Updated: A Pain the Bridge


This weekend’s closure has been postponded due to the weather, and tentatively rescheduled to next weekend

For those of us who just finally got that sense of relief that two years of maintenance on the Broadway Bridge are over (or who suffered through the projects on the Hawthorne or Ross Island bridges before), here we go again. The press release for several years of work on the Burnside Bridge follows.

This raises a couple of questions in my mind:

1) Is the stretched out process of doing the work while keeping some travel lanes open really worth it? I know the County has done good community outreach on this question, but I still have to wonder…

2) The drain on Multnomah County to keep the Willamette bridges in good condition is enormous. Isn’t it time to recognize that these are really regional resources (how many folks from Washington, Clackamas and Clark countries travel them every day) and figure out a way to share the load? Maybe that would let us actually get to replace the Sellwood…

What do people think?

Two years of Burnside Bridge lift span repairs begin with weekend bridge closure

The Burnside Bridge will be closed to road traffic from 8:00 pm on Friday, January 6 until as late as 6:00 am on Monday, January 9 to allow a contractor to set up traffic control and a work zone for a two-year construction project that begins this month. Pedestrians and bicyclists can cross the bridge but may experience brief delays this weekend. TriMet bus routes 12, 19 and 20 will use the Morrison Bridge during the closure. The bridge will reopen before Monday if work is completed early.

The $9 million project will complete two technically challenging repairs to the lift span. The concrete deck of the lift span is worn from 79 years of use and will be completely rebuilt. The Burnside Bridge has one of the largest concrete decks of any bascule drawbridge in the world. At less than five inches thick the deck is also extremely thin for a concrete deck that is stressed and flexed by regular openings.

Rebuilding the deck while keeping the bridge open to road and river traffic is one reason the project will last two years. The contractor, Advanced American Diving Service, will need to keep one leaf of the lift span operable so the bridge can open for river vessels. In order to keep the bridge open to road and river traffic, the new deck will be built in four stages (two per lift span leaf). Each stage will require one month of curing time before the new concrete is hard enough to handle the stress of traffic and bridge openings.

Multnomah County and the City of Portland studied the option of closing the bridge to traffic to shorten the construction schedule. A traffic study determined that other bridges could not absorb the 45,000 vehicles that use the Burnside Bridge each day without creating an unacceptable level of gridlock across a wide area.

The project’s most difficult stage will be the replacement and repair of mechanical parts that help open the bridge. One eighty-year old hinge that attaches the 3.5 million pound counterweight to the lift span has broken and cannot turn freely. Stress from the frozen hinge is causing the eastern leaf of the bridge to open slower than the western leaf. If the hinge were to fail, the leaf would not be able to open and the counterweight could become detached from the lift span.

Replacing the hinge assembly will require the contractor to detach the counterweight without letting the lift span deck tumble into the Willamette River. A complex rigging system will be needed to support the counterweight when it is disconnected from its hinge. Because the bridge was not designed to be repaired, the repair will require the contractor to cut away sections of the concrete counterweight and bridge walls. The repair may be the first of its kind, due to the Burnside’s rare design.

The project will also update electrical wiring, replace lift span motors, install storm water collection and treatment facilities, and replace or repaint corroded steel.

While the project will create inconvenience for bridge users, it will extend the life of the historic bridge. Replacing the Burnside Bridge would cost at least $170 million today.

Federal funds are paying for approximately 70 percent of the project, while Multnomah County is contributing the rest. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007.

During most of the project, the bridge will be reduced from five to two traffic lanes, with a single lane in each direction. TriMet bus routes 12, 19 and 20 will continue to use the bridge and both sides of the bridge will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists. The project will require several weekend bridge closures to road traffic, each lasting three to five days, for concrete deck pours.

There will be brief closures to river traffic at off-peak times. During most of the project only one bridge leaf will be operable for bridge openings. A tugboat will be provided for river vessels that need assistance passing the bridge during a single leaf opening. Both lift span leafs will be operable if needed by the Rose Festival fleet. The Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade will also be able to cross the bridge in 2006 and 2007.

OBEC Consulting Engineers of Oregon designed the repairs, with assistance from mechanical engineering consultants Hardesty & Hanover. Multnomah County maintains the Burnside Bridge and more than 300 miles of roads and bridges. For project updates call 503-988-4884.

9 responses to “Updated: A Pain the Bridge”

  1. Chris,
    good point on who pays, but a lot of the $ is federal, I assume via MTIP.
    I don’t know why they don’t take this opportunity to reduce the Burnside Bridge permanently to 2 lanes in each direction…it is now 2 and 3.
    The extra lane would allow for much wider “promenade”-like sidewalks.
    The Burnside Bridge, more than any other in town, brings you right into the urban fabric…at both ends and could be the premier spot for an eveing stroll.

  2. Quoting the press report:

    “A traffic study determined that other bridges could not absorb the 45,000 vehicles that use the Burnside Bridge each day without creating an unacceptable level of gridlock across a wide area.”

    So apparently even one bridge out would cause huge problems for the mobility of Portlanders. Lets hope we never see multiple bridges out due to an earthquake! This also partially explains why the cops hate protesters getting near the bridges.

  3. I doubt the actual impact of closing the bridge would be nearly as great as the modeling. I think that has been the experience in the past with bridge closures. If you remember the closing of the I-5 bridge a few years ago was supposed to create massive congestion and gridlock. Instead there was less congestion than normal as people avoided trips. or used alternatives.

    The problem on the Burnside bridge is not the width of sidewalks or the number of lanes, its that the lanes are too wide. The result is that it is a freeway with people going 50 mph across it. They ought to narrow the lanes to handle traffic at 25 mph. That would make the pedestrian and bike environment a lot more comfortable. The bike lanes on the bridge are pretty good and when traffic is slowed by congestion it isn’t a bad ride. At night … I just keep my head down and pray drivers are paying attention to the bike lane as traffic flies by.

  4. Re: ownership and regional nature of bridges

    On a historical note, both the Ross Island and St Johns Bridges were Multnomah County property at one time. Action by the Legislature transferred them both into ODOT responsibility.

    The only data I know is that 60% of Sellwood Bridge traffic originates in Clackamas County which contributes nothing to its upkeep. Maybe its time for a “Bridge Authority” to maintain all the Willamette River Bridges and can raise its own revenue.

  5. The last thing Portland needs is to turn control of its bridges over to a JPACT type group. If it were up to Clackamas county the Sellwood Bridge would be six lanes with grade separated access to both 17th and McLoughlin to better server Clackamas County commuters. If the St. Johns bridge were still a Multnomah County facility do you suppose we might have won the battle for bike lanes and wider sidewalks?

    Maintenance of the bridges ought to be transferred to the city of Portland. They already have responsibility for the connecting roads and approaches. They have responsibility for the neighborhoods. And they have the political will and clout to defend the interests of the people who live in those neighborhoods.

    The county is ill-suited to be doing urban transportation. They have virtually no urban planning responsibilities and their transportation department primarily deals with rural roads. The problems Gresham has had with their local county roads is a reflection of those weaknesses.

    With the possible exception of Lonnie Roberts district, people don’t run or vote for county commissioners based on transportation issues. Maria Rojo de Steffey’s past experience with the county transportation department was serendipity. And I’m not sure that experience is necessarily always a positive when looking at urban transportation issues. I haven’t seen Maria being a particularly strong advocate for alternative transportation or for the marriage of land use and transportation. What she has done is make the bridges the central issue in the county’s regional transportation agenda.

  6. My two cents: I think a toll for WA drivers exiting off freeways into the City of Portland would be in order. Cars with WA plates make up a healthy percentage of bridge traffic (not to mention commuter traffic on Sandy Blvd. and elsewhere). This would be a reasonable way to spread the costs around to actual users.

    I disagree, though, that “the County has done good community outreach.” Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock, but I’ve heard little about what looks to be a MAJOR construction project. In fact, I found this site looking for information after hearing about the project on the news this morning. Thanks for the update!

  7. “Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock, but I’ve heard little about what looks to be a MAJOR construction project.”

    As someone who worked in the county’s Office of Citizen Involvement until November, I hadn’t heard anything about public meetings on the project. I pay close attention to transportation issues and uses the Burnside Bridge to go downtown by bike, transit and auto so I would have been interested. It sounds like they met with the business community and I wouldn’t be surprised if they at least sent notices to the neighborhood associations.

  8. “The last thing Portland needs is to turn control of its bridges over to a JPACT type group. If it were up to Clackamas county the Sellwood Bridge would be six lanes with grade separated access to both 17th and McLoughlin to better server Clackamas County commuters.”

    Very true, and horrible for the community at the east end of the bridge.

    That said, I do think that it’s about time that bikes were licensed and taxed – and at a higher rate than presently exists for autos. Why? Because auto drivers pay additional taxes at the pump. Motorcyclists have to pay for licensing and registration (and the gas tax). Why should bicyclists be permitted to do any less in support of the facilities used?

  9. Why should bicyclists be permitted to do any less in support of the facilities used?

    I think there are a lot of reasons. But the most critical is that bikes don’t actually require much. About 90% of the right-of-way is unnneeded. The quality of the pavement is dramatically less. The wear that the bike puts on the roadway is dramatically less. I suspect if you really added it up, the appropriate fees would cost more to collect and enforce than they would produce.

    It also ought to be clear that roadways are public facilities. The gas tax was developed as the way to pay for them because it would grow with increased useage. But there is no real direct connection between the amount of taxes people pay at the pump and the cost of the facilities they actually use. One of the problems is that most new capacity that is being built is really only needed for a few hours a day. People who don’t drive during rush hour are way overpaying while those who commute to work each day during rush hour are way underpaying if you look at the costs they impose on the road network.

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