Yesterday afternoon, the Oregon Senate Interim Committee On Rules and Executive Appointments heard from the more than 60 of Governor Kate Brown’s nominees to various state boards and commissions. Among those nominees was outgoing state Senator Lee Beyer, who Brown has nominated to one of the five spots on the Oregon Transportation Commission much to the chagrin of many concerned Oregonians.
The OTC is a powerful body that oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation and their $5 billion budget.
Some leaders from prominent transportation and environmental groups see Beyer’s appointment as a step in the wrong direction, with some opponents saying Beyer’s appointment will “double down on the past” instead of looking to the future with “more inclusive, representative transportation decision-making.”
Beyer will replace Alando Simpson, a much younger, Black member of the commission. In the Portland Mercury yesterday, Beyer brushed off those concerns. “Transportation is transportation,” Beyer told the Mercury. He also said opposition to the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway expansion is “baffling” and “noted he is ‘not a complete believer’ in induced demand.”
Despite this surge of opposition, no senators on the Rules Committee took up concerns with Beyer’s appointment, and nobody spoke up in opposition to him at the meeting’s public comment period. After Beyer had a chance to introduce himself to the committee, they moved forward with his nomination as standard procedure.
One group did show support for Beyer in response to community backlash over his nomination: the Portland Business Alliance (an organization activists have deemed one of Portland’s ‘climate villains’). President and CEO Andrew Hoan submitted a letter of support for Beyer’s nomination, stating the senator is “perhaps the most prepared Oregonian to serve on the OTC,” having “proven to possess a deep knowledge of the transportation needs of the entire state and will collaborate with his colleagues and stakeholders to advance the balanced transportation solutions we will need in the 21st century.”
“Senator Beyer has unquestionably been one of Oregon’s most effective leaders advancing multi-modal transportation infrastructure, and modernization policy and funding proposals in Oregon. He has successfully worked to find the right balance between expanding transportation access, supporting the movement of goods, maintaining our infrastructure, and reducing carbon emissions,” Hoan writes. “In these divisive times, it is imperative that we continue to support and celebrate leaders like Senator Beyer.”
Advocates say Beyer’s “balance” between transportation objectives has been heavily weighted toward driving-centric infrastructure. Over his time in the Oregon senate, Beyer supported projects like the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program plan to expand I-5 from Portland to Vancouver and its failed predecessor, the Columbia River Crossing. He also shot down a bill to increase state funding for biking and walking infrastructure.
When speaking at yesterday’s Rules Committee meeting, Beyer addressed community apprehensions that he’s “only concerned about roads,” saying that claim is not true.
“I would draw people’s attention back to what we did in 2017,” Beyer said, referring to the transportation legislature House Bill 2017, which he was a primary champion of. Beyer said this bill included the “largest infusion in the state’s history in expanding transit,” a “solid commitment” to Safe Routes to Schools infrastructure and “dedicated funding to off-road bicycle paths.”
Though HB 2017 was a landmark transportation bill in Oregon that gave an unprecedented amount of funding to public transit and active transportation infrastructure ( a very low bar), it was overwhelmingly focused on freeway expansions and highway projects.
In his remarks (read them in full below), Beyer said he thinks roads are important for the state’s economy.
“One point that I would make – I am concerned about the roads and I’m concerned about the roads for Oregon’s economy. Oregon is an exporting state. A lot of the products that we use and find in our stores get there on a truck,” he said. “I like to say that Oregon’s economy moves on wheels and those wheels need something to roll on.”
Beyer is the second OTC pick from Governor Brown since November 2021 that doesn’t meet the demands of Sunrise PDX and the Youth vs. ODOT movement. The governor also didn’t heed the demands of over thirty organizations statewide that asked her to hold off on this selection.
That push was led by The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone who posted her reaction to Twitter this morning. “Governor Brown dismissing out-of-hand concerns from 30+ leading advocacy orgs and coalitions on this matter is really disheartening,” she wrote. “If she’s not listening to us, who’s she listening to?”
Beyer’s full comments to the committee are below: