Oregon House Representative Susan McLain (Democrat – Hillsboro) is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation (JCT) and there’s growing sentiment in some circles that she should be more skeptical of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the multiple, multi-billion dollar freeway expansion projects they’re working on.
After a meeting about the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program at the State Capitol in Salem Thursday night where McLain and other JCT members heard from an invite-only set of speakers who all expressed strong enthusiasm for a project that could cost as much as $7.5 billion and would widen five miles of I-5 between Portland and Vancouver, McLain was confronted about her support of the project.
Adah Crandall is a 17-year-old youth climate organizer and activist with Sunrise PDX who’s focused much of her work on transportation. You might remember her as the leader of the Youth vs. ODOT protests in front of ODOT’s Portland headquarters that began in 2021. Since then, Crandall has continued to fight against what she sees as projects that will lead to more driving and more carbon emissions that will hasten climate change impacts.
In a sign of increased frustration over how Rep. McLain has handled this and other freeway expansion projects in her eight years on the JCT, Crandall confronted in a hallway. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:
Crandall: Hi my name is Adah and I’m 17.
McLain: How are you?
Crandall: My classmates and I skipped school today to come here and talk to you because I’m generally concerned.
McLain: I talked to a bunch of you today.
Crandall: We’re really concerned about the climate crisis…
McLain: Would you like to stand and talk?
Crandall: … we’re concerned that the Interstate Bridge project that you’re supporting is going to increase emissions. And so we’re wondering if you would be willing to support a version of that project that is cheaper and still addresses the seismic issues and secures my generations feature by not adding freeway lanes.
McLain: So this is what I can tell you I’m absolutely willing to do all of those things through an appropriate process and review and that’s what we’re doing. So I’m happy to do that. Why don’t you come and see me in my office? Sometime or…
Crandall: I’m here talking to talk to you because this is really important. I want to talk to you right now. We’re going to talk right now because I’ve been here all day trying to talk.
McLain: So have I.
Crandall: I know, but your job is to represent us and I know that you used to be a teacher and that you care a lot about young people. And right now what young people need is your leadership on a project that is not going to extend freeway lanes. Our futures are literally depending on you taking action on climate.
McLain: And that is what I’m going to do.
Crandall: But that’s not what you are doing because ODOT hasn’t even studied a version of the project that doesn’t add lanes. Why are you trusting ODOT when they’ve failed time and time again to tell the truth about emissions and…
McLain: Do you want me to have a dialogue with you or do you just want to talk?
Crandall: I want to know if you’re willing to to prioritize my future over ODOT’s freeway expansions.
McLain: I want to very much talk about your future and about this bridge, but I’ve been here for 12 hours today.
Crandall: Can you tell me that you’re willing to prioritize my generation’s feature over upholding ODOT’s status quo freeway expansions?
McLain: So far I’ve said I’m absolutely here to support and to represent your generation and the future. So I am here for you.
Crandall: I understand that representative but that’s not what we’ve seen in your actions. And you haven’t asked ODOT to study other versions of the project.
McLain: I really appreciate your passion and we want to thank you for staying here to talk to me and I think that we need to have a sit down and I’m happy to give you my phone number. Would you like my phone number?
Crandall: Representative, it shouldn’t be difficult for you as someone who is representing the people of Oregon. It shouldn’t be hard for you to tell me that my future is important than a freeway expansion! Please my generation is counting on your leadership!
At that point, House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson escorted Rep. McLain away.
CORRECTION, 1:40 pm: The initial version of this story said a McLain staffer escorted McLain away. I regret the mistake.