Burnside Bridge replacement cost-saving measures head to first vote
A Multnomah County committee plans to vote on measures that could substantially reduce the cost of the earthquake-ready Burnside Bridge replacement project.
Last spring, amid pandemic-related price spikes and competition for construction resources, county officials asked the bridge project team to consider ways to bring project costs down.
Without cost-saving measures, county officials estimate the project will cost about $1 billion.
The project's Community Task Force will hold a virtual meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, to consider public input on three cost-saving measures and make on recommendations. The committee, which was formed to make recommendations throughout the bridge replacement process, is made up of about 20 local business leaders, members of community groups and other individuals.
The project aims to build a bridge that could withstand the impact of a major earthquake, creating what officials call "the first lifeline crossing over the Willamette River" in downtown Portland.
Geologists say there is a 1 in 3 chance of a magnitude 8 or higher earthquake occurring in the region within the next 50 years, likely causing widespread damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure. It has been more than 300 years since the last major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault in Earth's crust running from British Columbia to northern California.
In fall 2020, the Community Task Force recommended the project include a replacement "long-span" bridge with a moveable center span.
County staff published a draft environmental impact statement for the proposal in February 2021 and collected public comments in the following weeks.
After project's estimated cost rose from $825 million to $915 million to $1 billion, in part due to pandemic-related price increases in labor and materials, county officials asked the project team to identify cost-saving measures.
The meeting Monday will include a briefing on 1,500 public comments collected last fall for three measures that could reduce the project cost by $185 million to $240 million, according to county officials.
One measure includes narrowing the proposed bridge designs to roughly the width of the existing bridge. It would reduce the number of vehicle lanes from five to four and narrow the shared space for bicyclists and pedestrians. The space for bicyclists and pedestrians would still be wider than what the current bridge affords, officials say. The measure could reduce costs by $140 million to $165 million.
Another measure includes selecting a girder structure for the west approach to the bridge instead of an arch or cable span. That measure could reduce costs by $20 million to $40 million, officials say.
A third measure includes creating a bascule drawbridge similar to that of the existing bridge, instead of a proposed vertical lift drawbridge, which could reduce costs by $25 million to $35 million, according to the project team.
Officials say the cost-saving measures will increase the likelihood that the county completes the project.
To pay for the project, county officials plan to access about $300 million available from local vehicle registration fee revenues, according to the county's website.
But they need to secure additional resources to make up the funding gap, working to receive financial commitments from other local, state and federal sources, including the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Multnomah County's Policy Group for the project is expected to vote on the recommendations from the Community Task Force on March 3. Approved recommendations would then go to a vote by the Board of Commissioners the following week.
Officials expect the environmental review process to be completed late this year with design work occurring in the fall.
Construction could begin in 2025, officials say.
More information about the project is available at www.multco.us/earthquake-ready-burnside-bridge.
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