On the first day of Oregon's deadly climate-change-induced heat wave, the state legislature passed House Bill 3055, a transportation bill which would provide funding for continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure including widening freeways I-205 and I-5 in Clackamas County.
There is no freeway expansion that has ever solved congestion. Making room for more cars on the road only leads to more traffic, another future lane of congestion and increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is not some far off thing in the future. It is a crisis we are actively living in as it leaves our region with drought, heat waves, lost lives and scorched earth: 40% of our state's emissions come from transportation, yet even with the climate crisis barging its way into our homes, our elected leaders still refuse to take the bold climate action we need to protect the livability of our present and future.
Last fall I stood in my kitchen, terrified listening to newscasters report that the entirety of Clackamas County was under some level of evacuation order as wildfires crept closer to our homes. As a disabled person, I've seen other people like me get left behind in climate disasters across the country and I fear joining those statistics.
There's less than 10 years before our climate fate is sealed. Throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into freeways instead of building age-friendly, walkable neighborhoods prohibits many from acquiring basic independence and is literally stoking the flames of the climate crisis.
With these disasters looming, why are our elected officials still negating their contributions to climate change with every thumbs up they give to fossil-fuel infrastructure? Why does every transportation committee and commission say it's the responsibility and priority of another?
In addition to freeway expansions being bad climate policy, access to an automobile shouldn't be a prerequisite for participating in society, but in almost all of Clackamas County, we simply haven't invested in alternatives. Thanks to disability coupled with a lack of nearby transit and sidewalks, I've been completely reliant on someone driving me wherever I need to go until I got my license recently.
As someone who experiences the limitations of our existing transportation options, it's disappointing to see elected officials continue to prioritize freeway expansions over true investments in transit, maintenance or safety. ODOT's priorities are saying that I'm not welcome if I don't own a car or can't drive.
Even with my new license, I'm caught in a vicious cycle of needing a job, needing an education to get a job and needing to pay for an accessible vehicle to physically access either. How am I, a young disabled person living off SSI's $529 per month, supposed to pay thousands for a vehicle conversion and then pay thousands more for gas, insurance and maintenance?
For me, true independence will come not from a driver's license, but from Oregon building a transportation system that allows every Oregonian the chance to get around without a car. To get there, we must stop widening freeways and instead invest in alternative transportation options.
Cassie Wilson is a 22-year-old disabled climate justice organizer with Sunrise PDX and is on Clackamas County's youth advisory task force on climate. Here she speaks only for herself.
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