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Major decision reached for new ‘earthquake ready’ Burnside Bridge

Posted by on June 18th, 2020 at 11:01 am

One variation of the long span bridge alternative chosen by a citizen task force to replace the Burnside Bridge. (Graphic: Multnomah County)

If all goes according to plan Multnomah County will begin work on a new “earthquake ready” Burnside Bridge in 2024. On Monday, the community task force charged with decided what that bridge will look like reached a big milestone by choosing the “long span bridge” alternative.

Here’s more from the County:

The long span bridge alternative (PDF) would replace the existing bridge in the same location and alignment. The long span alternative has the fewest support columns of four alternatives that were studied. Fewer columns avoids costly construction in geotechnical hazard zones near the Willamette River and restricted spaces between lanes of Interstate 5 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the east side.

Task force members cited these reasons for choosing the long span alternative:
— Best for seismic resiliency – locating fewer columns in liquefiable soils gives it the least risk from soil movement during an earthquake
— It is the lowest cost of four build alternatives ($825 million compared to as high as $950 million for the most expensive option)
— The reduced number of columns also benefits Waterfront Park users, crime prevention, and preservation of the Burnside Skatepark
— Additional deck width over the river provides a safer facility for bicyclists, pedestrians and other users
— Reduced impacts to natural resources due to fewer columns in the water.

The long span option was chosen over other alternatives that included a a retrofit of the existing bridge or a new extension ramp onto NE Couch that would have replaced the existing curve. The final design isn’t decided yet (that process begins this fall).

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Current/future cross-section (not finalized yet).

“I’m very surprised to not see bus-only lanes in both directions while we give four lanes to cars.”
— Catie Gould, PBOT BAC member in a September 2019 meeting

Also this week, the task force decided to not build a temporary bridge during the construction phase. That bridge would have cost $90 million and task force members felt that the minimal travel time savings the temporary bridge would provide did not justify its cost, additional in-water impacts, and the extra two years of construction it would require.

According to potential cross-sections provided the County, the new bridge will come with 8-foot wide protected bike lanes, that’s 2.5 feet wider than the current bikeway. The space for driving would also increase from five lanes and 51 feet today to five lanes and 55 feet on the new bridge.

When County staff presented their plans to the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee in September 2019, some committee members were skeptical about the need for so much driving space. Catie Gould said, “Why would we expand the auto lanes? I’m very surprised to not see bus-only lanes in both directions while we give four lanes to cars.” And David Stein said, “This will be the bridge we’re stuck with for the next 96 yrs. 8 feet in each direction [for bike riders] is not going to be enough… I don’t understand given the Climate Action Plan that’s in place why we’re going to dedicate 75% of our space to private automobiles.”

And committee member (and Portland mayoral candidate) Sarah Iannarone pushed County staff to consider an alternative that doesn’t assume dominance by car and truck users. “I want people to see a car-light alternative to show the savings we would get by not having to have car lanes… I think there are a lot of ways to do this project if we don’t privilege the automobile.”

The next opportunity for public input will be an online open house and survey to be released in August. Construction is expected to begin in 2024 and last about four-and-a-half years.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

Are they going to build the “jersey barriers” between cars and bikes in a way that they can be moved if we want to redistribute space or will they be in a “permanent” configuration?

LK
Guest
LK

I’d be willing to give up one of the protected bike lanes (making the other bi-directional) to ensure a dedicated transit lane in each direction. Give the extra 4′ from taking out the barrier for the second bike lane to the single bike lane to make it 12′ wide, and give the 8′ from the 2nd bike lane + 4′ from otherwise making existing lanes wider to make a new transit lane for the other side.

Ideally they’d just take out one of the car lanes instead but I doubt that will happen.

Joseph E
Guest
Joseph E

There’s no need for 2 car lanes in each direction over the river. The capacity limits are at signalized intersections, which are located off of the bridge.

Reduce the width of the central roadway to 2 car lanes + 2 bus lanes.

Champs
Guest
Champs

This is a bridge between downtown and two eastside corridors. Do dedicated lanes for (self-propelled) buses in both directions even seem like enough?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

800 million … remember when people were complaining about the costs of the Sellwood and Tillikum bridges?

Paul
Guest
Paul

Please note that the Community Task Force’s (CTF) votes from Monday are recommendations, not the final decision.

Multnomah County will go out to the public in August to get the community’s thoughts on the bridge option and whether there should be a temporary bridge during construction. The decision about which bridge alternative and whether to include a temporary bridge in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS – expected in January) will fall to the Policy Group in October. Ideally the Policy Group will use the CTF recommendation and community input to make their own decision.

David Hampsten
Guest

The slightly wider car lanes indicates an expectation of slightly higher car average speeds – is this the policy that Portland or Multnomah County really wants to follow given Vision Zero? I’d suggest going to a maximum of 10 feet per car lane and 12 feet for the bus lanes, and using any leftover excess to expand the protected bike lanes.

Joseph E
Guest
Joseph E

I wrote to the project team via the web form: https://multco.us/earthquake-ready-burnside-bridge/webform/contact-us and asked that the county re-consider the current lane arrangement. I believe that there should be a bus lane in both directions. Rather than widening the bridge even further, the general motor vehicle lanes should be reduced to 1 in each direction for the central span. The road can widen again at the landings, before the traffic lights: this will give enough room for cars to queue and get through the lights in the signal cycle. The narrower roadway would reduce speeding and crashes, which would otherwise be expected to increase with the wider lanes in the new design.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

It’s hard to figure out how much each option costs, by looking at the information provided. Maybe it’s buried somewhere, but that’s the frustrating approach to transportation design selection.

Hypothetically, for example, could retrofit mean we also could afford $100 million for walking and biking improvements elsewhere in the city?

It’s the sort of decisionmaking of “define the problem” to force the outcome, or in this case, “the decision is about what bridge design we’re going to build” rather than “the decision is how best to allocate the next $800,000,000 we get.

A significant amount of that is driven by the intentionally and unintentionally obscure labyrinth of transportation funding pots and limitations, so we aren’t allowed to pretend all the funds are fungible. That labyrinth needs to be fixed.

But we also need to frame up decisions about transportation project funding as having opportunity costs. Spending several hundred million dollars (or a few thousand million) somewhere means we’re not spending it elsewhere.

(Glad the $90,000,000 temporary bridge was rejected).

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

And I’m sure east PDX residents will somehow end up paying disproportionately more for the this bridge than everyone else.

soundofharmony
Subscriber
soundofharmony

Seconded, Catie Gould, David Stein, and Sarah Iannarone! At minimum one less car lane (or perhaps a reversible, as others have suggested) to help move toward Climate Action Plan goals, and perhaps an often overlooked factor: generally a more pleasant bridge to be on and experience the river and city center! Tillikum Crossing certainly has this aspect, though not as easy to cross by bike as Hawthorne, Burnside, or even Broadway Bridges due to incline.

Gould: “Why would we expand the auto lanes? I’m very surprised to not see bus-only lanes in both directions while we give four lanes to cars.”

Stein:“This will be the bridge we’re stuck with for the next 96 yrs. 8 feet in each direction [for bike riders] is not going to be enough… I don’t understand given the Climate Action Plan that’s in place why we’re going to dedicate 75% of our space to private automobiles.”

Iannarone: “pushed County staff to consider an alternative that doesn’t assume dominance by car and truck users. ‘I want people to see a car-light alternative to show the savings we would get by not having to have car lanes… I think there are a lot of ways to do this project if we don’t privilege the automobile.’ “

pdxhobbitmom
Subscriber
pdxhobbitmom

Where are the trees? This is a really long way to walk without any shade.

drs
Guest
drs

Why not build it taller to avoid the need for a lift span? If we can do it on the Tilikum, we should be able to do it on the Burnside.

A thousand million dollars
Guest
A thousand million dollars

A billion dollars. A billion dollars. A billion dollars. It’s worth saying this over and over. Wow. Think of all the things Portland could do with a thousand million dollars. Solve the homeless problem for one. Double the teachers…. It’s mind boggling this bridge replacement is even a consideration. The new bridge has very little over the old bridge. The seismic issue is shaky logic. How many homeless people die on the street every year? It’s entirely predictable. When will this earthquake occur? Will the bridge entirely fall into the river? Will it be at a time of day while many people are using it? Many more lives would be saved by taking the seismic money and spending it to prevent real world deaths that are happening all the time. Risk of homeless death = 100%. Risk of dying due to a bridge collapsing in a five-hundred year or 10,000 year earthquake at the exact moment you cross its weakest part = .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, maybe percent.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Why does the lane diagram remind me of a bridge from the 1950s??