‘Earthquake Ready’ Burnside Bridge Project moves forward

‘Earthquake Ready’ Burnside Bridge Project moves forward

Construction to replace the iconic bridge can begin as early as 2027

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Multnomah County’s Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project is moving into its next phase after receiving federal approval on Friday.

After reviewing the project’s environmental impact statement, the Federal Highway Administration gave its approval — marking the end of the project’s environmental review phase — which began in 2019 — and the start of the design phase.

The project comes as no vehicular bridges crossing the Willamette River might be immediately usable after a major earthquake, according to Multnomah County.

“This is an important step for the project as we head into the Design Phase,” said Megan Neill, Multnomah County Design Phase Project Manager. “We are excited for what’s to come this year as we ask for community input on important design decisions that will influence the future of the bridge.”   

During the design phase, the project team will work with several groups, including engineers, architects, and other agencies to look into aesthetic plans, structural components, costs, and long-term maintenance needs.

The team will also work with the Community Design Advisory Group — which is made up of community members — to provide input on structure and railing types, concrete finishes, and lighting.

Additionally, officials will announce opportunities for community input on the bridge design.

After design plans are complete, the project can move into construction, which can start as early as 2027, Multnomah County says.

The project aims to replace the Burnside Bridge with a bridge that will withstand a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake — which is expected in the zone every 300-500 years.

January 26, 2024, marked the 324th anniversary of the last Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake — a massive magnitude 9 quake spanning Northern California to British Columbia.

As pressure builds between the Juan de Fuca plate and the North American Plate, Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management says there’s about a 37% chance of a megathrust earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone in the next 50 years.

The office warns “With the current preparedness levels of Oregon, we can anticipate being without services and assistance for at least two weeks, if not longer, when the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake occurs.”

In an interview with KOIN 6 News in January, Diego Melgar — the director of University of Oregon’s Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center — explained the importance of improving infrastructure ahead of the next Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

“I like to tell people that it can be scary to think about what this big event is going to look like, and I want people to focus less on that because it is scary. I don’t dispute that. But there’s so much that we can do to prepare. If we get our buildings up to code, if we get our bridges stiffened up, if we get our schools moved out of tsunami inundation zones, even if it does happen, while that moment when it happens is going to be scary, if we’ve prepared adequately, we should do okay,” Melgar said.

He added, “I’ll remind people that in Japan, in 2011, they had a magnitude nine earthquake, and there were very, very few building collapses. We know how to build buildings that can withstand earthquakes. It’s just up to us to get it done.”

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