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Federal Money Brings New Hope for Seismic Retrofitting of Oregon Coast Bridges

Published 11/10/21 at 4:08 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Federal Money Brings New Hope for Seismic Retrofitting of Oregon Coast Bridges

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(Seaside, Oregon) – The new federal infrastructure package passed this week will bring in $1.2 billion dollars in funding to Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) over a few years, going towards projects that will benefit drivers, transit customers, pedestrians and assist with road and bridge issues around the state.

On the Oregon coast, the package brings a renewed hope to Seaside that some of its bridges will get seismic retrofitting to prepare for the big Cascadia quake that is expected some day. It's an area that's particularly vulnerable.

Nothing is firmed up yet on which project will get money in the state, with the bulk of it going to ODOT, but some will be funneled to individual cities and jurisdictions. Some will undoubtedly go to Oregon coast locales.

“It's still a little too early to know what projects will be undertaken as a result of this new funding,” said Kevin Glenn, a spokesman for ODOT. “The bill does allocate $250 million in new funding for bridge repair and replacement. The package also includes over $200 million for local governments to invest in community priorities.”

In Seaside, this has brought a postive note to local officials who know some bridges are not going to withstand the 9.0 or higher quake offshore that will also result in a major tsunami. The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs off the coast of Oregon and Washington, an area where the two continental plates meet and rub against each other. One day it will release an enormous amount of energy in the form of a catastrophic earthquake, which is expected to then create a vast tsunami onshore.

Hence, the tsunami evacuation route signs you see along the Oregon coast these days.

The problem in Seaside is that the tsunami evacuation routes lie over a handful of bridges, some of which are not expected to survive the shaking. One major artery is the Broadway Bridge downtown, the main escape route for what state officials predict could be some 4,500 people hanging out in town or on the beaches. That could well crumble and become useless to those fleeing what would be a tsunami within about ten minutes of the initial shaker.

One study conducted by OSU a few years ago ran computer simulations thousands of times on the scenario, and none of the possibilities were good ones. Similar studies of the earthquake readiness of local bridges came up with similar conclusions.

It's a scenario long lamented by city councilor and geologist Tom Horning, who has been at the forefront of the push for seismic retrofitting in Seaside for over a decade. He's especially concerned about the bridges at Avenue U and Avenue G.

Though the city has tried over the years, the money isn't there for such work. Now, maybe it is.

“It boils down to the availability of funds,” Horning said. “Everyone realizes the gravity of the situation and the possibility of losing thousands of lives in Seaside. Until the infrastructure bill was passed, there really wasn't much of a hope for funding. That might change now and hopefully the value of human lives is part of the prioritization process.”

As many as ten thousand souls could lose their lives in the area during such a seismic event, Horning said.

“We spend lots on hurricane and tornado preparation,” Horning said. “Now let's invest in evacuation infrastructure for tsunamis, especially for a town like Seaside with so many bridges that need to survive the shaking of the quake so everyone can make it to safety. We need around $40 million to make Seaside safe.”

Meanwhile, ODOT statements and Glenn say the same thing: there's lots of discussion ahead on where the money will go for Oregon coast infrastructure.

“We'll begin developing project lists soon, particularly for the dedicated program funding areas like bridges,” Glenn said. “We'll present this to the Oregon Transportation Commission for guidance, likely in the spring. In advance of that, we'll be soliciting public comment and working with our advisory committees to ensure these projects reflect the priorities of Oregonians.”

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