US Department of Transportation to fund Rose Quarter Improvement Project, bring ‘highway cover’ to I-5


PORTLAND, Ore. — The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded Oregon nearly half a billion dollars for the Rose Quarter Improvement Project. The announcement came Friday as Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Senators Ron Wyden, and Jeff Merkley touted the funding. 

“Today marks a major milestone for the Albina community, signifying the federal government is committed to their vision of restoring Portland’s historic Black neighborhood back into one cohesive, vibrant community,” Merkley said in a statement.

The money will finance the creation of a ‘highway cover’, essentially making a section of the interstate into a tunnel and the space on top into developable land. The cover will reconnect upper and lower Albina, a historically Black neighborhood that was torn in two by Interstate 5 back in the 1960s and ’70s. 

“Government played an active role in destroying this neighborhood, it makes sense that they would now play an active role in rebuilding and restoring this neighborhood,” JT Flowers said.

Flowers is part of Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit focused on redeveloping the historic community. He says this highway cover will allow the Albina neighborhood to return to the grid of streets Portland is known for. 

“If you’re walking through Albina, you don’t walk down the street and stop and have to figure out how to navigate a litany of cars flying off and on to a highway,” Flowers explained. “You can just continue to walk along as you would in any other residential neighborhood in the city of Portland.”

The Oregon Department of Transportation will lead the highway cover project which Flowers says will be roughly eight acres and stretch along I-5 from about North Flint Avenue to just behind the Moda Center. A smaller portion of the funds will go to the Portland Bureau of Transportation to redesign a section of North Broadway. 

“It’s a corridor that was built for vehicles,” Flowers said. “The goal of that project is to begin doing some of the concrete infrastructural work to make this a neighborhood that’s built around people.” 

This investment in the neighborhood comes less than a month after Albina Vision Trust secured a resolution from Portland Public Schools (PPS) which will allow the nonprofit to eventually buy the district’s headquarters. The PPS district building sits on about 10 acres, an area Albina Vision Trust plans to redevelop into hundreds of housing units. 

The nonprofit now has the capital to make the purchase thanks to $25 million dollars in funding from the Oregon Legislature. Flowers says that money will also fund some demolition.

As plans to demolish PPS headquarters draw near, Albina Vision Trust continues to construct Albina One nearby. The 94-unit affordable housing development began last year and families are expected to move in around the summer of 2025.

“We’re not just building a singular housing development, we’re not just building a highway cover, we’re not just trying to build a waterfront park,” Flowers said. “What were doing is building a zip code, a district from the ground up.” 

The planned freeway cover is part of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, which has been in development for years and would also widen the freeway to three lanes in each direction. The project hit a financial wall last year, with ODOT announcing that it would complete much of the design work but didn’t have enough money to start construction. ODOT said the total project cost had grown to a range of $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion, with a $1.3 billion funding shortfall. 

The new federal grant doesn’t fully close that gap, but it does appear to be enough to keep the project from getting shelved; in a news release on Monday, ODOT said the grant “allows the once-in-a-generation I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project to move forward, and we will continue to work with legislative partners on additional funding opportunities in 2025.”