sunrise PDX, who posted on the slack channel: “I want to hold a climate strike to stop the freeway.” After the first rally in April brought about a small crowd, the recurring strike has met outside ODOT every other week since, growing considerably in size. The recurring protest is to call attention to the Sunrise PDX demands of ODOT and Governor Brown, including a moratorium on freeway expansion within the Urban Growth Boundary and a youth climate justice member appointed to the Oregon Transportation Commission. The group has been meeting outside the ODOT headquarters every other week since then, with crowds as large as 75 people in the summer. The Sunrise youth have started gaining national press attention (and more is coming) for these strikes, and more importantly, local elected officials are paying attention. State Representative Khanh Pham attended in September, pledging to push for more accountability and transparency from ODOT and more legislative scrutiny on their proposed freeway expansions. YouthVsODOT has since also hosted Representatives Wlnsvey Campos and Maxine Dexter, and the General Climate Strike that drew a crowd of thousands took a deliberate tour in front of the ODOT building in September. Advocates from Sunrise PDX have appeared on KGW’s Straight Talk with Laural Porter, OPB’s Think Out Loud, and in thePortland Mercury to share their demands. Most recently, Sunrise wrote a letter demanding that any infrastructure funding from the federal government should be spent on projects that reduce driving.
The YouthVSODOT rally continues to meet every other Wednesday; join us for week nineteen Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 outside the Metro Council in advance of their vote to allocate $35 million more for the proposed revival of the Columbia River Crossing. Learn more on the YouthVSODOT Instagram page.
legislative wranglin’ in salem
No More Freeways helped organize hundreds of postcards and emails to elected officials in Salem opposing a bill that would give greater bonding authority for ODOT to spend more money on freeway expansion. Our efforts to stop House Bill 3055 represented the first time that No More Freeways organized in earnest at the legislative level of government, after spending much of the past few years working at municipal, regional, gubernatorial and agency-specific entities.
As we wrote in our written testimony on HB 3065 (the predecessor to 3055), “As our planet lurches towards climate catastrophe, it’s imperative that local and statewide elected officials hold ODOT accountable to investing in infrastructure that doesn’t further clog our community with cars, pollute our children’s lungs or set on fire the planet they stand to inherit.”
While we still believe the vote represents a gross abdication of responsibility from the Oregon Legislature to hold ODOT to any meaningful goals on climate or transportation reform, we were heartened to see a handful of votes in opposition to the bill. A special shoutout is in order for Rep Campos, as well as Senators Kathleen Taylor and Michael Dembrow, who voted against the measure. Speaker Tina Kotek also voted against the bill, citing a need for ODOT to work on “right sizing projects,” although she played a significant role in getting the bill to the floor for a vote.
Furthermore, as another silver lining, advocates including Rep Pham, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Oregon Walks and APANO successfully won funding from the legislature to fund a complete retrofit to 82nd Avenue, ODOT’s dangerous highway that runs through the Jade District. 82nd Avenue was the location of two tragic traffic fatalities this spring – that’s two more traffic fatalities than the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion has seen in decades. Let’s hope that legislators find opportunities to fix the rest of the orphan highways in the state, including locally TV Highway, Barbur, McLoughlin and Powell. Clearly, ODOT fixing these dangerous streets should be a top priority over freeway widening…
Thanks to public records, We caught ODOT lying a buncha times
For a public works project with a proposed $1.2 billion project and countless millions spent on public relations and community engagement, you’d imagine ODOT staff would have ample resources to provide information to any member of the public inquiring about the impacts this expansion would have on our community. Curiously, though, No More Freeways spent over three months asking ODOT staffers (as well as testifying at numerous bodies including the state legislature and the Oregon Transportation Commission) a very basic question: how many feet wide is the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion?Joe and Aaron testified to the Oregon Transportation Commission in January asking this question, but ultimately, ODOT treated this simple fact as a state secret.
Ultimately, as Willamette Week reported, City Observatory obtained through public records requests numerous documents showing that ODOT’s proposed freeway expansion is 160 feet – wide enough for ten full lanes. When ODOT was confronted with this, ODOT’s staff said they were working with TriMet to exploring building bus rapid transit lines, but as Willamette Weekreported, that seems to be a dubious claim.
the zombie bridge is back: New Name, Same Columbia River Crossing
ODOT and WSDOT are bringing the band back together!
After spending $200 million on consultants over a decade to ultimately build nothing, ODOT and WSDOT are once again beating the drums about the need to spend approximately five billion dollars on a ten lane, five-mile freeway expansion across the Columbia River. The project has been re-branded as the “Interstate Bridge Replacement Project,” but as Ryan Packer has reported at BikePortland, all of the iterations of the project currently being studied essentially recycle the previous plans for the proposed freeway expansion from over a decade ago.
In our first call-to-action for the CRC 2.0, we got hundreds of people across the Portland region to email the Metro Council and ask for them to demand specific concessions from ODOT to study alternatives to freeway expansion before allocating the agency another $35 million further in study. No More Freeways also signed onto a letter asking Metro to postpone the vote until after a public hearing on the project.
We are eager to continue working with partners including 1000 Friends of Oregon, The Street Trust, and Oregon Environmental Council to track this gargantuan freeway expansion and push for a sensible alternative. Stay Tuned!
Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion Stumbles Forward with “Hybrid 3”, but Funding still a challenge
In September, the Oregon Transportation Commission voted to approve “Hybrid 3” for the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion, in a deal brokered by Governor Kate Brown. This proposal represents a fairly successful set of improvements to the surface level plans for the proposed expansion. As No More Freeways wrote in our testimony to the OTC, we are delighted to see that the Albina Vision Trust and the Historic Albina Advisory Board have been able to successfully advocate for positive outcomes for the community. Their continued leadership, moral clarity, and commitment to wealth generation and healing what was the largest Black neighborhood in the state of Oregon is commendable and inspiring.
However, as we’ve said for years – we don’t have to widen the freeway to add caps and heal the Albina neighborhood. The core objections of our NEPA lawsuit – that ODOT deliberately manipulated traffic data and refused to study congestion pricing ahead of freeway expansion – remains intact despite these significant improvements to the original surface-level plans. As we wrote in our testimony:
There is no need to expand the freeway in order to cap it. An alternative to cap the existing highway should be studied. Maintaining the existing roadway dimensions makes potential caps cheaper to build, healthier for the community, less polluting, and more capable of supporting additional housing and community space. We find it puzzling that ODOT has never given the community the opportunity to consider alternatives to adding additional polluting freeway lanes, especially given that congestion pricing studies by ODOT’s own consultants suggest the additional freeway lanes aren’t necessary to reduce traffic congestion.
Despite the unanimous vote in support of Hybrid 3, there’s still no plan to fund the project, which has seen cost increases to over $1 billion. The OTC insisted these extra costs should be born by local governments like the City of Portland, Multnomah County or Metro; the OTC was expected to hear a funding proposal at their December meeting, but that was curiously postponed. Stay tuned to see how ODOT tries to cobble together the enormous funding – and remember, the proposed buildable caps would be cheaper, healthier, easier, and greener to build without widening the existing freeway below. The only way to study these alternatives legitimately demands a full Environmental Impact Statement.
other miscellaneous odds and ends
In November, The Oregonian‘s Ted Sickinger and Jayati Ramakrishnan published what might be the most significant, exposé on ODOT’s ongoing failures to reform to reduce driving and carbon emissions in years. It’s a must read article, and hopefully it spurs future attention to ODOT’s proposed freeway expansions.
No More Freeways turned out testimony this summer in opposition of amendments to Metro’s MTIP to proceed with an expansion of I-205 in Oregon City. While the measure ultimately passed, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González voted in opposition, and made a bold statement that he would never again vote for a freeway expansion. His comments before his vote (as reported in BikePortland) set a bold new tone that we hope the rest of the elected officials in the region will adopt!
ODOT spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants to produce a greenwashed, woke-washed mailer about the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion sent to nearby residents. In addition to the content of the mailer being demonstrably misleading about what the proposed expansion was promising to the community, the mailer also included an astonishing 23 typos.
We’ve been connecting with freeway fighters across the country, and we were delighted to see Secretary Pete Buttigieg weigh in to help advocates slow TxDOT’s proposed $7 billion freeway expansion in Houston.
Chris Smith wrote a memo to JPACT explaining exactly why we must push for a reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled in future transportation planning, noting that vehicle electrification alone simply won’t allow us to hit our carbon reduction goals. Chris has also been closely watching the numerous committees on tolling, and wrote this testimony on behalf of NMF.
2021 was clearly a big year for No More Freeways, and the pace only seems to increase as ODOT gears up to build more freeways and we gear up to fight them. As The Portland Mercuryreports, there’s an awful lot of money coming into ODOT’s pockets from the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. No More Freeways joined numerous partners with the Clean and Just Transportation Network to write this letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission, following a similar letter from Sunrise PDX, demanding that the OTC only invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions. We also expect ODOT to continue to push hard on the Interstate Bridge Replacement, and for our lawsuits to advance. Stay tuned!
And now, a note from Aaron Brown, co-founder of No More Freeways:
It sure has been a helluva year for our humble freeway fight. I’m often asked why I’ve spent so much of my life volunteering on this campaign; aside from being very stubborn, the best answer I’ve got is that No More Freeways has brought together so many inspiring people putting in the elbow grease to rid their community of the Grey Old Deal so we can make space for the Green New Deal. Every foot of auxiliary lane we stop leads to millions more dollars for transit and sidewalks, as well as cleaner air and more congestion-free commutes. As we lurch into the climate apocalypse, every single foot of removed freeway is worth fighting for. And we’re so grateful for the leadership from the teens from Sunrise – their moral clarity, bravery, intelligence, and ability to righteously demand climate leadership is deeply affirming. We can only hope to do them right.
No More Freeways and our partners are using every tool at our disposal to dismantle this Grey Old Deal and freeway industrial complex – we’ve got protests in the streets, we’ve got lawsuits, we’ve got public testimony and letter-writing campaigns to targeted elected and appointed officials, we’ve got a litany of allies in environmental and transportation justice organizations we work with closely across the state, and we’ve got policy wonks churning out white papers envisioning a transportation system for a better Oregon.
When you donate to No More Freeways, you’re giving our all-volunteer team the resources to continue to pursue public records requests, hire excellent (and deeply discounted) NEPA lawyers, promote our campaigns on social media and yes, to make sure we’ve got plenty of buttons and stickers to hand out.
A generous anonymous donor has pledged to give up to $5000 in matching donations for our freeway fight fund. Whether you can give $5000, $500, $50, or $15, every dollar makes a difference – and we’ll be sure to mail you some buttons and stickers, no matter how much you give.
See you in 2022! Rest up – we have a lot more freeways to fight.