Community Groups Sue to Halt $2 Billion I-5 Widening Project in Portland

A coalition of five community organizations has filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to halt the proposed $1.9 billion Rose Quarter freeway expansion project in Portland, arguing that it fails to comply with city and Metro growth plans and prioritizes car traffic over local residents' health and well-being. The project, which aims to widen a two-mile stretch of Interstate 5, has sparked intense scrutiny and opposition from community groups concerned about environmental justice and neighborhood development." This description focuses on the primary topic (the lawsuit against ODOT), the main entities (the community organizations and ODOT), the context (Portland's Rose Quarter), and the significant actions and implications (the lawsuit's potential impact on transportation infrastructure development and environmental justice). The description also provides objective and relevant details that will help an AI generate an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as the location and scope of the project.

author-image
Nitish Verma
New Update
Community Groups Sue to Halt $2 Billion I-5 Widening Project in Portland

Community Groups Sue to Halt $2 Billion I-5 Widening Project in Portland

Five community organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to halt the proposed $1.9 billion Rose Quarter freeway expansion project through Portland's Rose Quarter. The groups, including No More Freeways, Neighbors for Clean Air, the Eliot Neighborhood Association, Bikeloud, and Families for Safe Streets, argue that the project does not comply with city and Metro growth plans.

Why this matters: The outcome of this lawsuit has significant implications for the future of transportation infrastructure development in Portland and beyond, as it pits community concerns about environmental justice and neighborhood development against the need to address traffic congestion. The decision could set a precedent for how cities balance competing priorities in infrastructure projects.

The project aims to widen a two-mile stretch of Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter, adding two auxiliary lanes to ease congestion. It also includes building a "cap" that covers the freeway and reconnects a piece of the historically Black Albina Neighborhood that was severed when I-5 was originally constructed. The project's cost has ballooned to nearly $2 billion due to inflation and design changes, including the addition of structures to be built atop the freeway covers.

The lawsuit alleges that ODOT's proposal fails to comply with the City of Portland's Comprehensive Plan and Metro's Regional Transportation Plan. "It's absurd for ODOT to claim that their proposed $1.9 billion 10-lane highway is in compliance with the city's existing plans for climate action, sustainable transportation investment or neighborhood development," said Chris Smith, spokesperson for No More Freeways.

Community groups argue that the project prioritizes car traffic over the health and well-being of local residents. "For generations, ODOT has been prioritizing moving car traffic through the Eliot Neighborhood instead of protecting the health and well-being of local residents," said Allan Rudwick, Chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association's Land Use and Transportation Committee. Nakisha Nathan, co-executive director with Neighbors for Clean Air, warned, "Make no mistake - ODOT's plans to dramatically widen I-5 would significantly pollute the air in the Albina neighborhood and actively harm the health and well-being of North Portland residents."

ODOT has declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing active litigation. However, the agency has noted that it has received federal grant money and permissions to move forward with the project, which it believes will improve safety and reconnect the Albina neighborhood. The project faces significant funding challenges, with ODOT needing to secure an additional $1.9 billion to complete it. The agency is exploring federal grant options, including a $750 million grant that would require a $250 million match.

This marks the third lawsuit filed against ODOT regarding the proposed Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion. In 2021, No More Freeways joined Neighbors for Clean Air and the Eliot Neighborhood Association in a complaint alleging ODOT did not fully consider alternatives to expansion in line with federal standards. No More Freeways also filed a suit against ODOT alleging a lack of compliance with Portland's Comprehensive Plan. Both lawsuits were voluntarily dismissed in 2022 after the Federal Highway Administration withdrew approval of the project. No More Freeways resubmitted their complaint after federal approval of the project was regranted over spring.

The $1.9 billion Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion project has drawn intense scrutiny and opposition from community groups in Portland. ODOT has already spent over $110 million on the project since 2017 and received thousands of public comments. As the legal battle continues, the future of this major infrastructure project hangs in the balance. The outcome could have significant implications for transportation, environmental justice, and neighborhood development in Oregon's largest city.

Key Takeaways

  • Five community groups sue ODOT to halt $1.9B Rose Quarter freeway expansion project.
  • Groups argue project doesn't comply with city and Metro growth plans, prioritizes cars over residents.
  • Project aims to widen I-5, add lanes, and reconnect Albina neighborhood, but faces funding challenges.
  • This is the third lawsuit filed against ODOT regarding the project, citing environmental and health concerns.
  • Outcome could set precedent for balancing competing priorities in infrastructure projects.