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After receiving a rescinded approval from the feds, ODOT must conduct an environmental study on Rose Quarter freeway.
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After receiving a rescinded approval from the feds, ODOT must conduct an environmental study on Rose Quarter freeway.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will need to review the environmental impact of major freeway projects.

The Federal Highway Administration informed the state transportation agency that it was revoking a key approval. The agency’s previous Findings of No Significant Impact was based in part on an ODOT-conducted 2020 environmental assessment.

In a letter addressed to ODOT The climate activist group No More Freeways made this information publicPhillip Ditzler, Federal Highway Administration administrator, stated that he had withdrawn his approval for the environmental assessment due to ODOT modifications made to the I-5 freeway project. He approved the findings in 2020.

These modifications include a freeway covering that would connect several blocks in Albina, a historically Black neighborhood that was partially razed to make way for I-5. The Oregon Transportation Commission approved the plan after a lengthy dispute between ODOT, local entities, including Albina Vision Trust and Multnomah County. These groups claimed ODOT’s original plan to cover freeways was inadequate.

Ditzler didn’t explain in the letter why Ditzler decided to revoke his approval. Ditzler requested ODOT to conduct additional analysis so that ODOT could make a decision on the freeway project impacts.

ODOT stated that it would update the environmental assessment on Thursday but still maintained that the project would continue construction in 2023.

The federal government’s decision was celebrated by many climate activist groups, who had filed a suit against ODOT in April and called for Gov. Kate Brown requested that the agency conduct an environmental impact assessment to examine other options for expanding the freeway.

Aaron Brown, an organizer at No More Freeways said that he hoped that this was a step in the direction of a project to build freeway caps to connect affected communities without increasing carbon emission.

Ditzlers letter did not indicate that the agency, which is now part of a new president’s administration, was looking for to disrupt the state’s plans.

The I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project has important implications for the surrounding community and the state of Oregon. FHWA is looking forward to assisting the Oregon Department of Transportation to bring it to fruition quickly, he wrote.

Jayati Ramakrishnan

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