Youth activists have one message for President Biden: No more freeways

Activists at a rally in Waterfront Park on April 13th.
(Photo: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how President Biden’s Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) is going to impact Oregon’s transportation system. Now, as Biden is traveling to Portland this week to hype up his landmark infrastructure bill, we’ll get to hear from the man himself.

Or, I should say, the lucky few who can afford a private donor luncheon with the president will get to hear from him.

For local climate activists, Biden’s visit is an opportunity to appeal to him using their common refrain: “no more freeways.”

Willamette Week reports the president will hunker down with donors at Portland Yacht Club on the Columbia River, which would give a potential speech a backdrop of the Interstate Bridge just as its backers press for a major federal grant to replace it.

Oregon will receive about $1.2 billion in federal funding, which the Oregon Transportation Commission will direct to various projects that have a range of support from transportation and climate activists.

One element of the IIJA that Biden’s paid a lot of lip service to is fixing the country’s ailing bridges, one of which is in our own backyard. In a January speech, he gave a shout out to the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP): the plan to replace the bridge across the Columbia River that connects Vancouver to Portland, widening I-5 in the process. While it’s unclear exactly what Biden’s Portland agenda is, it’s likely he’ll echo recent comments from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and say nice things about the freeway expansion/bridge replacement.


“Youth activists will make our message clear yet again: Climate leaders don’t widen freeways. Biden must choose which side he’s on – futures, or freeways. Because he cannot be on both.” — Adah Crandall

That we need a new bridge across the Columbia River isn’t controversial. The contention lies in what this bridge will look like: is it going to be a freeway expansion, or can we use this replacement as a chance to amp up our multimodal transportation game and encourage more responsible auto use? Lobbying for a greener IBRP took a huge step forward last week with the formation of the Just Crossing Alliance just as the picture of the project became a bit more clear.

Local climate activists who have been fighting against the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) planned I-5 Rose Quarter freeway expansion and the IBRP want to take this opportunity to tell the President that not just any bridge replacement will do: Portland won’t stand for freeway expansions, and he shouldn’t either.

Adah Crandall, who organizes with youth climate activist and anti-freeway group Youth vs ODOT tells BikePortland the youth climate activists want to make sure Biden knows how strong the anti-freeway movement in Portland is – and that they have their eyes on him.

“President Biden needs to demonstrate bold leadership and invest in my generation’s future, not in more freeways,” Crandall says. “If Biden is truly a climate leader, he must hold ODOT and the OTC accountable by opposing destructive projects like the Rose Quarter freeway expansion and Interstate Bridge Replacement.”

Youth vs ODOT will hold a special rally this Thursday at 4:00 pm at Harriet Tubman Middle School dedicated to getting their message across to the most powerful person in the country.

“Youth activists will make our message clear yet again: Climate leaders don’t widen freeways. Biden must choose which side he’s on – futures, or freeways. Because he cannot be on both.”

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at

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2 years ago

Its not just the width- the highway needs to high enough to not impede industry that uses the river. the last bridge proposal included 10’s of millions to buy out industry. Permanently losing good jobs in the name of moving freight is the opposite of supporting our local economy. If you do make the bridge the tall enough, you impede the airspace of Pearson airfield, and you make the climb for trains, bikes and walkers pretty arduous. The immersed tube tunnel covered in this blog seems to offer a solution that would be good for the urban design of downtown Vancouver, work for shipping and air traffic, and work for transit and bike/peds.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago

I hope the motorcade goes down NE 33rd at some point during the visit. We really need national policy so cities like Portland don’t bear the brunt of this national problem.

2 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

Oh I’m sure anywhere Biden is going will be magically “cleaned”. We do that for those kinds of things, but never for the people that live here and pay taxes and have to look at it day after day.