This past weekend, the Pacific Northwest was hit with an unprecedented, lethal climate disaster. The temperatures above 115 degrees melted wires, buckled roads, and led to the deaths of hundreds of Americans and Canadians. As of July 1st, Multnomah County is reporting 65 deaths, a number that’s almost certain to rise over the days and weeks ahead.
This same weekend, the Oregon Legislature also voted to approve HB 3055, which would give ODOT a blank check to bond against toll revenue indefinitely to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on freeway expansions. 40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions come from transportation. Paying for freeway widenings off of tolling is like paying for coal plants with the revenue from a carbon tax – the whole point of the funding mechanism is that it’s supposed to disincentivize certain activities and create a stable revenue system to spend on building new infrastructure that helps retire the socially bad behavior.
Governor Brown has an opportunity to cement her legacy as either an unapologetic champion for climate action by vetoing this bill and demanding ODOT focus on preparing for a low-carbon future, or just going down in the history books as yet another politician unwilling or unable to stand up to the powerful interests, agencies and institutions that profit from the destruction of our communities, our state, our planet.
Governor Brown’s wouldn’t be standing alone by staking a position against this bill. Freshman Representative WLnsvey Campos voted NO on HB 3055B, saying “As someone who deeply believes that it is urgent we act to halt climate change with all possible avenues, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of an infrastructure bill that doesn’t address the biggest threat of our lifetime.” House Speaker Tina Kotek, an original champion of the bill, also ultimately voted against the legislation, citing concerns about the need for ODOT to right-size their projects. Senators Michael Dembrow and Kathleen Taylor also voted against the measure after receiving emails from dozens of constituents over the last week pleading for desperate climate action.
There is undoubtedly a need to invest in infrastructure to alleviate traffic congestion as we (hopefully) leave the pandemic in the rearview. ODOT’s freeway expansions will not do a damn thing for congestion.
There is undeniably a need for economic stimulus and job creation from building infrastructure. The state could create 70% more jobs by investing in road maintenance, as well as biking, walking, and transit investments instead of freeway widening.
We urgently need to address the state’s horrific epidemic of traffic violence, with over 400 Oregonians dying every year on our streets. ODOT’s urban freeways, however, are among the most safe facilities we have – and the agency is responsible for decades of divestment on orphan highways like TV Highway, McLoughlin Boulevard, SE Powell and N/NE Lombard that are the location of the overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities in the Portland region.
Finally, with the state bracing for unfathomably grim wildfires this summer, as well as increased flooding, rising oceans and droughts in the years to come, it’s unconscionable to give ODOT a blank check to spend all of their money on freeways that will only cause more carbon emissions. ODOT could be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on passenger rail, frequent bus service, light rail, sidewalks, bike lanes, intercity buses, transit electrification – all of which would address congestion for our growing state and create more jobs while lower carbon emissions.
HB 3055 is a step in the wrong direction. As Governor McCall once said, “Some highway engineers have a mentality … that would run an eight-lane freeway through the Taj Mahal. That is our problem.” This is an opportunity to push Governor Brown to channel Governor McCall and leave a similar legacy – that Oregon will take immediate action to reduce our transportation-based carbon emissions and be a national leader in decarbonizing our transportation system.
What to write in testimony:
- Who are ya? Include your full name, and if you feel comfortable, give your address as well.
- Be specific with the bill number: Make sure you mention in the first line or two that you’re writing in to oppose HB 3055, the ODOT Freeway Slush Fund.
- Personalize the letter! If you already wrote your legislator, congrats – you can recycle virtually the same language for the Governor. You don’t have to be a policy expert on the legislation to have an opinion; in fact, for the majority of the people writing in, personal stories and experiences are likely more important to share at this point. If you’re feeling climate anxiety as these wildfires pick up, be sure to mention you’d rather see legislative commitment to greening our transportation system! If you’re furious about ODOT’s abdicated responsibility on the orphan highways, demand that they push for the slush fund money to go towards fixing up 82nd Avenue, TV Highway, Barbur, and McLoughlin and other dangerous roads before we widen other streets. If you are a transportation geek and want to see more money for road maintenance, bike paths, better transit service, high speed rail, commuter rail – share your story! This is our chance to show Governor Brown that every day Oregonians are eager to see leadership on chipping away at the freeway industrial complex – the grey old deal – and investing in a more equitable, sustainable future.
- I am writing you to ask you to vote against HB 3055; climate leaders don’t widen freeways, and I’m concerned this bill gives ODOT a blank check to widen freeways in clackamas county when we instead need to be building a low-carbon transportation system running off of transit, biking and walking.
- Please vote no on HB 3055 – there isn’t a single freeway expansion anywhere in North America that has ever solved traffic congestion, and ODOT’s proposals to spend hundreds of millions on the I-5 Boone Bridge and I-205 Oregon City project are robbing us of the opportunity to invest in better transportation systems that actually address congestion. We don’t know what commuting patterns we will have post-pandemic, and we certainly don’t need to throw away hundreds of millions of bucks on infrastructure that has never solved congestion.
- I don’t believe ODOT should be trusted with the hundreds of millions of dollars in Bond funding that would be allowed until HB 3055. Why should current and future generations be on the hook to pay for these massive freeway expansions that don’t serve their needs and are actively frying the planet that they stand to inherit? Please direct ODOT to spend toll-revenue on fixing up orphan highways, which frequently maim and kill Oregonians biking, walking and driving on these dangerous arterials.
- The state is literally on fire right now, we are recovering from a lethal climate disaster, and we’re prepared for a miserable summer of wildfires – we should probably stop giving ODOT blank checks to widen freeways when 40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions come from transportation. Please listen to Sunrise PDX and No More Freeways and vote no on HB 3055 until the ODOT freeway widening slush fund is removed from the omnibus bill.
4. If you don’t mind, feel free to send us a copy of the text you sent to the Governor – we love seeing all the wonderful testimony! (info at no more freeways pdx dot com)
5. If you really want to help us, post this link on whatever platform of social media you use to discuss your climate anxiety. Facebook, twitter, instagram, nextdoor, what have you – if you want to help us make sure the Governor understands the importance of vetoing this bill, we need as many voices as we can get reaching out to her office and pleading with her to show an iota of climate leadership during these unprecedented times.