Eugene's natural disaster plans: preventative, permaculture perspectives
June 2006: last gasp?
Interstate 5 Willamette River Bridge replacement
ODOT held a public "Open House" on Wednesday April 5, 2006 for the I-5 Willamette River Bridge project:
11:30 am - 2 pm
ODOT is planning to spend $114 million to rebuild the I-5 bridge over the Willamette River in Glenwood.
A few years ago, ODOT had planned to perform a seismic upgrade to this bridge to make it resistant to large earthquakes, but when engineers examined the structure, they realized it was cracked and a seismic upgrade would have been a waste of money. (One of them told me that they were glad it was not a flood year, since they were not confident of the bridge's continued strength.) The heaviest trucks were rerouted onto circuitous routes and ODOT scrambled to build a "temporary" parallel bridge (over $20 million) that is now in operation.
Unfortunately, the new "temporary" bridge was not built to withstand earthquakes, and now ODOT wants to build a SECOND replacement bridge on the alignment of the original bridge. Since money is no object to some transportation planners, they ignored suggestions that the first replacement bridge be a permanent structure, which would have been much cheaper and simpler.
ODOT's website on the new bridge project is
If you attend these forums or send comments to ODOT, please urge them to consider the projections of Peak Oil and climate change in their traffic projections for this project. The US Army Corps of Engineers has now admitted that Peak Oil probably happened in 2005, and the military is taking steps to ensure that its installations have renewable energy systems to guard against energy disruptions. One of the best media organizations exploring these issues is http://www.fromthewilderness.com (newly relocated to Ashland, Oregon).
Scoping issues for the I-5 Willamette Bridge replacement project:
ODOT should have replaced the cracked bridge once, not twice. The so-called temporary bridge could be permanent if energy rationing or economic downturn prevents a quick replacement of the bridge. The curvature of the "temporary" re-route of I-5 north of the temporary bridge is more than adequate to meet Interstate design standards and is not a safety hazard.
ODOT and FHWA should consider these alternatives in the upcoming Environmental Assessment:
ODOT should examine the feasibility of upgrading the "temporary" bridge to be a permanent structure capable of being strong enough to withstand earthquakes. Since ODOT is retrofitting other Interstate highway bridges for seismic safety, it is reasonable to assume this solution is possible for the "temporary" bridge. If it is not feasible, this fact should be documented through independent peer review, not merely through assertions.
Whether upgrading the "temporary" bridge is feasible or not, ODOT and FHWA need to include the reality of Peak Oil into the Purpose and Need for the project, and to include Peak Oil into the long term traffic projections used to justify any action taken in this effort.
Peak Oil is a reality that the Oregon Secretary of State, numerous members of Congress and even the United States Vice President and President have confirmed. Much media attention has been focused on Peak Oil in recent years, and many employees of ODOT and other transportation agencies privately admit that it is a real concern that needs to be addressed.
While no one, not even the Vice President, knows precisely what will happen with Peak Oil, it is obvious that petroleum prices will increase sharply before the design years of 2025 and 2030. Perhaps ODOT could explore a range of scenarios: gasoline at $5 per gallon in 2025, gasoline at $50 per gallon in 2025, and gasoline not available to the public in 2025 (only to elites and the military). No prediction is likely to be accurate, but to pretend that gasoline prices and availability will remain constant is even more delusional than the expectations of some that old growth forests could be liquidated forever without economic and ecological consequences.
Since the proposed replacement bridge is planned to be an eight lane span, I formally request the inclusion of a "Twin Span, Staggered Construction" alternative in the Environmental Assessment.
Part of the problem with the single span structure over the river was that it was not possible to repair one direction of travel at a time. A twin span structure would avoid this problem.
Staggering the construction - building a four lane structure (either an upgrade to the existing temporary bridge or construction of a new bridge on the original alignment) would allow for future completion of the ultimate eight lane design if money becomes available for the future widening of I-5 north and south of the bridge. Since we are near or at Peak Oil, that funding is likely not to be available, and therefore postponing the second phase of the project until it is available is prudent and feasible.
I also strongly recommend that the entire construction be performed within the existing footprint currently occupied by the road (without any new impacts to the park) and that any new bridge have a suspension design to avoid new structures being placed into the riverbed. Ultimately, the effectiveness of any new or upgraded bridge depends on the seismic upgrades to upstream dams on the Coast Fork, Row River, Middle Fork and Fall Creek, since none of them are currently strong enough to withstand the next Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Money planned on much wider highways to carry traffic after Peak Oil would be better spent on upgrading the dangerous dams before an earthquake creates the "Willamette Valley tsunami."
for background on Peak Oil and transportation planning:
for background on dangerous dams upstream of Eugene / Springfield:
Many Oregon bridges need seismic retrofits to ensure that the region’s transportation system could function after a modest earthquake – which should be a much higher priority than a new highway to serve speculative developers who want to expand the UGB.
“Most bridges in the area have not been seismically retrofitted,
creating significant risk to the commuting population from earthquakes.”
I-5 / Franklin interchange proposal is not practical
spaghetti bowl - river front impact
major impact on river, residential displacements and disruption to neighborhoods, very expensive, less than one mile to I-105 interchange (improper spacing)
money for interchange would be better spent on seismic upgrades to the dangerous dams upstream from Glenwood.
ODOT = Oregon Department of Bridge Repair
The $5 billion in bridge repairs and replacements for I-5 and I-84 is only one-third funded. This is a violation of the Oregon Highway Plan, which places bypasses as the lowest priority level for funding. The OHP also prioritizes projects that have some local matching funds, and to the best of my knowledge, the City has offered as much money toward the WEP construction fund as I have (in other words - zero).There are about 200 seriously defective bridges on I-5 and I-84 that need urgent repair work – fixing this should be the primary focus for ODOT. (It is the fault of the trucks and the "warehouse on wheels" of the Wal-Marts and Targets that get cheap distribution while we subsidize their profit, a situation made worse by NAFTA.)The WEP is a microcosm of this myopia, since it would demolish an existing bridge (126 over the RR tracks) to build a new bridge (WEP/126 at Terry St).The WEP would demolish a bridge on Highway 126 (a highway of “state importance”) and build a replacement on the relocated 126 at Amazon Creek. Before ODOT builds new bridges, it should take care of the incredible backlog of defective bridges on the state highway system, which is already interfering with traffic and commerce in numerous areas of the state. Oregon already has the highest number of defective/cracked bridges of any west coast state (source: FHWA Oregon Division) and continuing the policy of building new roads when existing ones aren’t being properly maintained could lead to severe problems with the existing road network.
The Oregonian ran a three day series on this topic titled “Troubled Bridges” on February 3 - 5, 2002. The title of the second day’s report says it all, “Today’s trucks strain yesterday’s bridges: Engineers who ride herd on state’s bridges are flabbergasted to find them developing dangerous cracks.”
Troubled Bridges Over Water: the I-5 bridge crisis
February 28, 2003
THE INTERSTATE 5 bridge crisis requires shifts in regional transportation priorities. Fixing the freeway is more important than the West Eugene Parkway, the Interstate 5-Belt Line interchange expansion or the proposed River Road-Valley River Bridge. Money is limited, and the number of bridge construction companies is finite. These facts require the region to choose whether to maintain I-5 or build new roads that subsidize sprawl.
Until a few months ago, the Oregon Department of Transportation planned a seismic upgrade to the I-5 bridge over the Willamette River. Upon closer examination, ODOT inspectors realized that the bridge is cracked and needs to be replaced.
The closure of I-5 through the metro area to heavy trucks is partially a consequence of local governments' quixotic quest for the West Eugene Parkway. If the parkway had been dropped years ago (its 1990 approval was dropped after a 1996 federal lawsuit), ODOT might have focused its efforts - and our money - on repairing worn-out bridges.
Instead, the region faces an economic crisis caused by years of neglected maintenance and the Legislature's permitting of trucks heavier than the bridges were designed to handle.
In January, Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey said at an ODOT hearing on regional highway priorities that "we do not do a good job in Oregon of preserving roads." Even though it is much more expensive to rebuild roads than to repair them, local governments have promoted the parkway, not adequate repairs of existing roads.
In June 2001, due to legal and financial obstacles, ODOT promised to select a "no build" option for the West Eugene Parkway, and to fix existing roads in west Eugene instead. The Eugene City Council refused to accept this, and put the parkway on the November ballot, where voters split 51-49 for the highway. In 2002, Eugene, Springfield, Lane County and the Lane Transit District rewrote the regional highway budget to include most of the parkway - ignoring the urgent need to fix cracked bridges on the interstate. Now, ODOT is seeking Federal Highway Administration approval for the parkway, despite huge legal and financial obstacles.
The parkway's official price tag of $88 million ignores inflation, the Belt Line-parkway interchange (recently rose from $17 million to $25 million), the future extension along Highway 126 across Fern Ridge Reservoir to Veneta ($13 million) and a probable parkway to I-105 connector through the Whiteaker area. For comparison, a proposed four-mile bypass of Oregon 62, north of Medford, would cost $130 million - about twice the cost per mile as the six-mile parkway.
The parkway is a subsidy for development boondoggles, not a means to solve traffic jams. Indeed, ODOT traffic analyses predict that it would create traffic snarls at Belt Line and along Sixth and Seventh avenues. A reasonable alternative that is cheaper and more effective than the freeway would include modest work on existing roads and intersections, improved public transit, and land use shifts to focus new development into downtown and abandoned industrial areas instead of on wetlands at the periphery.
A better "low-build" alternative also exists for the $100 million-plus expansion of the I-5 and Belt Line interchange. ODOT already plans to separate southbound I-5 traffic into local and through lanes (like I-5 northbound), which would reduce dangerous weaving. Perhaps the most important shift would be to keep downtown Eugene and Springfield where they are, and stop efforts to relocate the urban cores to Coburg Road and Gateway - including the proposed Peace Health complex in the McKenzie River floodplain.
The recently revived proposal for a bridge from River Road to Valley River Center - through Rasor Park and the Willamette Greenway - would be an even greater distraction to the need to keep I-5 intact.
Oregon has more damaged bridges than any other Western state, and the billions to replace them are not in the budget.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proposed raising vehicle registration fees to find some of the funds for fixing bridges. While car fees do not cover the true cost of driving and maintaining the road network, it is the trucks that have caused the problem, and the trucks should pay their fair share in solving it.
Mark Robinowitz is a participant with WETLANDS: West Eugene Transportation, Land and Neighborhood Design Solutions
Bridges Remain Key Quake Risk
Although the state has made great strides in protecting its own bridges
from earthquakes, hundreds of bridges maintained by cities and counties
across California remain unfixed.
Bridges at risk
Here are some spans that officials have concluded have the greatest risk of failing in the event of a major earthquake.
Los Angeles County
• Fletcher Drive at the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles
• Van Buren Boulevard at the Santa Ana River in the Santa Ana River
• Park Avenue at Grand Canal in Newport Beach
Source: California Department of Transportation