For years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has concealed its plans to build a ten lane freeway through Portland’s Rose Quarter

We’re calling on the state to do a full environmental impact statement that assesses the impact of the project they actually intend to build.

An open letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Regular readers of City Observatory will know that we’ve long been casting a close and critical eye on plans to spend $800 million to widen a mile and a half long stretch of interstate freeway in Portland, Oregon.  As we’ve explained, we think this particular freeway fight encapsulates many of the fundamental urban issues of our time:  How we grapple with climate change, re-imagine our cities as more just, inclusive and accessible communities, and how we right the damage done by the urban freeway building of the past.

In its advocacy for this project, the Oregon Department of Transportation has sought to convey the idea that it isn’t really widening the freeway at all.  At worst, its PR campaign claims, they’re adding two “auxiliary” lanes.

But for years, the agency has carefully hidden the true scale of the project.  It’s never publicly released detailed plans showing the roadway’s actual width, despite repeated challenges and questions from the public.

Now new documents show the agency has long been planning a 160-foot wide roadway, more than enough for an eight or ten-lane freeway with full urban shoulders.  It’s apparent now, in retrospect, that agency staff have long known this to be the case, and have willfully concealed this information from the public through a combination of misleading illustrations and outright lies in response to direct questions about the size of the proposed freeway.

This matters because portraying this project as the addition of just two lanes dramatically understates its impact in adding traffic, increasing noise, air pollution and greenhouse gases, and impairing the health and livability of nearby neighborhoods. These are exactly the kinds of impacts that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires be revealed before undertaking a major federal project, and rather than honestly disclosing them, this agency has intentionally and aggressively hidden them.

In an open letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission, City Observatory’s Joe Cortright calls for the agency to honestly disclose its plans, and to undertake a full and fair environmental impact statement that shows the traffic, environmental and social effects of the actual 10-lane freeway it is proposing to build.