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Portland City Council Tells Bureaus To Stop All I-5 Rose Quarter Expansion Work

<p>Cars travel along Interstate 5 through Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

Cars travel along Interstate 5 through Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

The Portland City Council has directed city officials to stop all work related to the Interstate-5 Rose Quarter Project, a controversial highway widening that lost the support of major backers last week. 

On June 30, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and the Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit seeking to re-establish the historically Black neighborhood in the Lower Albina Area, all pulled their support from the project. 

They said the Oregon Department of Transportation had pushed forward with the project without adequate input from local partners. Winta Yohannes, the managing director of the Vision Trust, told OPB that the state had failed to “reset” the project seven months after promising to address the group’s concerns. 

In a letter sent to the city’s bureau directors Monday, the council wrote that the project was no longer aligned with the city’s values. They told city agencies to suspend “all operations” related to the widening.

“This includes attending meetings, providing technical support or responding to project emails.  Any resumption of City staff services will be at the direction of the Portland City Council,” the letter read. 

The note was signed by the mayor and three commissioners. (Right now, that's the full council. Commissioner Nick Fish's seat has been vacant since his death at the start of the year and will be filled through a special runoff election next month.) 

When she withdrew her support last week, Eudaly said she’d been skeptical of the $800 million project since it began but held out hope that it could revitalize the historically Black neighborhood devastated when I-5 was originally built in the 1960s. Eudaly oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The mayor said the state’s transportation department had failed to meet the city’sgoals “around community and economic development or climate.”

ODOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, the department’s Urban Mobility Office director said in a statement that the state agency is aligned with the governor, who had said the project was “not going to proceed” without buy-in from the city’s Black community.

 “The partnerships and support with the Black community is key to success of the project and we look forward to continuing that work,” Finn said.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis