Three cost-saving measures under consideration for Multnomah County's earthquake-ready Burnside Bridge replacement project have cleared their first major hurdle.
The project's Community Task Force committee voted Monday, Jan. 24, to recommend all three proposed cost-saving measures, which could cut the estimated $1 billion price tag on the project by $185 million to $240 million.
The committee makes recommendations throughout the bridge replacement process. It's made up of about 20 local business leaders, members of community groups and other stakeholders.
Members were tasked with evaluating cost-saving measures after estimated costs for the project rose substantially last year due to inflation and pandemic-related price increases on labor and materials.
"Folks, this is kind of a big deal," said Allison Brown, who facilitates the committee at the engagement firm JLA Public Involvement. "It comes also with a very strong message about — this isn't just a, 'I can live with it,' but a, 'please, please, find the funding,' because this project is urgent and important."
The purpose of the project is to create what officials say would be "the first lifeline crossing over the Willamette River" in downtown Portland in the event of a major earthquake.
The committee's vote occurred two days before what scientists peg as the 322nd anniversary of the last major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault in Earth's crust running from British Columbia to Northern California.
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.
Two of the cost-saving measures received unanimous support from the committee.
Three committee members voted against a measure that would reduce the bridge width to roughly the same width as the current bridge, and several others expressed uneasiness about it.
The measure would mean reducing both the amount of space for pedestrians and bicyclists and the number of vehicle lanes from five to four.
Committee members noted that the wider bridge could be valuable following a massive earthquake.
Most committee members expressed support for building a wider bridge if the county can find funding for it.
The county's Policy Group committee for the project will vote on the three cost-saving measures in March before being considered for adoption by the Board of Commissioners.
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. 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.
Megan Neill, engineering services manager for the county, said officials will need to make a final determination about whether to reduce the bridge by March 2023, when the project team expects to submit initial design plans.
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