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.

What Will Be the New Normal Post-quarantine?

Recent development in Eliot has had two notable impacts on the area.  The first is construction of large apartment blocks.  The second is the flourishing of new cafes, bars, and restaurants in small storefronts.  The big question in my mind is what will happen to these in the immediate, as well as long term future?  Effort to allow bar and restaurant service in adjacent parking lots and sidewalks this summer is a necessary first step, but unlikely to be sufficient to preserve all of them.  Will the storefronts left behind by those that close just be boarded up, returning Williams/Vancouver and MLK to the way it looked prior to these developments?  Will residents in those multistory apartment blocks relocate to lower density rental properties where they have fewer contacts with strangers and high-touch surfaces?  Will folks who are allowed to continue working from home relocate, either to larger accommodations (2-bedroom units from 1 or studios) or leave the city altogether?  Any of these trends would change the character of Eliot as we have known it. 

Some other trends that are likely to persist include the reduced travel to work, for those who can, and for shopping as well as general avoidance of malls and theaters where strangers are thrown together (undermining the need to widen I-5).  Will this be the end of the Lloyd Center?  Its plan to become an “event center” seems especially poorly timed now, especially with the future of some of its tenants, (Lloyd Cinemas, Macy’s) unclear.  And what of the Blazers?  The Rose Quarter is already one of the smallest NBA venues.  Can the Blazers tolerate having only half the seats available for sale?  And, what about the large conventions needed to support the Convention Center and new hotel?  Perhaps the transition may be more “business as usual,” than a new normal governed by social distancing and mask-wearing with few risks for a rebirth of the pandemic.  Somehow, I doubt it.