The I-5 freeway is seen through the fencing at the back of Harriet Tubman Middle School (left) in North Portland, April 9, 2021. ODOT's proposed Rose Quarter expansion would bring the freeway even closer to the school grounds.

The I-5 freeway is seen through the fencing at the back of Harriet Tubman Middle School (left) in North Portland, April 9, 2021. ODOT's proposed Rose Quarter expansion would bring the freeway even closer to the school grounds.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The Oregon Department of Transportation must redo the environmental assessment of its planned expansion and capping of Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter stretch, a task that could tack on an additional five to six months to the project’s timeline.

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The Federal Highway Administration told ODOT this week it is rescinding approval of the environmental assessment it gave in 2020 to a previous iteration of the project which found there was no significant impact to the local area.

Following nearly two years of community and stakeholder input, Gov. Kate Brown in August directed the Oregon Transportation Commission to pursue the project under “Hybrid Option 3.”

This option would essentially tunnel the freeway through the area and allow for light development and revitalization of the Albina District, a former city and once vibrant Black neighborhood which was razed when the road was first constructed.

According to Tia Williams, communications director of ODOT’s urban mobility office, the requirement to complete a new environmental assessment could put the project back an additional five to six months.

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Despite the potential delay, Williams said, ODOT still expects the project to break ground in 2023.

Rose Quarter Project Director Megan Channell said that updating the environmental assessment is an important step to advancing the community’s preferred option.

“With guidance from, and in partnership with the FHWA, we can still begin construction on time in 2023, creating jobs we know are important to the community and providing congestion relief that is critical to commuters and our economy,” Channell said.

According to ODOT, updating the environmental assessment involves reviewing the scope of the project and evaluating its impact to the local community and region.

A new proposal for the I-5 Rose Quarter improvement project with three main modifications from previous design concepts, intended to reconnect the local street grid and support neighborhood access and environments.

A new proposal for the I-5 Rose Quarter improvement project with three main modifications from previous design concepts, intended to reconnect the local street grid and support neighborhood access and environments.

Via I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project

Direction from the federal government to address the impact of the new project option comes as city and statewide leaders work to find solutions for the relocation of Harriet Tubman Middle School which abuts the interstate’s eastern edge just to the north of the Rose Quarter.

Transportation commissioners approved advancing the project under the new option back in September and directed ODOT staff in charge of financing the project to present an updated cost estimate for the project, which is expected to exceed $1.3 billion, at a Jan. 20 meeting.

According to ODOT, the transportation commission will hold off on receiving an updated estimate until conversations with federal officials conclude, regarding what funding is available to Oregon — for this project and others – from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

State transportation officials are also watching closely as Congress continues to try to pass the President’s Build Back Better initiative which could also contain significant dollars for road infrastructure projects that align with social equity goals.

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