Gov. Kate Brown suggested Wednesday that a controversial Portland-area highway project could be relegated to the dustbin if members of the Black community are not on board with its overall vision.
Speaking with reporters a day after three high-profile names pulled support for the $800 million plan to widen Interstate 5 through the heart of Portland's Rose Quarter neighborhood, Brown said the state wouldn't move forward without such community buy-in.
“I think we need to take a look at all of these transportation projects in light of the economic disruption that we’re seeing statewide and, frankly, nationally,” Brown said. “That said, we’re not going to proceed with this particular project, with the Rose Quarter project, without community support and engagement from the Black and African American community.”
The comments specifically referenced a decision from the Black-led Albina Vision Trust to sever its support of the highway expansion. The trust has been a forceful proponent of leveraging the Rose Quarter project into a means of revitalizing the city’s Lower Albina neighborhood, a Black area of the city that was cleaved apart by the interstate’s construction in the 1960s.
Specifically, the Albina Vision Trust has called on the state to construct robust caps over the interstate that would allow the city to transform the area back into a neighborhood. On Tuesday, the group announced the Oregon Department of Transportation had not taken its concerns into account, despite agreeing to do so last year.
Brown suggested Wednesday she agreed.
“It’s my hope that this particular project can be part of righting historic wrongs, and I’m committed to bringing people back to the table for that discussion," the governor said.
Brown’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the comment, such as whether the governor would be willing to pull the plug on the project altogether if an agreement couldn’t be reached, and whether she’d ordered ODOT to hold off on further action.
“We’re aligned with the governor,” ODOT Urban Mobility Office director Brendan Finn said in a statement. “The partnerships and support with the Black community is key to success of the project and we look forward to continuing that work.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the city’s transportation bureau, have also dropped support of the project over community concerns.
The Rose Quarter project has also seen energetic opposition from advocates who say it will only increase greenhouse gas emissions in the city while doing little to ultimately ease congestion. State officials have marketed the plan to add two "auxiliary" lanes to the interstate as a way to make commutes in the city safer and speedier.