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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Wooden structural supports under a state-owned bridge in Tigard need to be replaced. A national report calls on Oregon to dedicate more funds to repairing and replacing its aging bridges.As state and federal lawmakers continue to debate raising taxes and fees, a new national report says Oregon has its share of aging bridges that urgently need repair or replacement.


While Oregon’s 5.5 percent is about half the national average of 11 percent — and is less than in other states — its 439 bridges classified as “structurally deficient” still carried 533 million trips in 2014, nearly double those in 2000.

The report was released Thursday by Transportation for America, a national group of elected, business and civic leaders advocating for transportation improvements. It issued a similar report two years ago.

“We think this report illustrates the need to raise revenue both at the state and federal levels, because we have to address this problem any way we can,” said Chris Rall, Northwest field organizer for the group. “We cannot allow our bridges to fall into disrepair.”

The group said that since 2012, 20 states have acted on their own to raise money for transportation projects.

Congress, however, has failed to reauthorize federal transportation spending on a long-term basis since the law expired in 2009. The latest of 33 extensions is scheduled to end July 31.

Bridge breakdown

Oregon has 8,052 bridges, 4,032 of which are the maintenance responsibility of local governments — and of the 439 classified as “structurally deficient,” about two-thirds are local.

Of the counties with the highest percentage of “structurally deficient” bridges, as defined by federal standards and classified by the states, Clatsop County ranks second at 11.6 percent (17 of 147 bridges) and Umatilla County seventh at 7.3 percent (24 of 329 bridges).

Of those deficient bridges, 12 in Clatsop County and 20 in Umatilla County are local responsibility.

In contrast, Multnomah County was 20th at 22 of 473 bridges, 4.7 percent; Washington County 31st at 8 of 311 bridges, 2.6 percent, and Clackamas County 33rd at 8 of 350 bridges, 2.3 percent. About half those bridges is local responsibility.

A dozen years ago, Oregon lawmakers approved $2.5 billion for highway work. Of that total, $1.3 billion went toward fixing state highway bridges, and $300 million toward local bridges, on the most critical freight routes. Among them were bridges on Interstates 5 and 84, Oregon’s main north-south and east-west routes, and U.S. 97 through central Oregon.

But Rall said that work was paid for from bonds, which are being repaid through higher vehicle fees approved back in 2003.

“So we have less money to fix bridges now, and we didn’t fix every bridge in the state,” he said. “Our bridges are aging, and many are moving into the category of ‘structurally deficient,’ or they take more maintenance to prevent them from becoming structurally deficient.”

Funding prospects

Rall said there are several reasons for the higher share of local bridges with major deficiencies. Not only did the 2003 program focus on high-volume state routes, he said, but also Oregon cities and counties went without new fuel taxes for road work for 18 years. The state gasoline tax went up in January 2011 from 24 cents — where it had been since 1993 — to 30 cents per gallon.

Timber-dependent counties also saw their federal payments shrink and even stop, although Congress recently renewed them for two more years.

A group of state lawmakers, in a series of closed-door meetings in Gov. Kate Brown’s office, is attempting to work out a new transportation financing plan for Oregon.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation, has scheduled a hearing on transportation financing next week. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon who sits on the committee, has introduced a bill to raise the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax by 15 cents during the next three years. The tax was most recently increased in 1993.

Without action by Congress, the federal highway trust fund will run out of money July 31.

Rall said that whatever happens, local governments need aid.

“This report on bridges in Oregon shows that it is locally owned bridges that are the lingering crisis in terms of maintenance,” he said. “We have to make sure local governments have help from the state and federal governments to address their transportation needs.”

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@capitolwong


Read the press release here: t4america.org/2015/06/11/new-report-ranks-worst-counties-in-oregon-for-aging-bridges-finds-states-439-structurally-deficient-bridges-carry-1000-vehicles-every-minute/

To read the report, click here: t4america.org/maps-tools/bridges/oregon-2015/

Here's our bridge page: t4america.org/maps-tools/bridges/ with a map-tool that shows you where the structurally deficient bridges are in your neighborhood.

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