The Multnomah County Transportation Bridge Shop was the first stop for the Joint Committee on Transportation during its Transportation Safety and Sustainability Tour on Tuesday, June 4th. The 12-stop tour gave committee members and staff the opportunity to hear from Oregonians about how the Oregon Legislature can ensure the state provides a safe, functional and efficient multimodal transportation system now and into the future. Legislative leaders are planning for a significant investment and funding package during the 2025 legislative session.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson spoke to the group, sharing the need to address a structural funding imbalance to support maintenance on County bridges and roads. Chair Vega Pederson stressed the importance of addressing immediate safety needs as there is an increasing number of transportation-related deaths. The Chair also noted the importance of keeping our economy strong, while offering climate friendly options.

Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, Senator Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-SE Portland), Representative Tawna Sanchez (D-NE Portland) and Senator Lew Frederick (D-N/NE Portland) listen to the brief presentation. The tour helps legislators and community leaders identify needs and potential solutions for stabilized transportation funding. 

Department of Community Services Director Margi Bradway shared that the bridge program’s average spending is $14 million per year for its operations, maintenance and capital maintenance on the County’s six Willamette River bridges. Bradway noted the incredibly important work that a small number of maintenance staff do every day to keep the bridges running safely and reliably for the public. 

Bridge Maintenance Specialist Lead Matthew Nelson said because the County bridge maintenance team is small, they can’t be specialized. Each of the bridge maintenance specialists must be an expert welder, carpenter, concrete mason, fabricator as well as form builder. The County bridge maintenance crew has to be prepared every day to fix any part of the County’s bridges. Many of the bridges are old and require some problem solving. 

Transportation Division Director Jon Henrichsen spoke about the County’s three oldest bridges, sharing their unique features and needs. The 114-year-old Hawthorne Bridge is the oldest operating vertical lift bridge in the United States. It must be lifted every eight hours to keep the tower counterweight trunnions lubricated or it gets very difficult to move the bridge. The Broadway Bridge is 112 years old and has one of the most complex operating mechanisms ever designed to open a movable bridge.The Burnside Bridge is 97 years old and is at the end of its service life. Multnomah County is in the process of replacing this bridge so the community has at least one bridge in downtown Portland that will be usable immediately after a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. 

Senator Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), Senate co-chair of the Joint Transportation Committee, asks about the difficulty to find and purchase parts for the County bridges, that are all nearing or are older than 100 years.

Senator Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), the Senate co-vice chair and Representative Susan McLain (D-Forest Grove), House co-chair look on as Chair Vega Pederson and several County directors speak to the committee. Sen. Boquist asked about the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project’s funding status. 

After the brief presentation the committee and community leaders had a chance for conversation before the group’s next stop on the tour. Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Millicent Williams and Oregon Department of Transportation Region 1 Administrator Rian Windsheimer also attended the tour. 

The four pictures above show the trucks bridge maintenance crews use on a daily basis, the signs often set up during bridge projects and the safety gear maintenance crews wear while working on the County’s bridges.