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Steel Bridge is less than solid

$1.5 million in fixes plotted for shaky span crucial to light-rail line
by: Jim CLARK, For long-term and earthquake safety, two east-side ramps to the Steel Bridge — one for light rail, the other for vehicles — need repairs, to the tune of $1.5 million. City Commissioner Sam Adams plans to ask for half of it from the City Council, with TriMet paying the rest.

The Steel Bridge ramp that carries all light-rail trains into downtown from the east needs $1.5 million in repairs to bring it up to current earthquake standards, according to city Commissioner Sam Adams, who is in charge of the city's Office of Transportation, which maintains the ramp.

Adams is preparing a City Council resolution for $750,000 in one-time funds for immediate repairs to the east-side ramps of the bridge.

'This repair is urgently needed to make the bridge safe. If it failed during an earthquake, all light-rail service to downtown would stop,' Adams said.

TriMet has agreed to pay the other $750,000 for the repairs.

'It's the permanent fix for the girders,' said Mary Fetsch, spokeswoman for the regional transit agency.

Portland owns and maintains 173 bridges. Although the Steel Bridge is owned by Union Pacific Railroad and leased to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city maintains its two east-side ramps - one carries light-rail trains and the other is for motor vehicles. Each ramp is classified as a separate bridge for maintenance purposes.

A 1994 seismic study of city bridges declared the light-rail ramp to be the No. 1 bridge repair needed. The vehicle ramp ranked third.

Last November, the city inserted epoxy into hundreds of cracks in the support structure under the ramp. According to David O'Longaigh, supervising engineer for the bridges and structures department of the transportation office, the epoxy was only intended as a short-term fix.

The department has retained KPFF Consulting Engineers to study long-term repairs, such as wrapping the supports in a product called 'tension fiber wrap' to strengthen them.

'The $1.5 million will fund a repair that will keep the bridge carrying light-rail trains for the next 50 to 75 years,' O'Longaigh said. 'Without that, the bridge will continue to deteriorate to the point where we will have to put weight restrictions on it.'

The number of trains running across the bridge is expected to increase dramatically with the completion of the downtown transit mall renovation, a two-year project set to begin next year that will add a light-rail line through downtown from Union Station to Portland State University.

Currently, 16 trains cross the Steel Bridge during rush hour. TriMet officials say the number will climb to 30 when the mall is completed and additional service improvements are made by 2025.

Adams' $750,000 request is part of a larger package of transportation improvements included in his resolution. Other projects include installing six new red-light cameras at dangerous intersections, pedestrian- and bicycle-safety improvements along busy streets, and funding a telephone hot line for people to report potholes needing repair.

The requests come to $5.2 million for the current fiscal year. Total project costs are estimated at $62.3 million.

Because of improving financial projections, the city will collect approximately $18 million in unexpected business license fees during the current fiscal year, which ends July 1. The City Council has scheduled a retreat Monday to discuss next year's budget process, including whether to save or spend the funds. It will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Japanese Garden in Washington Park.

In the meantime, each council member is preparing requests for unexpected revenue, also known as 'one-time funds.' They are due to the city Office of Management and Finance by Monday.

Commissioner Erik Sten already has said he will ask for money to fund his plan to build new homes near Portland schools that are losing students.

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