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April 12, 2021

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Portland group sues over ODOT’s planned Rose Quarter expansion

No More Freeways wants a full Environmental Impact Statement for the project

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:

Portland activist group No More Freeways announced Monday it has filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Transportation’s planned Rose Quarter Improvement Project, which would add auxiliary lanes and shoulders to a stretch of Interstate 5 in Portland.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the federal government’s finding of No Significant Impact that it issued last fall and require ODOT to conduct a full environmental impact statement for the project. The plaintiffs argue that the federal decision, which allowed the project to move forward with a more limited environmental assessment, was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Eliot Neighborhood Association and the group Neighbors for Clean Air are also listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Portland. The suit names the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as defendants.

The roughly $800 million Rose Quarter project seeks to decrease congestion and traffic crashes by adding auxiliary lanes to a segment of I-5 between the junctions with Interstates 84 and 405, a stretch where the freeway drops to only two lanes in each direction.

The project has garnered attention in Clark County due to the large number of residents who commute to Portland for work, often sitting through heavy backups on I-5 through North Portland.

But the project has faced significant opposition from No More Freeways and other community groups in Portland, who argue it amounts to a freeway expansion and would undermine efforts to combat pollution and climate change.

In particular, No More Freeways has objected to what it argues would be an increase in pollution at nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School, because the project would involve cutting into the hillside between the freeway and the school to make room for one of the auxiliary lanes.

The project has already faced a turbulent development cycle with prominent public opposition. The nonprofit community group Albina Vision Trust pulled its support last summer, prompting several local elected officials including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to follow suit.

The original construction of I-5 bulldozed a central swath of the historically Black Albina neighborhood, and the Trust and other advocates saw the project as an opportunity to repair some of that harm by building lids over the freeway through the Rose Quarter.

But the Trust later announced it opposed the current version of the project and would stop trying to work with ODOT. It wrote in a letter that the state agency had been unwilling to meaningfully engage with the community’s suggestions and make serious changes to the project.

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