Oregon’s DeFazio says Biden plan could spur I-5 bridge replacement — but Senate fight looms

By OPB staff
April 5, 2021 1 p.m. Updated: April 5, 2021 5:49 p.m.

DeFazio says Democrats are united, but “Mitch McConnell doesn’t give a damn about the country.”

Last week, President Joe Biden proposed a more-than $2 trillion plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure.


The so-called American Jobs Plan includes money to fix roads and bridges, expand public transit, increase the use of electric vehicles and protect vital services such as the nation’s power grid and water supply from extreme weather caused by climate change.

This package could have a huge impact for residents and commuters in the Pacific Northwest. But does it actually have a chance of passing?

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, represents most of Southwest Oregon and chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He joined OPB’s All Things Considered to talk about the spending package and what has to happen for it to become real.

FILE - In this May 15, 2019 file photo Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., speaks during a House Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

FILE - In this May 15, 2019 file photo Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., speaks during a House Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Susan Walsh / AP

Here are highlights, and you can use the audio player at the top of this story to listen to the entire conversation.


Tiffany Camhi: You have praised this plan, particularly the president’s commitment to building infrastructure that’s capable of meeting the realities of climate change. What does that actually mean for you?

Rep. Peter DeFazio: Transportation is the largest single contributor of carbon pollution in the United States of America, and we’ve got to de-fossilize it. So the current best technology is electricity. The intention is to electrify the national highway network. The president’s talked about 500,000 chargers. I don’t know if that’s enough or the right number, but we only have 5,000 high speed chargers now, which is absurd.

So first is the electrification. Second is the rebuilding. We’re living off the legacy of Dwight David Eisenhower. It’s time for 21st century transportation infrastructure: 47,000 bridges need repair or replacement, 40% of the national highway system has to be rebuilt, not just resurfaced. We have a $100 billion backlog to bring transit up to a state of good repair, let alone give people new transit options and then rail. We are lagging so far behind in high and higher speed rail in this country,

Camhi: I want to talk about one thing that a lot of people in the Portland area know about, and that is the plan to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. It’s been stalled for almost a generation now. Could President Biden’s plan finally make that happen?

DeFazio: Well, they didn’t specify, but they said they want to replace 10 nationally significant bridges. My list, and I chair the committee, includes the Columbia River crossing.

Camhi: Is there anything in this package that you don’t think belongs?

DeFazio: All I’ve been provided is essentially a 25-page outline. I don’t see anything, uh, misplaced in that, but there’s a lot of details to be filled out yet as we move forward. I think they’re looking to Congress to fill in a lot of the details.

Camhi: A plan this big also involves big changes to the tax structure, primarily on corporations. This is obviously controversial, and GOP members have already come out against it. What has to happen for the American Jobs Plan to actually pass?

DeFazio: A lot of this is investment. Investment does not necessarily have to be paid for up front. I don’t get to do how we pay for it. ... The president proposed rescinding of the Trump tax cuts, which every single Democrat voted against and every single Republican voted for, and they jammed through with reconciliation. And now they’re complaining about us helping average Americans and doing critical infrastructure by using expedited processes without them being on board? Mitch McConnell doesn’t give a damn about the country. He just cares about his own power and serving the special interests he does. So the Senate is going to be a problem.

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