Biden touts local benefits of infrastructure plan during Portland stop

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PORTLAND — As reports swarmed the past week about President Joe Biden’s trip to Portland, residents in both Washington and Oregon were pondering what would be included in his remarks.

Clearly, Oregon’s necessary repairs to its international airport and miles of roadways would be addressed, but what about the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project?

During the speech at the Portland Air National Guard hangar, there was only a brief mention of the multiyear megaproject that has caused an equally long buzz in the region.

President Biden’s visit to Portland marked his first appearance in the Pacific Northwest since taking office. The short nationwide tour served to advertise how the $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation, signed in November, will be invested throughout the country. He previously visited Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire since last week.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler provided opening remarks at the event, noting the virtues of the infrastructure bill and how it would be invested locally to improve transportation and affordable housing. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic Reps. Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici echoed these sentiments, few of them briefly addressing the I-5 Bridge replacement.

President Joe Biden visits Portland Photo Gallery

On the same day, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, C-Tran, TriMet and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle announced there will be a light rail system in the replacement plan.

That was the extent of the spotlight that was shined on the I-5 Bridge.

Throughout the speech, Biden tapped on key policy goals to modernize the country’s transportation networks, broadband and water systems — devoting seconds to speak on bridge vitality.

During his visit, Biden addressed an anticipated $2 billion in improvements to Portland International Airport, which would repair the airport’s roof with timber and make its runway earthquake resilient. The airport saw 19.8 million travelers in 2019 and an increase in air cargo, he said. A significant earthquake would threaten the region’s economy.

“We need to keep it operational, safe and effective,” Biden said.

Democratic Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said the federal investment is a boost to both the state’s timber industry and terminal project. The bill will also sent $1.2 billion to Oregon over five years for transportation improvements to its bridges and highways, making commutes safer and quicker.

As the president spoke about infrastructure investments, he noted the millions of new jobs that would emerge nationwide. He harkened on the idea of American resiliency as it recovers from challenges from the pandemic and inflation, saying “anything is possible in America” and that the federal spending is a necessary step moving forward.

Biden’s address was brief. A fundraiser at the Portland Yacht Club was just around the corner. The Willamette Week originally reported that the president was scheduled to meet with local Democrats to raise money for the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a super-PAC that has raised nearly $14.5 million this year for Democratic groups nationwide. Tickets ranged from $500 to $36,500.

The president flew to Seattle after the visit and is expected to talk about government action to focus on environmental concerns today in observance of Earth Day.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, wrote a letter to the president Tuesday suggesting that he meet with law enforcement in Southwest Washington to discuss drugs being trafficked from the southern border through the I-5 corridor.

The Columbian reached out to Herrera Beutler’s team Thursday and did not receive a comment by the time of publication.