Report: Oregon’s bridges get a boost in funding, but needs outweigh the money

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This year’s report is clear: ODOT needs a continuous, stable funding source to maintain and upgrade our bridges in the coming decades. Although a substantial amount of money has been added to ODOT’s budget with the recent infusion of federal and state funds, we still fall short of meeting all the needs that have been delayed.

The current annual report, which ranks bridges from poor to good, shows a decline in bridge conditions for the tenth straight year.

In the last two years, 53 bridges had declining overall condition ratings versus 25 bridges with improved condition ratings.

As Oregon bridges continue to age, ODOT had reduced the number of bridges that are in poor condition, but the number of bridges in good condition is also declining each year. As a result, the number of bridges in fair condition continues to increase.

Unsustainable Fix-It Route Strategy

In the past, ODOT has used the Fix-It Route strategy — a strategy that repairs or replaces bridges along critical corridors.

However, this is not a sustainable long term strategy. There continue to be many significant needs that are not on Fix-It Routes, but are still vital to individuals and businesses.

The reality is that most of the state’s 2,766  bridges were all designed and built decades ago when the population of people and cars was far lower. These aging bridges are now at or exceeding their life expectancy.

ODOT replaces a small number of bridges each year and provides short term improvements on existing bridges.

As bridge conditions continue to deteriorate, the risk of bridge load restrictions and closures will increase.

Upcoming Bridge Load Restrictions

Our current highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, made it legal for very large, multiple-axle emergency vehicles to travel on the interstate system to respond to events such as wildland fires and other natural disasters. 

To ensure that our aging bridges can accommodate these heavy vehicles, the Federal Highway Administration mandated that all states must load rate all bridges within one mile of interstate routes and post load restrictions if necessary. ODOT identified 84 bridges that meet this criteria and will require load restrictions for very heavy emergency vehicles.

ODOT’s Seismic Program Making Progress

The good news is that ODOT is making steady progress on our seismic resilience projects. As of September 2021, we addressed all vulnerable bridges on the northern half of U.S. 97 and the southern half is ready to begin construction.

We are also making progress on seismic upgrades to our southern Oregon bridges. This effort is divided into four projects.

This effort is divided into four projects. The first project is complete and the second project is in construction.

We are designing the other two.

The I-205 Improvement Project will address the seismic vulnerability of nine bridges by either retrofitting or replacing them based on a cost/benefit analysis.

The Abernethy Bridge will be retrofitted and afterwards will be the first major river crossing in Oregon expected to remain operational after a major seismic event. 

In the future, there will be more opportunities to apply for additional funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act discretionary grants to make major improvements to Oregon’s bridges which contribute toward a thriving economy.

To learn more about the condition of Oregon’s bridges, read our 2021 Bridge Conditions Report on our Bridge Section website.

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