The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday took the first step towards passing an ordinance that would almost triple the county’s vehicle registration fees in order to make Portland’s Burnside Bridge earthquake ready.  

The county’s current vehicle registration fee is $19 per year; the proposed ordinance would increase that fee to $56 per year starting in January 2021.  

That fee would be wrapped into the state registration fees Oregonians pay every other year.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in Thursday’s meeting that getting local fundraising started now could help the Burnside Bridge project get state and federal funding down the line.  

“We need the investment of our region, our state and our federal partners to make at least one of our downtown bridges earthquake ready,” Kafoury said, “and that will not happen unless we show that we are ready to help make this investment ourselves.”  

The county estimates the total cost to replace or seismically retrofit the bridge at between $550 and $850 million.  

Metro, the regionally elected government for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, has already allotted $150 million toward the bridge in its more than $3 billion proposed transportation measure slated for the November 2020 ballot.  

At the board of commissioner’s Thursday meeting, Kafoury directed county staff to investigate options that could reduce the impact of the registration fee increase for low-income residents.  

But, she said, delaying upgrades to the Burnside Bridge could be “costly, even deadly.”  

The bridge is expected to crumble in the estimated 9.0 magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that could hit the region at any time, according to a simulation by the county.    

The 93-year-old Burnside Bridge was specifically pinpointed as a “lifeline” by the county due to Burnside Street’s east to west connection across Portland.  

“Our region needs to have a working bridge to help us rebuild after the Cascadia earthquake,” Kafoury said. “The resilience of our community will depend on it.”  

The board of commissioners is set to vote on a second reading of the ordinance at its Dec. 5 meeting.