PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman is still committed to completing the freeway improvements in the Rose Quarter, despite the organized opposition to the project expressed during Thursday’s City Council meeting.
In a lengthy statement posted on his website, Saltzman, who is on charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, agreed with critics that the state should impose tolls on I-5 and I-84 to discourage driving in the area as soon as possible.
But Saltzman also said the project is far more than simply a freeway expansion, as the critics claim. As refined and approved by the council in the N/NE Quadrant Plan, Saltzman argues it is a safety improvement and redevelopment project that will help unite the area by adding pedestrian and bike connections, too.
“This project is but one piece of a larger vision for significantly improving the Lloyd District, Lower Albina, and the Rose Quarter. The N/NE Quadrant Plan, which encompassed these Central City districts and was adopted by City Council in 2012, was developed to integrate land use, urban design, and transportation strategies to guide future development in the area,” Saltzman said in the statement that was posted on Sept. 7.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has declared the Rose Quarter the most congested bottleneck on I-5 in the state. The 2017 Oregon Legislature included funding to finalize planning on the project in the $5.3 billion transportation package it approved earlier this year. Total projects costs are estimated at $450 million.
The project is opposed by a coalition of environmental and alternative transportation organization calling themselves No More Freeway Expansions. They include OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, the Audubon Society of Portland, BikeLoudPDX, and the NAACP Portland Branch. Several representatives testified during the first hearing on the Central City Plan update that the project is a waste of money that will only increase congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
Saltzman was ill and did not attend the meeting. But in his statement, he said that he will bring a resolution to the council this fall to ensure a variety of goals are met as the project moves forward. In addition to calling for tolls that increase during times of peak congestion, the resolution will seek to ensure the project does not take city funds from other necessary transportation projects and that it respects the history and character of the area.
Saltzman also urged interested Portlanders to attend the first open house on the project, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the Matt Dishman Community Center, 77 NE Knott Street, Portland.