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Commissioner Hardesty Calls for Portland to rejoin I-5 Rose Quarter Project, to hold ODOT accountable for delivering on promised compromise

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At this morning‘s Portland City Council meeting, Commissioner Hardesty made the case for why the City of Portland should formally rejoin ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project, reversing the city‘s unprecedented decision to pull out of the project in 2020. 

Commissioner Hardesty, working with regional and community partners, negotiated directly with Governor Kate Brown over the last year to create the option known as Hybrid 3. The option provides 8 acres of buildable land to reconnect the Albina neighborhood and ensures variable rate pricing will limit congestion and pollution.

The agreement council heard today would officially have Portland rejoin the project. 

Please see Commissioner Hardesty's prepared remarks below:

This hearing marks an important milestone for the City of Portland and the State of Oregon. Today, we consider not just a regional transportation project. We consider the role of transportation in the development of our city and the role of racism in shaping the look and feel - the geography - of Portland.

In 1962, ODOT dug a trench through Oregon’s largest Black community. The state destroyed more than 300 homes and businesses. It displaced the entire Albina community, forcing many people to live farther from their historic neighborhoods and families. Instead of a neighborhood, we have a trench filled with inhospitable highway traffic and pollution. All this, for the sake of making driving easier for people who live farther away.

The Black community bore the burdens of this highway and the City's failed urban renewal efforts in the area. The displacement robbed Black Portlanders of more than $1 billion in wealth, counting just the loss of home ownership. Black Portlanders now live in a diaspora across the metro area. They lack the access to jobs and services and the easy access to downtown that close-in neighborhoods enjoy.

At various times in the last 30 years, ODOT has tried to double down on its racist past. ODOT's Greeley Banfield concept would have made the trench even wider, exacerbating the pollution and other problems we face. It would have added highway lanes for regional traffic through the area. 

The City of Portland stopped that plan.

The City of Portland pushed for a project that would reconnect the community across the trench. Early promises from ODOT led the City to include the I-5 Rose Quarter Project in plans going back to 2012. In 2017, the City supported the state legislature funding the project. These were contingent on the promise that the Rose Quarter Project would reconnect the neighborhood.

Time and again, ODOT went back on its promise. 

Time and again, ODOT made the City an adviser to the project. An adviser to a project that could not be trusted.

My predecessor as Transportation Commissioner, Chloe Eudaly, started the partnership with Albina Vision Trust on this project. Albina Vision, Commissioner Eudaly and Mayor Wheeler decided to pull out of the project in 2020 because of the non-stop resistance they faced from ODOT.

Pulling out of a regional transportation project was unprecedented in modern Portland history.

Today, I am proposing that the City of Portland come back to the I-5 Rose Quarter Project. 

This is a big step. It's been a long time coming.

Over the last year, I have negotiated an acceptable compromise for re-engaging this project.

ODOT would not listen to us. So we dealt directly with Governor Brown. 

It took hours and hours of negotiation and advocacy. Hours and hours with elected officials like Metro Council President Lynn Petersen and Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. Hours and hours with community advocates and the Albina Vision Trust. 

I’m proud that we have negotiated an acceptable compromise with the “Hybrid 3” option.

This option will build highway covers that create developable land and that sustain buildings over I-5, allowing us to reconnect the historically Black Albina neighborhood. Buildable highway covers were not a part of ODOT’s original plan.

ODOT had proposed 3 and half acres of bits and pieces over I-5.

With Hybrid 3, we have 8 acres. These 8 acres will do more than cover I-5. 

  • These acres provide the kind of city street grid that other Portland neighborhoods take for granted. They reconnect North Flint Street and North Hancock Street -- two neighborhood streets that were amputated by the original construction of I-5.
  • These acres provide a platform where we can create buildings and community spaces that bring back the neighborhood. 

With this compromise, we have assurance that ODOT will use congestion pricing to manage traffic and reduce carbon emissions.

With this compromise, we have assurance that Harriet Tubman School will be moved away from the highway. I-5 never should have been built next door to Portland's historically Black middle school.

With this compromise, we have a commitment that ODOT will work with the City and the Albina Vision Trust to transfer development rights and land ownership on highway cover or remnant lands created by the project. 

With this compromise, we have the potential to set a new standard for minority and disadvantaged business contracting.

With this compromise, we have accountability. If ODOT breaks their promises again, this agreement makes it clear that we will walk away again.

This agreement expires in July 2024. It is limited to the environmental evaluation and preliminary engineering phase. In two years, the project will need to come back to City Council to make the case that ODOT has kept its promises and deserves to proceed to construction.

With all these elements, I believe this is a compromise worth supporting. 

It helps us undo the racist harm of past policies.

It helps us remake the geography of Lower Albina. It helps us begin to heal ourselves. 

It sets the stage for the next generation of Portlanders to work with the Albina Vision Trust to create the inclusive community we all want Oregon and Portland to be.