Biden drops into Portland, reels off benefits of infrastructure money for Oregon

President Joe Biden speaks to a small crowd of Oregon officials, union workers and reporters in Portland on Thursday, April 21. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

PORTLAND— New federal infrastructure spending will create millions of high-paying jobs in Oregon and across the country and modernize infrastructure, President Joe Biden said at the Portland International Airport on Thursday. 

Biden landed at the Air National Guard base Thursday afternoon and toured the ongoing terminal expansion site before addressing a small crowd of local and state officials and union workers in an airport hangar. He was scheduled to then attend a fundraiser at the Portland Yacht Club before leaving for Seattle. 

The short visit was to promote the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure plan passed last year, which will bring more than $5 billion to Oregon over the next five years. 

“The last guy who had this job talked about infrastructure week,” Biden said. “Well, I gave you infrastructure decade.” 

The bipartisan infrastructure law earmarked at least $211 million for Oregon airports. About $175 million will be split among the six commercial airports in Portland, Eugene, North Bend, Medford, Redmond and Pendleton. The state’s 51 general aviation airports, which serve local communities and private pilots, stand to receive another $36 million.

Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Democratic members of Oregon’s congressional delegation — Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader — joined Biden on stage. Each described other projects that will be funded by the infrastructure law. 

DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, was one of the plan’s chief architects. He retires at the end of the year, a decision he said he made in part because Congress finally approved a large infrastructure plan. 

“I’ve been fighting my entire career for investments to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, fight the climate crisis and create resilient communities,” DeFazio said. 

Wheeler said the infrastructure law will reconnect minority communities that were torn earlier apart by highways and pay for “pivotal safety projects,” as well as likely help pay to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. 

Schrader said the law’s broadband components will be life changing in his district, which now stretches from the suburbs of Portland across the Cascades into central Oregon. 

Blumenauer, wearing a blazer with an emblem of a bicycle, raised the possibility of the money helping pay for a bike bridge and other non-car infrastructure. 

Merkley described the Port of Coos Bay’s plans to build a container terminal that could bring in up to 1 million 40-foot crates each year, providing an alternative to containers crowding the coast of southern California and bringing more trade through Oregon. 

And Brown said the state is building on the federal government’s investments through her Future Ready Oregon plan, which allocated $200 million to train more Oregonians for jobs in manufacturing, construction and health care. 

“In Oregon, we define infrastructure as not only roads and bridges but also the core components to supporting the way we live, work and play,” Brown said. 

Before speaking to the crowd, Biden toured the ongoing $2 billion airport terminal expansion. Brown said she was particularly glad Biden could see the mass-timber roof, constructed of boards of Douglas fir glued together to create a wooden product with the strength of steel. 

Biden said the roof exemplifies two guiding standards of the infrastructure law. Most work was done by union workers, and the materials for it were sourced locally. 

“You can point to any beam and people can tell you where it came from,” he said.

After his speech, Biden planned to attend a fundraiser at the Portland Yacht Club, where he’ll raise money for a super-PAC that supports Democratic candidates. He travels to Seattle for an event about clean energy Friday. 

Biden’s visit comes as he and Democrats have low approval ratings with voters, including in Oregon. A recent DHM Research poll commissioned by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that just 34% of Oregon voters felt positively toward Biden – 10 points worse than former President Donald Trump in the same poll.

Brown, who is limited from running for another term, has consistently polled as the nation’s least popular governor over the past several months. And longtime Sen. Ron Wyden, who is up for election this year, has polled near 60% in previous iterations of the poll but less than 40% of respondents approved of him now. 

The Republican National Committee cited that poll in a statement ahead of Biden’s scheduled speech.

“While Joe Biden speaks at the Portland Yacht Club, hard working Americans are drowning because of Bidenflation,” Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said. “Voters are fed up, as they know Democrats’ reckless spending has caused skyrocketing prices for gas, groceries, and housing.”

Biden briefly addressed high gas prices, placing the blame on supply chain disruptions caused by Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“I’m doing everything I can to bring down Putin’s gas hike,” he said. 

But he said the U.S. needs to “get off this roller coaster” of reliance on gasoline and move toward more renewable fuels.

And he said replacing or repairing roads and bridges will ultimately bring financial benefits for Oregonians who don’t work in construction. Driving on roads in poor condition costs the average Oregon driver $256 in gas and additional wear on their cars, he said, adding that it’s effectively a hidden tax. 

DeFazio also defended Biden. 

“The last president, while he talked really big, he did nothing,” DeFazio said. “But this president took on the challenge and we are finally able to deliver for the American people.” 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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