I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project Receives Environmental Award from Federal Highway Administration

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I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project Receives Environmental Award from Federal Highway Administration

June 6th, 2024

For more information, please contact Rose Gerber, 503-779-6927, Rose.Gerber@odot.oregon.gov.

Three people standing in a room smiling with one of them holding an award certificate.

The Oregon Department of Transportation’s I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project has been awarded a 2024 Environmental Excellence Award from the Federal Highway Administration. The award announcement highlights the Rose Quarter project’s commitment to community input and regional collaboration to design a highway infrastructure project that meets the community’s interests and expectations.

These biennial awards recognize leaders across the country who make outstanding contributions to environmental stewardship and partnerships above and beyond traditional transportation project outcomes. 

Recipients were presented their awards in person on Wednesday, June 5th at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) annual June meeting on Environment and Sustainability in Virginia Beach, VA. Project Director Megan Channell accepted the award at the event on behalf of ODOT.

“In response to criticism of the original design, the project team listened to the community as they voiced their desire for a single, larger connected space,” said Gloria M. Shepherd, Executive Director of FHWA. Shepherd continued, "These conversations have led to a project that will improve transportation while meeting the community’s vision.”

“This project has come a long way since it was proposed many years ago,” said Channell. “We changed the project design in response to community feedback and in partnership with community leaders and organizations and we are honored to see that work recognized and celebrated by the Federal Highway Administration. We will continue to seek ways in which the project can benefit the historic Albina community.”

ODOT continues to work with the Historic Albina Advisory Board and community and project partners to design and deliver an infrastructure project that serves the broader vision for a thriving lower Albina district.

The project recently received $450 million in federal funding, the largest grant award ODOT has ever received, and the single largest grant ever awarded through the Reconnecting Communities program. After working through the federal environmental review process since 2017, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Finding of No Significant Impacts for the project on March 12, 2024. This signifies formal federal approval to proceed and advance more detailed project design. Local partnerships and community support have helped create the right project to not only improve our transportation system, but to play a part in a collective movement toward restoring the historic Albina community. ODOT is grateful for the partnership and support of our federal delegation, statewide leaders, the city of Portland, Albina Vision Trust, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the project’s Historic Albina Advisory Board.

A photo collage of I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project Historic Albina Advisory Board members

Background and Project Information

In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government, working with state and local governments, transformed the way Americans travel. Together, they built an interstate highway system connecting people and goods from across the country.

But there were problems with how that system was built that continue to this day. In Portland, governments chose a path for the new I-5 freeway that went directly through the heart of the Albina community. This destroyed hundreds of homes, predominantly owned by Black Portlanders, and severed a thriving community from the river and itself.

So, in 2017, when ODOT was directed by the Oregon Legislature to address congestion on I-5 at the Rose Quarter, we were determined to take this opportunity to make a positive impact on the community harmed by its original construction. Working together with neighborhood leaders, we’ve designed a project that is unlike any we’ve constructed in the past.

The project still includes solutions to address one of the worst bottlenecks in the country. Three interstates converge in the Rose Quarter area (I-5, I-84, and I-405) and vehicle traffic is forced down to two lanes. Every local resident knows how bad traffic gets in the area. The rapid merging required by the current design causes the area to have an extraordinarily high number of crashes.

Our project will build auxiliary lanes to help travelers get from one interstate to the other safely without merging into through traffic. It will also add biking and walking paths over the highway to encourage better connections for people walking, biking, and rolling, and wider shoulders to help incident responders clear vehicles and get traffic moving again.

Working with community leaders, we saw a path to make this project about more than reducing congestion – it could also be an opportunity to build community. To do so, we’ve designed a feature we’ve never had the opportunity to build before: a multi-acre highway cover which will reconnect neighborhood streets and create new space for community activities.