Portland’s aging downtown bridges are not expected to withstand a major earthquake. That’s why Multnomah County is taking the lead on making at least one crossing earthquake ready.

Located in the heart of downtown and on a regionally established lifeline route, it is critical that the Burnside Bridge is still standing after a major earthquake.  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. 

Over 100 options were studied during this project’s Feasibility Study Phase (2016-2018), including tunnels, ferries and other bridge options. From that study, four bridge alternatives (and a no-build or “do-nothing” option) were recommended for further evaluation. Since then, the Fixed Bridge alternative was dismissed from further study due to a large number of impacts that were identified through a navigational study. This resulted in three remaining alternatives. 

However, on-going geotechnical and engineering analysis identified added costs and risks associated with existing and proposed bridge piers located in particularly unstable soils on both the east and west river banks. This led to the development of a long span design option associated with the in-kind replacement alternative that could clear most of that area. To simplify communication of this added design option, it is being referred to as an additional alternative. As such, the following four alternatives are proposed to be studied in detail in the EIS:

1. Enhanced Seismic Retrofit

2. Replacement: Short Span

3. Replacement: Long Span

4. Replacement: Northeast Couch Extension

All alternatives are movable bridges.

The project team has entered into the Environmental Review phase, and is now further studying the impacts and benefits of these remaining alternatives. At the end of this study, we will decide which alternative to build. 

Environmental Review

During the Environmental Review phase, we will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. This is federally required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

This is an important phase of project planning where we take a good, hard look at the project alternatives and assess their benefits and impacts. This helps us make an informed decision about what to design and build. It guides us in understanding the tradeoffs and deciding which alternative best meets the needs of the project while balancing environmental effects.

During the Environmental Review phase, we look at how each alternative, including the No Build alternative, would affect social, cultural, built and natural resources. We also look at cost, ease of building, ability to survive an earthquake and other factors.

The EIS will include public input gathered throughout the study. During the month of September 2019, we asked the public to review and comment on important elements of the study, including:

As the environmental review phase continues, we will ask for input on choosing a preferred alternative.

Environmental review is a long process. The goal is to choose a single alternative that best meets the community’s needs. Then we’ll be ready to get to work designing and building an Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge.

As part of this process, the Federal Highway Administration has issued a ‘Notice of Intent’ (NOI) to prepare an EIS. The NOI was published in the Federal Register on April 14, starting a 30-day comment period for the public to share comments about what should be studied, including the Purpose and Need, Range of Alternatives and Topics of Study. While the public and agencies have had multiple opportunities to comment on all of these topics over the past three years, the formal scoping period provides another opportunity before the team starts preparing the EIS.


Environmental Review Phase: 2019-2021 

Key Milestones:

  • Summer/Fall 2019 – share information and get input on items to consider in the study

  • Spring 2020 – issue formal Notice of Intent and get further input on items to consider in the study

  • Summer 2020 – share findings from the environmental study and ask for community input on the preferred alternative

  • Winter 2020/2021 – publish the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and get community input

  • Fall 2021 – a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and a Record of Decision (ROD) will approve the preferred alternative that can then move into the Design Phase and then Construction

Design Phase:  2021-2024

Construction Phase: 2024-2029

Questions or Comments?

Please use this form to contact the project team with any questions or comments or to sign up for project updates.

The information presented here, and the public and agency input received, may be adopted or incorporated by reference into a future environmental review process to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.