'On the move:' Biden promotes infrastructure spending during Oregon visit

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President Joe Biden stopped in Portland for a few hours Thursday afternoon to drum up excitement for his administration's trillion-dollar effort to revamp the nation's roads, bridges, airports and railways.

Biden's speech was part pep talk, part explainer.

"Oregon and America have gone from being on the mend to being on the move," Biden said. "We just gotta get the hell out of our own way."

The president highlighted $25 billion going to U.S. airports, $211 million of which is expected to touch down at PDX and other Oregon airports, and other efforts to modernize infrastructure across the state and country through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The legislation, which Biden signed in November, is designed to expand access to clean drinking water and high-speed internet, repair roads and bridges, and pour money into public transit, passenger rail, airports and ports, according to the White House.

"We must build a better America and a good place to start is right here in Portland," Biden said. "Folks, look. Portland International Airport is a perfect example of both the need and the opportunity, and the ability to make progress. I don’t have to tell you that it’s an essential economic engine for the entire region, not just Portland."

Biden pointed to a $3.75 million project to build a more earthquake-resilient runway at PDX.

"In fact, you had a .4 magnitude earthquake strike not far from here just two days ago," Biden said. "Imagine what would happen if that earthquake struck closer to the airport. It wouldn’t just threaten lives, it would threaten to shut down the local economy for a heck of a lot longer than two months it takes to fix an escalator."

Biden had earlier told a story about seeing a sign at LaGuardia Airport in New York that it would take two months to fix a broken escalator there.

$4.5B coming to Oregon

Oregon is expected to get at least $4.5 billion from the bill over the next five years, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Biden said the state has about 400 bridges and 1,300 miles of highway in poor condition.

"It's estimated that driving on those roads that need repair cost Oregon drivers an extra $256 a year in gas, repairs and longer commute times," Biden said. "That's a $256 hidden tax on Oregon drivers. Thanks to the infrastructure law, we're making the most significant investment to modernize roads and bridges in the last 70 years since Eisenhower's interstate highway system."

The feds are sending $662 million to fix roads and bridges in Oregon, plus $53 million in dedicated money for bridges, Biden said. He said the federal government will also start replacing all lead pipes and water lines that go into homes and schools, providing $92 million to the state for clean water.

More than one in 10 Oregon households don't have high-speed internet and the state will get about $100 million to make broadband available and affordable, and create jobs for union technicians, he said.

Extreme weather has cost Oregon about $5 billion in damages, Biden said, and he promised the new bill would make the state's transmission lines more resilient.

The president also took a moment to address the economy in his speech, saying Oregon's unemployment rate has gone down since he took office, and that rising prices have been the result of supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joins other Democratic members on the House floor, Nov. 5, 2021, after approving a $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects after Democrats resolved a months-long standoff between progressives and moderates, notching a victory that President Joe Biden and his party had become increasingly anxious to claim.

Oregon's Transportation Commission decided in late March to spend $412 million in flexible highway funding from the act on a variety of projects, like improving safe biking and walking routes to schools, fixing roads and bridges and "enhancing" highways by adding lanes or fixing interchanges.

The legislation also promises to develop a broader network of chargers for electric vehicles, put money into cleaning up Superfund and brownfield sites damaged by pollution, upgrade the nation's energy transmission grid and use the money to protect the nation's infrastructure from cyber attacks and climate disasters like wildfires.

Meeting with Oregon officials

Biden arrived via Air Force One at the Portland Airport shortly before 1 p.m., greeting Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon's congressional delegation.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said the investments were "legendary." He said in a meeting with ODOT, he learned the law would fix the Aurora-Donald interchange.

"I was told that thanks directly to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that that treacherous Aurora-Donald Interchange between Portland and Salem's going to be completely rebuilt over the next few years, with your help," Schrader said.

Brown, who spoke before the president and Oregon's members of Congress, said the "opportunities" in the bill were a "game-changer for the state and the entire country." She highlighted the airport's new mass timber roof, which is being built from wood damaged in the 2020 wildfires.

Biden toured the roof project.

"I’m so delighted the president was able to see the Portland airport’s mass timber roof and the expansion efforts underway as it illustrates the very best of Oregon values," Brown said. "Innovation, creativity, collaboration and sustainability. In Oregon, we define infrastructure as not only roads and bridges but as the core components to supporting the way Oregonians live, work and play."

The president will be in Seattle Friday.

This story was updated Thursday to reflect the correct order of events.

Claire Withycombe covers state government for the Statesman Journal. Contact her at cwithycombe@StatesmanJournal.com

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: US President Joe Biden visits Portland to tout infrastructure bill