About the Study
Burnside Regional Lifeline Route
Current Burnside Bridge Repairs
The feasibility study is identifying what it will take to create a resilient Burnside crossing of the Willamette River. One that will withstand the next Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake. The study will examine a wide range of river crossing alternatives and narrow that list down to a smaller set of feasible alternatives.
Burnside Street has been designated as a regional emergency lifeline route. If the lifeline route is to function following a major earthquake, it needs an earthquake ready river crossing. The existing Burnside Bridge, like the other older downtown bridges (including the I-405 Fremont and I-5 Marquam – the Marquam may be ready about 4 weeks after the event for emergency vehicles only), is highly vulnerable to earthquake damage and not expected to be operational after a CSZ event.
The Burnside corridor, including the Burnside Bridge, has been identified as a regional emergency transportation route in the event of a major earthquake. Burnside Street connects Gresham to suburban areas in Washington County and crosses the Willamette River via the Burnside Bridge. 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 also allow more people to reunite after an earthquake and to evacuate to safe areas.
The Burnside Bridge study is investigating the feasibility of using each of the bridges between the Sellwood Bridge and the St. Johns Bridge as an alternate crossing. The only existing Willamette River bridges in Portland that are not expected to be heavily damaged from a CSZ earthquake are the Tilikum and the Sellwood bridges because they were built to current earthquake standards. However, due to their distance from the downtown core and seismic vulnerability of overpasses, structures or hillsides on the routes to and from those bridges, they may not be able to provide the critical functions of the Burnside lifeline route following a major CSZ event.
It’s too expensive. The 2015 Willamette River Bridge Capital Improvement Plan assessment estimated the cost of making all of the County’s downtown movable bridges earthquake resilient at between $2-3 billion. This cost does not consider improvements to the 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.
Options range from retrofitting the existing bridge (or a hybrid option which combines a retrofit with replacing some portions of it), building an entirely new bridge, constructing a tunnel, or installing an aerial tram or a floating bridge. Ideas are being screened to find the best earthquake ready options.
Oregon is subject to some of the world’s most powerful, recurring earthquakes. The last major quake in Oregon occurred 317 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.
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. The next major CSZ earthquake is expected to devastate buildings, utilities, and transportation facilities. Learn more
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.
What is the Burnside Regional Lifeline Route and what role does the Burnside Bridge serve in the route?
The Burnside Bridge has a special function as part of the Burnside corridor lifeline – a regional emergency transportation route designated to be operational quickly after a disaster damages or destroys other roadways. The lifeline will provide emergency service and first responders a way to cross the Willamette River immediately following a major earthquake. It will also reconnect families and allow food and supplies to be delivered where they are needed. ODOT has designated I-205 as a statewide north-south lifeline route. The Portland region selected Burnside Street as our east-west lifeline route. This will be an important connection across the river for the entire region, from Gresham through Portland all the way to our western suburbs.
What is the work now underway on the Burnside Bridge for and how is it different from what the earthquake ready project will do?
The Burnside Bridge is over 90 years old and has a number of deficiencies that need to be addressed in the near-term. The maintenance project will make much needed repairs now to cracked and crumbling concrete and the rusting steel framework that compromises safety and operability of the bridge. The electrical and mechanical systems also need upgrades to keep the lift spans working. These targeted improvements can’t wait another 10-15 years for completion of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project.
Based on the high-level assessment of the 2015 Willamette River Bridge Capital Improvement Plan, it is estimated that creating an earthquake ready bridge will cost approximately $500 million. It is currently undetermined who will pay for it, but it is anticipated that a consortium of federal, state, and regional agencies, including Multnomah County, will fund the future environmental study, final design, and construction efforts.
It is estimated that a resilient crossing could be in place by mid to late 2020’s. The process includes completing the current feasibility study, integrating public and stakeholder input, performing an environmental study, developing the final design, and retrofitting or constructing the earthquake ready crossing.
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 CSZ 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.
Multnomah County is the lead agency for this project. Advisory committees representing a range of community interests, agency partners and stakeholders will provide input to the process of narrowing a comprehensive list of Willamette River crossing options to a shorter list of alternatives for more detailed evaluation before selecting the best solution. There are many opportunities for public input on the study findings. At the end of the feasibility study, the Board of County Commissioners will be asked to adopt the study findings.
All members of the community are encouraged to participate. Community feedback will help determine which solutions will be considered in more detail. This website is the best way to stay informed and learn about opportunities to get involved.