What have we done so far?

In 2015, we completed a 20-year capital improvement plan for our Willamette River Bridges. This plan placed a high priority on having a Burnside Street river crossing that can withstand a major earthquake.

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

How will the project be funded?

Funding the entire project will likely require local, state and federal funds. Multnomah County is funding its portion with revenue from the local vehicle registration fee. 

How much will the project cost?

The recommended preferred alternative is estimated at approximately $825 million. The cost estimate will be refined as we get closer to design. 

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.

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 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

What was the work recently completed on the Burnside Bridge for?

The Burnside Bridge is over 90 years old and had a number of deficiencies that needed to be addressed in the near-term. The recent work made much needed repairs to cracked and crumbling concrete and the rusting steel framework that was compromising safety and operability of the bridge. The electrical and mechanical systems were also upgraded to keep the lift spans working. These targeted improvements were needed to keep the bridge operable and safe in the near term while we prepare for a major upgrade with the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project. The improvements will not help the bridge survive a major earthquake.

How long will it take to get a resilient crossing in place?

It is estimated that a resilient crossing could be in place by the late 2020’s. The process includes performing the feasibility study (complete), an environmental study (in-progress), integrating public and stakeholder input (in-progress), developing the final design, and constructing the earthquake-ready crossing.

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

Multnomah County is the lead agency for this project. Advisory committees representing a range of community interests, agency partners and stakeholders provided input to the process of narrowing a comprehensive list of Willamette River crossing options to a shorter list of alternatives. The committees will also provide input during a more detailed evaluation before selecting a preferred alternative. There are many opportunities for public input on the study findings. In late summer or early fall of 2020, the Board of County Commissioners will recommend a preferred alternative that the Federal Highway Administration will consider for approval.

How can I be involved?

All members of the community are encouraged to participate. Community feedback will influence key decisions leading to recommendation of the preferred alternative. This website is the best way to stay informed and learn about opportunities to get involved.

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 PortlandOregon.gov/rdpo.