The Community Task Force for the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge held its final meeting Monday, July 18 – wrapping up its role in the project’s Environmental Review Phase and culminating more than three years of work helping Multnomah County make key decisions for the project. 

Members of the Community Task Force represented neighborhoods, business districts and Burnside Bridge users – including pedestrians, bicyclists, auto commuters, transit users, freight, river users. They also brought perspectives from historians and social service agencies and other organizations based near the Burnside Bridge.

During the course of 30 meetings, the task force reviewed a range of alternatives for a seismically resilient crossing replacing the current Burnside Bridge, including four alternatives as part of the project’s Environmental Review Phase. Members helped identify the Long Span Alternative as the preferred option for a new bridge, and reviewed cost-saving measures and other design refinements.

A message of gratitude 

County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson began the meeting by reminding task force members that they’ve been working on Multnomah County’s most important transportation project. The Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge will replace the current nearly 100-year-old bridge with a new one that can withstand a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.  

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually build a bridge for our city that’s going to serve not only in the event of that Cascadia earthquake, but is going to be a connector, truly the center of our city, that people are going to be using every day,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “And so we also want to make sure that we’re building something that is going to be service for every single person in our community, everyone who is going to be walking, riding, rolling, driving across the bridge day after day.” 

She also thanked the group for its service to the community and the decisions it’s helped the project team make.

“I just want to thank you so wholeheartedly for all of the discussions, all of the debate, the ways that you’ve gone back to the communities you represent to get their input and brought it to this table, brought it this decision-making process, it’s really remarkable work,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. 

Support for an Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge

Multnomah County Transportation Public Information Officer Sarah Hurwitz followed by presenting a new project video that she produced with the Communications Office. 

“This is really to kind of showcase the diverse and broad support that the project has, and be kind of this emotional piece, not just to speak about resiliency and urgency but people’s connection to the bridge and how they use it,” Hurwitz said of the video.  

After the video played, one person attending in the audience spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, sharing concerns about the proposed bridge width and its impacts on non-vehicle road users. 

“We haven’t heard a commitment to meaningful expansion of what the existing bridge offers,” Andrew Holtz said. “What you’ve approved is basically status quo, perhaps one foot wider. It’s not a meaningful improvement.” 

Project update 

The Community Task Force then got a status update from Project Manager Megan Neill, who shared details on cost refinements to the project. In March, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to significantly reduce the cost of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project. 

Without those reductions, worth as much as $215 million, the project was estimated to cost more than $1 billion. 

As part of the new cost savings, commissioners approved a bascule movable span, a westside girder approach and reduced the width of the bridge. The current Burnside Bridge is a bascule bridge, which rotates open to provide unlimited clearance for river traffic. The cost savings also preserve the existing view corridor. 

Neill said the overall cost of the project is now $895 million. Multnomah County is contributing $300 million through its vehicle registration fee. The project needs an additional $500-600 million for construction and is actively seeking funding opportunities from federal and state infrastructure programs. 

“We’ve been hard at work with our grant funding team, working on any and every opportunity there is for this project to receive funding from the Biden infrastructure package,” Neill said. 

The Environmental Review Phase will be completed late this year. Design work will begin spring 2023, and construction could begin as early as 2025, pending funding.

Lane configuration 

The City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation also presented at the meeting, giving updates on how the bridge’s traffic lanes would be configured. The new Burnside Bridge will have four lanes – a decision that followed a traffic analysis by Multnomah County and the City of Portland. Because the City of Portland is the road authority, Multnomah County asked the City of Portland to make a decision on lane configuration. 

Sharon Daleo, Portland Bureau of Transportation’s major projects engineer, said the preferred configuration is two westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes, with one eastbound lane specifically designated as bus only. Fourteen to 17 feet of bicycle and pedestrian space would be on either side of the vehicle lanes.  

“It was found to have minimal traffic impacts on the city street network,” Daleo said.

Some Community Task Force members expressed concern about the lane configuration and whether it could handle a substantial influx of freight trucks in the wake of an earthquake. Others said they felt the lane configuration could create more congestion.

Daleo also shared three concepts for a ramp connecting the Eastbank Esplanade to the new bridge. The ramp connection project is separately funded and is not part of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project. 

Future participation

As Multnomah County heads into the Final Design Phase of the project, a new design-focused task force will be created to help the project team in a different capacity. 

The project team will be looking for a diverse group of community members who have experience or interest in bridge design and aesthetics. The group will meet every two months for 12 to 18 months.

There will be a new application process for this reconstituted, design-focused Community Task Force. In September, Multnomah County will announce the application details, with a deadline for applications in October. The project team will confirm a committee roster in December. The Final Design Phase will begin in early 2023.