The Albina Vision Trust and Portland Bureau of Transportation are set to receive $800,000 through a new U.S. Department of Transportation program, the Biden-Harris Administration announced in February.
The funds will be used for community engagement work around the I-5 Rose Quarter project in Portland.
The proposed $1.4 billion Rose Quarter Improvement Project would widen a stretch of I-5 in the Albina neighborhood and cover a portion of the freeway, allowing for sidewalks and buildings on top.
The construction of I-5 was one of multiple major construction projects in the 1960s and '70s that heavily fractured the Black community in the Albina District and left many displaced.
Albina Vision Trust was formed as a nonprofit more than five years ago “to steward the vision for the future of lower Albina,” which includes the Lloyd, Eliot and Boise neighborhoods.
The $800,000 from the federal Reconnecting Communities program makes up most of the $1 million estimated project cost to “support the broad community engagement and the creation of a new framework to identify the development and governance structures needed to evaluate how the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project area and the new land created by the highway cover can best integrate with the surrounding Rose Quarter/Lower Albina neighborhood.”
Albina Vision Trust withdrew from ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project planning in June 2020, with executive director Winta Yohannes stating that “despite our good faith efforts, we do not see our engagement resulting in meaningful changes to the project or its anticipated outcomes.” Portland city leaders followed suit. A year later, Albina Vision Trust and city leaders rejoined the Rose Quarter project efforts after Gov. Kate Brown negotiated a deal that involved higher-quality caps over the freeway, allowing for development.
Earlier versions of the plan included freeway caps that could only support the weight of a park, not the multi-story buildings needed to rebuild the active community and business district that existed decades ago.
Other community groups — including climate advocates and supporters of Harriet Tubman Middle School, which would need to move if I-5 gets widened — aren't on board with the project.
At $1 million, the Albina Vision Trust outreach project is equal to less than one-tenth of one percent of the full I-5 project budget, which is estimated to cost between $1.2 and $1.5 billion — more than triple the original estimates when the state legislature approved partial funding in 2017. The Oregon Department of Transportation expects to spend nearly $200 million before construction begins.
A press release announcing the federal grant said the Portland Bureau of Transportation will use the funds “to support interactions with community groups and learn how this project can best mitigate the damage several public infrastructure projects caused to the Historic Albina neighborhood,” but a PBOT spokesperson said Albina Vision Trust was the grant recipient and described PBOT as a “partner agency” on the project.
The funding came from the first round of the federal Reconnecting Communities grant program, which awarded $185 million in 39 planning grants and six capital construction grants across the country. The $1 billion program was created in Biden’s 2021 funding bill “to reconnect communities that are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions.”
The community engagement efforts will involve exploring how the I-5 project “investment can best benefit existing residents, including potential community land ownership models,” a fact sheet for the federal grant program said.