The Road to a New Road, Interstate 5 Updates

By Ruth Eddy

The Oregon Department Of Transportation’s (ODOT)  plans to expand I-5 in our neighborhood are not moving at highway speeds. The reshaping of an asphalt landscape is slow. The big machinery that digs the dirt is quiet, the bureaucratic gears of planning and design are fully in motion, with three significant meetings occurring in the last few months.

First, the Oregon Transportation Committee (OTC) met on April 2nd to make a decision that had been delayed since December at Governor Brown’s request. At the end of the three-hour meeting, which was held on Zoom and live-streamed for the public on YouTube, the five-member board voted unanimously to move forward into a design phase on the I-5 Rose Quarter Project without completing an Environmental Impact Statement

In response to the forward motion set by the OTC, the project’s Executive Steering Committee (ESC) had its first Zoom meeting on May 22nd to set a framework by which to make future decisions about the project.  The 16 members of the ESC were led by facilitator Dr. Steven Holt. Half of nearly two-hour-long meeting was dedicated to introductions. Dr. Holt asked each of the members to answer the question, “What does restorative justice mean to you?”  The answers varied in detail but addressed similar themes. Marlon Holmes answered succinctly, “Calling on a community to address ills or wrongs committed against that community, and with the perpetrators addressing how those ills and wrongs have affected the community.” 

A week later, on May 28th, the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) held its second meeting, also on Zoom. According to Megan Chanel, the Rose Quarter Project manager, the project design was approximately 15% completed and CAC would advise all further work. “Think of it as we’ve brought the sandbox, but we need your help in burying some sand helping us build the sandcastle,” Chanel said.

Christopher John O’Connor, one of 24 members on the committee, believed the metaphor to be overly optimistic and offered his own saying, “The house has been built, we know how many bathrooms there’s going to be, we know what the general layout is, we’re going to be discussing… what color to paint it.”

Another member of the committee, Liz Fouther-Branch, expressed frustration with the obtuse language used to describe components of the project. Fouther-Branch said, “We need to be able to go back to our communities and speak to them in plain English about what the benefits are, what the impacts are. Breaking down the transportation language into community language so that you can build that trust in community.”

The CAC will meet again on Tuesday, June 23, 5:30-7:30. The next ESC meeting has not yet been scheduled, but all meetings are open to the public and archived on ODOT’s Youtube page.

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