“All of these accommodations to special user groups belie the fact that the bridge was designed to move traffic and freight.”
— Betsy Johnson, candidate for governor
“I would not only say no light rail. I’d say no bicycles, no pedestrian super-accommodation.”
That what Betsy Johnson, one of Oregon’s leading 2022 gubernatorial candidates and recipient of $1 million (so far) from Nike founder Phil Knight, told a radio show host when asked about her view on the Portland-to-Vancouver I-5 freeway expansion project.
Our past coverage of Johnson focused on her tenure as an influential member of the Oregon Legislature, a position she resigned from in December in order to run for governor. As a senator, she advocated for the Salmonberry Trail to connect the Portland area to the Oregon Coast via a bike trail.
Johnson, who’s running as an Independent after 20 years as a Democrat, hasn’t been a big key player in statewide transportation policy (except for the aviation department – Johnson is a pilot by training). As governor, however, that would have to change. One of the projects she’d be expected to take leadership on is the aforementioned Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP), a resurrection of the Columbia River Crossing project that crashed-and-burned in 2013 after tussle over light rail and funding in 2013.
For transit and bike activists, Johnson’s vision for the project isn’t very comforting.
A reader tipped us off about an interview on Larson’s show in February where she was asked what she thinks about the project.
Here’s the exchange:
“What would your position on a Columbia [River] Bridge be?”
“I would not only say no light rail. I’d say no bicycles, no pedestrian super-accommodation. That bridge is a major north-south piece of United States infrastructure. We’ve got to design this bridge properly, but all of these accommodations to special user groups belie the fact that the bridge was designed to move traffic and freight.”
“And it’s not doing it as well as it should be right now. And if they build a bridge, all of the proposals up to now have been to replace the bridge with three lanes north and south, the same size it is now. Would you say if we’re going to spend billions of dollars we should have a bridge that has more capability than the old bridge?”
“You’re damn right I would.”
“And it would be traffic capability. Not bike lanes and pedestrian lanes and light rail?”
It’s clear that Johnson is trying to appeal to a certain group of voters with comments like this. What’s less clear is why she thinks her views carry any water whatsoever since thousands of people already rely on the bridge biking and walking path and there’s absolutely no chance the project gets built without facilities for walking, cycling, and transit.
We reached out to Johnson’s office for comment but have yet to hear back.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org