The sun shines on the Burnside Bridge over the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Ore.

Multnomah County asked the public how best to scale down the building of an earthquake-proof Burnside Bridge.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

A Multnomah County task force working to design a new Burnside Bridge has voted to trim costs.


Spokesman Mike Pullen said the bridge connecting downtown Portland with the city’s central eastside will have four lanes, rather than the five that county officials originally wanted.

“We lose one traffic lane,” Pullen said. “We get more space than we have today for the bikes and pedestrians.”

Crash barriers will be added to protect those pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Burnside Bridge needs to be replaced for seismic reasons; most of Portland’s bridges are not expected to remain functional in the aftermath of a subduction zone earthquake. An earthquake-resistant bridge would allow emergency services to reach both sides of the Willamette River quickly.


The task force voted on other savings too, including: Using a similar bascule design — a design with decks that rotate vertically upwards to allow ships underneath. Utilizing a large girder, rather than a tower and cables, on one part of the new bridge.

The new bridge design was initially estimated to cost $1 billion. The revisions approved Wednesday bring that projected cost to about $800 million.

The money is expected to come from Multnomah County’s vehicle fee as well as from the federal and state governments. Other nearby counties, whose residents rely on the bridge, may also be asked to contribute.

Pullen said the county is also bringing in contractors during the design phase, which is earlier than usual, so they can suggest other ways of saving money.

“By doing that, do we think we’ll save so much money that we’ll save the five-lane bridge? I would say we don’t think that would happen,” he said.

Tens of millions of dollars were saved on the Sellwood Bridge in 2016 after the contractor suggested moving the old bridge, but continuing to use it while the new bridge was being constructed.

Pullen said the county hopes similar ideas may save money on the Burnside Bridge.

If everything goes to plan, construction on a new, stronger Burnside Bridge could start in 2025 with people driving across by 2030.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how Multnomah County leaders plan to pay for a new Burnside Bridge. The county will use vehicle fees. OPB regrets the error.


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