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Equity at the heart of Interstate Bridge Replacement Program

The program will replace the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The words "equity" and "inclusion" have been on many people's mind in the last year. The man heading the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program must make sure those words have meaning, and he’s got unique perspective to guide him.

Greg Johnson has nearly 40 years of engineering experience with state departments of transportation. By that mark alone, one might think he's already qualified to head a mega project that spans a river, two states and seven interchanges.

But he also carries the memory of how business was done in the past. He knows the impacts the decisions of those in "smoke-filled rooms," as he says, had on the lives of tens of thousands of Americans living in the path of progress.

Growing up just north of Detroit, Michigan, Johnson said his family was forced to move because of a project to widen a major street and turn it into a highway. 

"At the time, minorities didn't have a voice in city hall politics or in state politics. So you basically took what you got and you packed your stuff and found someplace else to live," he said.

Being forced to relocate and compensated "not enough," as his father would often tell him, he comes to be the head of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program knowing that things have to be different now.

“It involves a commitment to discuss the uncomfortable, " Johnson said. 

The "uncomfortable" Johnson speaks of is the history of large transportation projects around the U.S., and their, at times, callous disregard for who might live in their path. 

And to that end, equity and inclusion are part of the mission the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program will follow if it's to recognize the past and reach its potential.  

The new bridge is likely to outlive us all, and hopefully its construction will also benefit everyone who lives nearby. Bridge planners are taking steps to make sure that is the case.

One of the ways they're doing this is through online outreach. In just one month, the program has received about 15,000 comments regarding the bridge project.

A summary of the first phase of public is expected by the end of this month. 

RELATED: Weigh in on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program

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Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and transportation reporter for KGW. Got a story idea or a great photo you want to share? Email him at cmcginness@kgw.com or reach out on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram

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