What have we done so far?

In 2015, the County completed a 20-year Capital Improvement Plan for its Willamette River Bridges. The plan identified having a Burnside Street river crossing that can withstand a major earthquake as a high priority.

In 2018, the County completed a feasibility study for an earthquake-ready Burnside crossing. The project team looked at more than 100 river crossing alternatives on the Burnside lifeline route. With the help of community members and technical experts, the team narrowed these down to four alternatives for further study in the Environmental Review Phase.

In fall 2020, after gathering community input, the project’s Community Task Force and Policy Group recommended the Replacement Long Span as the Preferred Alternative.

On February 5th, 2021 a Draft Environmental Impact Statement was published documenting the findings of the environmental review. A 45-day public comment was provided through March 24th, 2021. 

In spring 2021, additional engineering and cost estimating work raised concerns among County leaders about the project’s cost. Recognizing rising costs due to current economic conditions, failure of the Regional Transportation Bond Measure and competition for funds from other large projects in the region, County leaders asked the project team to analyze ways to reduce the cost so the project is more likely to be funded and built. After further cost analysis, environmental and permitting analysis, and input from stakeholders, the project team identified three key cost-saving refinements to the Preferred Alternative. These refinements were endorsed by the project’s Community Task Force and Policy Group and later approved by the Board of County Commissioners in early 2022.

On April 29, 2022, a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement documenting the refinements to the Preferred Alternative were published for public review followed by a 45-day public comment period.

In January 2024, the Environmental Review Phase concluded with the publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Record of Decision from the Federal Highway Administration.

In January 2024, the project team kicked-off the Design Phase.

Will there be opportunities for the public to weigh in on the design of the bridge?

Yes. There will be two major public engagement milestones to help provide input on the design of the future bridge. In summer 2024, the project team will ask the public for input on a range of bridge type/form options. In early-mid 2025, the project team will seek public input on additional bridge aesthetic features. 

In addition, a Community Design Advisory Group (CDAG) will also help make recommendations to the project team on bridge type/form and aesthetics during the Design Phase. This group will meet regularly throughout the Design Phase to review and discuss design options. The group’s meetings are open to the public, live streamed and recorded. To learn more, visit the CDAG web page.

Why is this project important?

Oregon is located in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which puts us at risk of a major earthquake that will cause widespread damage to buildings, utilities, roads, bridges and the community. Experts say there is a 1 in 3 chance of a magnitude 8+ earthquake occurring within the next 50 years in our region. Portland’s aging downtown bridges are not expected to withstand a major earthquake. It could be weeks before any downtown bridge is usable after the earthquake. That’s why Multnomah County is taking the lead on making at least one downtown crossing earthquake ready.

How will the project be funded?

The County has been successful in securing multiple sources of funding in an effort to raise $895 million for the project. To date, the County and local partners have committed to funding $300 million for the project, through the local vehicle registration fee. In August 2022, EQRB received a federal $5 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability & Equity (RAISE) Planning Grant. This marked the project’s first successful federal funding award.

In summer 2023, the Oregon Legislature directed $20 million in state funding to the project through House Bill 5030. 

The County is actively pursuing various grants and other funding opportunities at the local, state and federal levels to fully fund the project, including grants from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

How much will the project cost?

In 2022, the project team established a planning level not-to-exceed budget of $895 million.

How will traffic be managed during construction?

In order to reduce the overall construction time by up to two years and save $90 million, the recommended traffic management approach is to fully close the bridge during construction and detour traffic to other bridges. The project team is considering different options for minimizing traffic impacts to the traveling public during construction. Construction is expected to begin in early 2027.

Building a temporary bridge to maintain some level of traffic during construction was also considered. However, it was not recommended due to its high cost of $90 million, added construction time of up to two years and added impacts to natural resources. 

Why Burnside?

Located in the heart of downtown, the Burnside Bridge is situated on a regionally established lifeline route across the Willamette River. After an earthquake or other disaster, a lifeline route allows first responders to get to where they’re needed and help distribute emergency supplies. In the event of a major earthquake, we will depend on the Burnside Bridge as the main emergency lifeline route across the Willamette River, connecting the city from east to west. A resilient Burnside Bridge will help our community recover after a major earthquake and provide a long-term river crossing that supports our transportation needs for the next century.

An earthquake-ready Burnside Bridge will:

  • Provide an earthquake-ready Willamette River crossing
  • Support post-earthquake emergency response
  • Help the community and economy recover after a major earthquake
  • Ensure long-term, multi-modal travel across the Willamette River
  • Support our Regional Emergency Transportation Routes and seismic resiliency needs as stated in plans and policies

What is the Burnside lifeline route?

Metro designated Burnside Street, including the Burnside Bridge, as an emergency lifeline route in 1996. Stretching from Washington County to Gresham, the Burnside Street lifeline route has less risk of overpasses or structures collapsing along it during a large earthquake than other major roads, like I-84, I-5 and I-405. The Burnside lifeline needs an earthquake-ready river crossing to help reconnect friends and families; maintain access to fire stations, hospitals and other emergency services; and enable food, water, medical supplies and other necessities to be delivered where they are needed. It will be instrumental in helping our region recover.

Why not make all downtown bridges earthquake ready?

It’s too expensive to upgrade all the bridges at the same time. The 2015 Willamette River Bridge Capital Improvement Plan assessment estimated the cost of making all of the County’s four downtown movable bridges earthquake resilient at between $2-3 billion. This cost does not consider improvements to ODOT’s Marquam and Fremont bridges that will be closed by a major earthquake. ODOT estimates it would take about four weeks after a major earthquake for emergency vehicles to access the Marquam Bridge, while the Fremont Bridge would not be usable after a major quake.

What kinds of river crossing alternatives were considered during the Feasibility Study?

Over 100 options were studied during this project’s Feasibility Study phase, including tunnels, ferries, stacked bridges, couplet bridges, fixed bridges, floating bridges and other options. For more details about what was studied, check out the Feasibility Study Report.

Why is the Enhanced Seismic Retrofit not the Preferred Alternative?

Yes, the project team considered and studied an Enhanced Seismic Retrofit option during the Environmental Review Phase. However, it was not selected as the Preferred Alternative. The existing Burnside Bridge was built in 1926 before information about earthquakes was more readily available and understood. At that time, the Burnside Bridge was built with lightly reinforced rebar and supported on shallow timber piles embedded into quicksand-like soils. Given the age, location and materials of the Burnside Bridge, seismically retrofitting the bridge to withstand the size and magnitude of a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, and be immediately usable following such an event, made this alternative more challenging than the replacement alternatives and greatly compromises the historic nature of the existing bridge.

Learn more about the reasons why the Enhanced Seismic Retrofit Alternative was not recommended as the Preferred Alternative here: Why the Enhanced Seismic Retrofit Alternative is not the Preferred Alternative (432.42 KB)

Why should we prepare now?

Oregon is subject to some of the world’s most powerful, recurring earthquakes. The last major quake in Oregon occurred 320 years ago, a timespan that exceeds 75% of the intervals between the major quakes to hit Oregon over the last 10,000 years. There is a significant risk that the next event will occur soon.

What is the danger for Portland from a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake centered off the coast?

The United States Geological Survey has produced information about the distribution and severity of shaking from past subduction zone earthquakes around the world. That information shows that the Portland region will experience shaking levels strong enough and long enough to cause severe and widespread damage. A Cascadian Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake could cause strong shaking in Portland for four minutes. The next major CSZ earthquake is expected to devastate buildings, utilities, and transportation facilities. Learn more.

Who makes the decision on the final outcomes of the study?

Multnomah County is the lead agency for this project and makes final decisions on the project. Numerous agencies, stakeholders, community groups, subject-matter experts and regulatory bodies will provide input throughout the design process to help the project team make key decisions. A Community Design Advisory Group, representing a range of community interests, will make recommendations to the project team on the bridge type/form and certain aesthetic features. The group’s recommendations, via the project team, will be taken to the Board of County Commissioners for final approval.

How can I be involved?

All members of the community are encouraged to participate and provide feedback to the project related to the bridge type/form and certain aesthetic features. This website is the best way to stay informed and learn about opportunities to get involved. You can also sign up to receive project updates.

What can I do to be more prepared for a major earthquake event?

Experts say the best way to start is to develop an emergency plan for your family, friends and neighbors. Having a plan will improve the likelihood your family can communicate and reunite after a disaster. There are simple plans and tips to create an emergency kit at Ready.gov/kit.

How does this fit into other regional emergency plans?

The central location of the Burnside lifeline route and connections to other emergency routes means that an Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge is central to the region’s ability to recover from a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. The Burnside Bridge is the only non-state owned Priority 1 Emergency Route across the Willamette River. ODOT is prioritizing the I-205 corridor as a statewide emergency lifeline route. Emergency managers are focused on helping our region prepare for an earthquake and other types of disasters. Learn more about our region’s emergency plans at rdpo.net.