Governor Brown Approves Rose Quarter Freeway Cover Design, Moves Project Forward – Blogtown


Governor Brown on Tuesday recommended a cover design for the Interstate-5 Rose Quarter project. Courtesy of Governor Kate Brown’s Office

Governor Kate Brown on Tuesday approved a freeway cover design for the Interstate-5 Rose Quarter expansion project, bringing the multi-year battle over freeway traffic jams closer to a final design.


While the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Rose District Improvement Project was started in 2012 to address the rush hour bottleneck on the highway, the project has grown to include elements of restorative justice for the neighborhood of Albina, the historically black neighborhood that was partially demolished and traversed by the original construction of the I-5 corridor in the late 1950s. The inclusion of highway caps – plates – steel and concrete shapes that connect the streetscape above the freeway corridor – emerged as one of the main solutions for returning part of the neighborhood’s land to the community for redevelopment. While Albina revitalization advocates and Portland regional leaders approved the inclusion of freeway covers that could support the weight of complete city blocks above the freeway, ODOT was reluctant to add rugged covers to the project design because of the additional cost and possible delays the change in the project design would cause.

Tension over inclusion and coverage integrity has increased between regional leaders and ODOT over the past two years, with the issue often cited as a barrier to project progress. That’s when Brown stepped in and began holding meetings with various advocacy groups, Portland executives, and the state’s Department of Transportation. Using feedback from those meetings, Brown decided which of the six possible cover designs offered by an independent design company hired by ODOT to approve the project, effectively giving the project the boost it needs to move forward. before.

Brown approved a roofing design that reconnects part of the grid of streets surrounding the project area in a joint meeting with various ODOT committees tasked with guiding the I-5 project. The design, called “Hybrid 3Has a single coverage on the highway that stretches from NE Wielder Street to south of NE Tillamook Street. The cover offers 4.1 acres of land that could be integrated into the historic district of Albina.

An illustration of the cover design.

Hybrid cover design 3. Courtesy of ODOT.

The design would add approximately 10 to 12 months to the project schedule, but not delay the planned construction start date of 2023. When discussing potential roof designs earlier this year, contractors like Raimore Construction – a company from Black-owned construction hired as a subcontractor for the project – expressed concern that the design changes would delay the project and cause them to lose the contract. This cover design avoids this problem.

“Hybrid Option 3 addresses the security, congestion and environmental concerns of the original project, while also, and most importantly, providing a canvas for the development opportunities sought by community members, as well. than a project schedule that can leave existing contract opportunities in place, ”Brown said at the meeting. City and county officials also backed the design of the Hybrid 3 in meetings with the governor before it made a final recommendation.

Supporters of investments in historic Albina consider Brown’s approval of the roofing model a victory.

Albina Vision Trust (AVT) – an organization campaigning for neighborhood revitalization – praised Brown for her support, writing in a press release that her intervention “snatched victory from the clutches of defeat.”

“Now we can move forward with a project that will provide good jobs, create wealth creation opportunities for the community and repair the urban fabric in the heart of the city,” said AVT director Winta. Yohannes.

While Brown’s approval carries significant weight, the final cover design remains to be determined. Projects Executive Steering Committee will make its recommendation for coverage to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) – the governing body of ODOT – by the end of August. The CTA will review the committee’s and Brown’s recommendations and make the final decision on the design of the blanket with which the project will move forward in the fall. Given the consensus among state, county, and city leaders on the Hybrid 3 design, it would be surprising if the CTA chooses a different design, but not beyond the realm of the possible.

According to Megan Channell, Director of the Rose Neighborhood Improvement Project, the design analysis for the Hybrid 3 is still in its early stages. Part of this design analysis will determine what type of buildings the roofs can support.

Current roofing concepts would support two- or three-story buildings, but Channell said ODOT is exploring how to make the roofs can support buildings up to five stories. The Executive Steering Committee, which includes representatives from TriMet, trucking organizations, Portland Public Schools and other community groups, also provided information on what type of buildings the blankets should be able to support. ODOT will spend the rest of the year tweaking the design of the chosen blanket.

As the CTA gets closer to making the roof design decision, the conversation around the project may turn to other issues, for example, how the state will actually pay for the expansion of the I- 5.

Starting in 2022, the Oregon legislature is expected to set aside $ 30 million per year for the project, but that’s a drop in the bucket next to the project’s nearly $ 800 million price tag, a figure that doesn’t ‘does not include the cost of the highway. covers, which will take the project above the billion dollar threshold. Brown also called for the project to include congestion pricing – a mechanism to charge drivers for using roads during busiest times to reduce demand – which could help finance construction, but studies on the effectiveness of congestion pricing in the area are still unfinished.

In June, members of the Oregon Federal Delegation – State Representatives Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Congressman Earl Blumenauer – sent a letter to Brown promising to fight for federal dollars for the project. I-5 as long as freeway coverage was included in the design. The final approval of the OTC Hybrid 3 design would pave the way for federal officials in Oregon to get money from the federal government, most likely through the Reconnecting Communities Act, a program that aims to fund rebuilding street networks in divided communities, like Albina, would be created thanks to the historic infrastructure bill of $ 1,000 billion.

For AVT, Brown’s approval of the cover design allows their advocacy to move beyond the pressure for inclusion of a cover and begin to focus on what is actually being built on top of it. highway coverage. ODOT owns the land by default, but Channell said the department is looking at best practices across the country to determine how best to bring the land back into community control. This can include 99-year leases, selling the land to the community for less than market price, or land easements.

Once the cover design is finalized, determining what types of buildings go where on the covers will be an intergovernmental and community conversation. While ODOT will determine how the cover land is leased or transferred to the community, the City of Portland is responsible for issuing the necessary permits for constructions above the covers. The streets running through the blanket are owned by PBOT, so the transport agency will have to resume project discussions with ODOT, which PBOT commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she would only do if a plan was made. to relocate Harriet Tubman Middle School, which suffered from poor air quality due to its location right next to the freeway.

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Brown has also shown strong support for the school move, and Brown’s Equity and Racial Justice principal Shannon Singleton said the governor’s office is currently investigating how to fund the move. Harriet Tubman serves a historically black student body, and many regional leaders and community stakeholders have highlighted the school relocation as a way for ODOT not only to begin repairing past damage caused by the construction of the freeway corridor, but also to mitigate continued damage from school exposure. children to the constant pollution of vehicles.

Singleton also noted during the meeting that while Brown is adamant that restorative justice values ​​are included in the Rose Quarter project, the integration of racial equity values ​​into a bureaucratic process is still new territory for the ‘State.

“I think the state has been really honest in saying that everyone is learning what it really means to operationalize racial equity,” Singleton said. “We can say these words, but how to do it and how to do it on the ground, people are still figuring out. I don’t think anyone quite understood that. So please keep giving us your feedback.

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