Multnomah County will either replace or upgrade Burnside Bridge - KPTV - FOX 12

Multnomah County will either replace or upgrade Burnside Bridge for earthquake protection

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Multnomah County officials on Thursday announced they are one step closer to making the Burnside Bridge earthquake ready.

Transportation leaders said they’ve narrowed a field of options down to two categories: either replacing the Burnside Bridge entirely or making significant changes to it so it can withstand an earthquake.

The county has been studying the issue for more than a year, and released a simulation video last summer showing the bridge crumbling in a major earthquake.

Before Thursday’s announcement, county leaders and community members were considering more options, including doing nothing to the bridge, or choosing another Portland bridge to replace or improve.

The county contended that making changes to the Burnside Bridge was critical – calling it a “lifeline connection over the Willamette River.”

Portland resident Mark Fretz said he hopes the county opts to improve the bridge rather than tear it down.

“It’s a beautiful bridge,” Fretz said. "The architecture is beautiful, the embodied energy in the bridge is significant, so keeping that is important.”

County spokesman Mike Pullen said while a brand-new bridge will be most expensive, either option will have significant costs. Updating the bridge will require replacing portions of it over I-5 and a railroad.

Pullen estimates the final bridge cost could be between $400-600 million and would open to traffic in about a decade, after a few years of construction.

Annie Jaouak was walking near the Burnside Bridge Thursday night, and told FOX 12 she supports any option that makes the bridge safer.

“I would always say it’s better to be proactive than reactive,” Jaouak said. “The thing that sucks, is we all as a community, we want it to get done, but then all of a sudden, when the bridge is closed and there’s more traffic – I don’t know how to do it where everybody is happy.” 

Getting the public to agree on a plan is always the challenge, but there are still plenty of ideas about how the bridge might look. Experts are examining about 20 possibilities, including building a tunnel or even twin bridges.

Pullen said so far, a citizen-review panel is leaning toward a brand-new, moveable bridge, but it’s too early to speculate what a final plan might look like.

The county work groups will spend the spring narrowing down the choices and will release a plan including four or five final options this summer.

County Commissioners this fall will have the final say whether to move forward with those bridge options.

The county is seeking public feedback.

People can learn more and provide their thoughts on the project here:

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