ACTION ALERT: NOV 2022 RQ PUBLIC COMMENT

ACTION ALERT:

It’s that time again, folks. We need your help to submit as many comments as possible into the record challenging ODOT’s proposed $1.45 billion Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion.

The form below will send your comments directly to ODOT – below the submission form we also have more information on No More Freeways’ official position on the proposed expansion (in short: 1. Lids not Lanes! 2. Conduct an EIS! 3. We can’t trust ODOT!) and more information about this supplemental EA.

Submit PUBLIC Comment HERE:


Wait, Didn’t We Already Do This?

Yup, we did in 2019, and yet here we are again. Here’s how we got here:

NMF vs US DOT

This November, ODOT introduced their Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) for their modified plans for the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion. Their original EA in February 2019 received over 2000 comments from the public, with nearly 90% expressing opposition to the proposal, with testimony submitted from dozens of advocacy organizations, elected officials and everyday Portlanders. ODOT ignored NMF’s repeated requests to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed freeway expansion.

After the federal government gave ODOT a “Finding Of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) to allow the agency to proceed with the project in November 2020, No More Freeways joined Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA) and the Eliot Neighborhood Association (ENA) to file a lawsuit in April 2021. This lawsuit alleged ODOT’s EA didn’t fully follow standards established by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Our lawsuit asserted that ODOT didn’t study alternatives to expansion, including the possibility of implementing congestion pricing without adding new lanes of freeway, that ODOT didn’t study the cumulative impacts of their proposed freeway expansions across the region, and that ODOT didn’t provide the necessary data for us to study. Facing this pressure, ODOT rescinded their proposal in January 2022, and the agency is now asking for public comments on a modified Supplemental Environmental Assessment.

Oregon Families for Safe Streets held an event for World Day of Remembrance to honor victims of traffic violence, November 2022

The new EA includes plans for freeway lids capable of holding new buildings across the freeway, crafted with significant feedback by community members including ODOT’s Historic Albina Advisory Board (HAAB). No More Freeways believes the “Hybrid 3” caps proposal represents a significant improvement to the design and a victory for our friends at the Albina Vision Trust worth supporting. While No More Freeways’ celebrates the improvements for neighborhood connectivity on the caps, the reality remains: nearly four years later, ODOT still has done absolutely nothing to address our concerns about the dangerous impacts of the additional lanes of freeway and the congestion it will bring to our streets, the air pollution it will bring to our lungs, and the carbon emissions that it will add to our alarmingly warming planet.

How Can I Help?

We’ve got a lot of buttons. Want one? Donate to NMF and we’ll mail you one.

We are assembling a team of experts to provide technical analysis of ODOT’s proposals as well as conducting outreach to community leaders and organizations that expressed opposition to the project back in 2019. We need your help getting as many voices of everyday Portlanders as we can to once again submit testimony and make sure our voices are on record in opposition to additional lanes of freeway.

Please submit your own comment in the form above by January 3, 2023. You can write whatever you’d like, but we’d encourage you to speak from the heart and write about your own personal reasons why you oppose this project, be it related to air pollution, induced demand, climate change, or general skepticism of ODOT. Overall, there are three points that we wish to stress, and would appreciate you echoing in your own comments


What Should I write?

No More Freeways encourages you to share your personal story of how this proposed freeway expansion would harm you and family, and your community. There’s plenty to discuss. Are you concerned about air pollution in the neighborhood? The increased carbon emissions this freeway expansion from increased driving? Your concerns about increased traffic in the neighborhood? The fact that ODOT is neglecting to spend money fixing up their dangerous orphan highways during an epidemic of traffic violence.

The three points below are the ones that No More Freeways thinks are most important to share:

1 – Build Lids, not lanes.

The proposed “Hybrid 3” caps over the freeway provide a path forward for the Albina community to heal from ODOT’s freeway construction in the neighborhood sixty years ago. No More Freeways supports building these community lids and decoupling this initiative from ODOT’s additional lanes of freeway.

No More Freeways is in emphatic support of the proposed freeway caps over I-5 included in Hybrid 3. We are grateful for the continued advocacy from Albina Vision Trust and the wisdom of the Historic Albina Advisory Board to heal the neighborhood previously torn apart by ODOT freeway construction sixty years ago. No More Freeways strongly supporters continued investment in the Albina neighborhood including the freeway lids, affordable housing and safer streets without also adding additional cars and air pollution into the neighborhood brought about by the significant freeway expansion below the surface level streets. ODOT likes to talk a big game about their commitment to restorative justice, but their proposal to fix the injustices of their previous freeway construction shouldn’t come with strings – or lanes – attached. We believe the Hybrid 3 proposal should be funded and decoupled from ODOT’s original proposal to add 1.8 miles lanes of polluting freeway.

2 – We still need a full EIS that studies alternatives to expansion. 

Students from Harriet Tubman Middle School on the Flint Avenue overpass, April 2019

As No More Freeways has demanded in countless letters and testimony since 2017, ODOT must conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement to fully understand the direct impacts this proposed freeway expansion would have to the neighborhood streets, our children’s lungs, and the planet they stand to inherit. ODOT continues to officially insist that tolling is “not reasonably foreseeable” in the future and therefore should not be studied as an alternative to freeway widening – despite the fact that OTC Chair Bob Van Brocklin has said publicly that tolling is the only source of revenue that ODOT can possibly use to fill the funding gaps for this project. Numerous ODOT studies show that congestion pricing without widening the freeway would eliminate traffic congestion while also providing cleaner air for the neighborhood and lowering carbon emissions (The Portland Mercury wrote about this in 2018, and ODOT’s study this summer supports this finding). ODOT must conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that truly studies whether these additional lanes of toxic, polluting freeway at such exorbitant cost are truly necessary to reduce congestion.

3 – We SIMPLY Cannot Trust ODOT.

ODOT’s proposed plans for freeway widening into the backyard of Harriet Tubman Middle School. Image credit Cupola Media

ODOT has a terrible record with accountability and transparency to the public with the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion. Below is an incomplete list of instances in which ODOT has withheld crucial information or demonstrably mislead the public.

This image demonstrating ODOT’s plans to widen the freeway to 160 wide – wide enough for 12 lanes of traffic – was hidden from the public and only made available through No More Freeways’ repeated public records requests.
This image shows how wide ODOT plans to widen the freeway – this document was only obtained through numerous public records requests.
  • In the original Environmental Assessment, ODOT didn’t even provide the full traffic projection numbers on which the agency based all of their claims of congestion reduction, improved air quality or lowered carbon emissions. No More Freeways sent numerous letters demanding this information, and what the agency ultimately provided with only a week for us to review before the closure of the public comment period was laughably incomplete.
  • ODOT’s traffic projections also hid the proposed Columbia River Crossing into their assumptions to artificially inflate the need for additional lanes of freeway through the Rose Quarter.
  • ODOT hired air quality experts to review the impacts that the freeway would have on nearby air pollution, but refused to give the experts the opportunity to review the corrupted traffic data on which any review of air pollution would necessitate. Their claims that this proposed freeway expansion would improve air quality are impossible to verify without providing the public this traffic data, and the agency continues to withhold this information.
  • Despite repeated questions by community leaders and public testimony for numerous elected bodies, ODOT continued to hide from the public basic details about the proposal, most notably refusing to confirm the width of the proposed expansion. No More Freeways uncovered evidence that ODOT was planning a freeway wide enough for twelve lanes through numerous public records requests in 2021, many of which ODOT attempted to delay or refuse to provide information. When confronted with this question, ODOT’s officials claimed in a public meeting that the additional width was part of a collaboration with the local transit agency for bus-only lanes, a claim that TriMet immediately refuted.  
  • ODOT has continued to lie to the public about the costs of this project. In 2017, ODOT told the Oregon Legislature the project would cost $450 million.  In 2019, ODOT admitted the cost could be as high as $795 million.  Last year, ODOT revealed that the project’s total cost could be as much as $1.45 billion.  The huge expense of the project comes from the very wide roadway that ODOT is planning–as much as 160 feet wide–enough for a 10 or 12 lane roadway.  The very wide roadway makes the caps more complex and expensive.  Capping the existing freeway would be far cheaper and have much lower environmental costs, but ODOT refuses to study this alternative.
  • ODOT hid from Portland Public Schools and the public at large their plans to take land into the literal backyard of Harriet Tubman Middle School. No More Freeways only uncovered this fact after numerous public records requests. PPS staff were unaware of ODOT’s plans.
  • ODOT claims that this proposed freeway expansion is a “safety investment” – yet there hasn’t been a traffic fatality on this stretch of freeway in over a decade. Meanwhile, ODOT owns numerous arterials across the region (including TV Highway, Barbur Boulevard, Powell Boulevard, McLoughlin among them) that are among the most dangerous roads in the state. The Street Trust’s Sarah Iannarone wrote in The Oregonian this November highlighting the need to use tolling policy to invest in safety improvements instead of more lanes of freeway, and Oregon Families for Safe Street’s Michelle DuBarry shared her story of personal loss in an op-ed in the Oregonian in March 2020.
  • ODOT hid from the public their plan to widen the freeway over the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade – this was only made public through No More Freeways’ public records research.
  • The agency has talked a big game about the investments they would make on the caps, but as Joe Cortright at City Observatory reports, ODOT’s actual plans for what they intend to support and invest in is significantly different than what the agency shares in glossy mailers.
  • Most recently, a Circuit Court Judge in Marion County found ODOT guilty of breaking the most basic public records laws. The agency was caught red-headed manufacturing fake records to share with the public instead of providing the documents requested, and ODOT’s doctored documents attempted to downplay the significant community opposition that spoke up against the project in 2019.
  • Metro’s letter to ODOT during the March 2019 public comment period called ODOT’s claims that this project wasn’t a freeway expansion “not objectively true and potentially misleading.”
No More Freeways protest outside of the Oregon Department of Transportation demanding an EIS, December 2018

You don’t have to include every one of these details (don’t worry, No More Freeways will make sure these and other examples all end up in the public record) but we think it’s important for the public record to show the widespread distrust that this agency has justifiably earned. ODOT has repeatedly, deliberately hid from the public crucial information necessary to understand the impacts this proposed freeway expansion will have on our community and city. Their continued efforts to avoid basic transparency and public accountability are unacceptable, and we encourage you to share your concerns that you personally want to see reform at ODOT and that the agency’s claims that it cannot pursue alternatives to senseless freeway expansion are not in good faith.


WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?

Youth Vs ODOT protests held by Sunrise PDX for over a year outside the ODOT headquarters – Summer 2021

Thank you for submitting testimony! Every comment on the record helps demonstrate the significant community opposition to investing in this poisonous fossil-fuel infrastructure in the backyard of Harriet Tubman Middle School.

Here’s how else you can help:

Youth Vs ODOT Protest, Halloween 2021
  • Ask your friends to submit a comment – can you send this page to five of your friends that you know care about transportation justice, climate action or clean air?
  • Share this petition on social media – help spread the word on facebook, twitter, instagram, tiktok, nextdoor, whatever platforms you’re on. We need more people to see this petition, and every share counts.
  • Stay tuned for our winter event. No More Freeways is preparing to host an event this December to allow the public an opportunity to provide oral testimony. We are actively working with our partners and hope to have the information about an event soon.
  • Donate to No More Freeways’ freeway fighting legal fund – this effort is entirely fueled by volunteer elbow grease, and we need your help to fund our grassroots campaign. From facebook ads to promote our petition to paying for our lawyers to printing buttons, every dollar you give is going directly into our freeway fight. We need to get 200 donors by January 31 – will you be one of them? Whether you can give $5000, $500, $150, $50, or $15, we are grateful for your support – and we’ll mail you a button and some stickers and a hand written thank you card.