The Oregon Transportation Commission last week advanced the highway cover option for the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project known as the Hybrid 3 option, with conditions. The decision today by the OTC advances the project that was part of House Bill 2017, passed in 2017, a major transportation funding bill. The legislation directed ODOT to build the Rose Quarter Project and provided approximately $500 million to $700 million of funding for the Project.
The Commission’s advancing of this design option is subject to conditions, the most immediate of which is the OTC directive that, on or before December 1, 2021, ODOT submit a Project Funding Plan discussing how the revised Project might be funded. In January 2020, the OTC received a Cost to Complete Report for the Project from ODOT. The Report found that the original 2017 cost estimate for the Project of approximately $500 million was incorrect and that the correct cost estimate as of January 2020 was roughly in the range of $715 million to $795 million. Hybrid 3 would increase that cost estimate to between $1.2 billion and $1.25 billion – an increase of approximately $500 million over the 2020 cost estimate and roughly $750 million over the funding approved by the Legislature in 2017.
"We are trying to do a number of things at once with this project,” said OTC Chair Robert Van Brocklin. “Reduce Rose Quarter congestion; increase safety and mobility; involve minority business enterprises in constructing the Project; and support community interest in covering a larger section of the freeway to increase redevelopment opportunities for Albina. Advancing this visionary project design will require substantial additional funding.”
Among other things, the Hybrid 3 option would involve building a larger cover over I-5 at the Rose Quarter than originally planned, and one capable of supporting buildings. Hybrid 3 would also change the location of various freeway entrance and exit ramps, reconnect the street grid above the highway, make new multimodal infrastructure investments, and add one northbound and one southbound 1.7-mile auxiliary lane from the I-5/I-84 interchange to the Fremont Bridge. These auxiliary lanes are similar to lanes that were constructed on I-205 in 2019. In both cases, they were designed to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion.
The decision by the OTC comes after more than a year of work by the Executive Steering Committee, established by the OTC and chaired by OTC Vice Chair Alando Simpson, as well as community discussions convened through the Historic Albina Advisory Board (HAAB) and other organizations. It also comes at the urging of Governor Kate Brown who, after intensive discussions with local leaders, encouraged approval of the Hybrid 3 option.
“We are grateful to the Governor and community members for their recommendation on the highway cover options and overall project design,” said Vice Chair Simpson. “It is our duty to ensure that this project stays on schedule and offers the best return on investment of public dollars. Our focus must continue to be on putting a finance plan together to deliver the project, and that will require additional funding from other governmental partners.”
The Commission directed ODOT to include specific information in the Funding Plan, including: (1) an estimate of the amount of dedicated funding needed to build the project; (2) a discussion of whether a viable plan to secure that dedicated funding from federal, state and/or the City of Portland, Metro, Multnomah County, TriMet and other organizations in Portland is reasonably likely to be authorized and appropriated by July 1, 2023; (3) a one-year extension in that deadline until July 1, 2024 if the funding is likely but is temporarily delayed; (4) a preliminary construction schedule for the project; and (5) a discussion of when congestion pricing on I-5 will be operational and produce revenue.
“The Rose Quarter Improvement Project is a top transportation priority for the State of Oregon as the bottleneck in the Rose Quarter project area impacts the economies of communities across the state,” said Commissioner Sharon Smith. “The legislature has directed the OTC to fix this problem, providing additional gas tax funds. We have heard from the community and our regional partners that a more robust design is needed to knit the Albina neighborhood back together. We acknowledge the historic adverse impacts. Although the cost of the project is daunting, and we will work with the community, our agency partners, the legislature, and the Governor to craft a solution and funding plan.”
“The Rose Quarter Project provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconnect Historic Albina and invest in good paying jobs for a community that has faced so much injustice,” said Historic Albina Advisory Board member John Washington, who is also the Executive Director of the Soul District Business Association. “We must continue to fight to secure funding for this project and ensure that the community’s voice influences the many decisions that lie ahead.” HAAB has endorsed the Hybrid 3 option.
“The Commission knows that House Bill 2017 requires ODOT to make a large investment in the Rose Quarter Project,” said Commissioner Julie Brown. “Doing so will benefit our economy throughout the state by making it easier to move goods, services, and people into and through the Portland metro area. But to build Hybrid 3 we will need special help from Congress,” she continued. “We are very unlikely to have the money to build the larger project cover without a major federal financial contribution.”