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Commissioners opt to repair Porter Road bridge

Legislative session might provide more money for county maintenance work


Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Pavement is in poor condition on Porter Road and its bridge, which supports an average of 1,200 trips per day. The Porter Road Bridge on Forest Grove’s north side will stay open to drivers — at least temporarily — despite being 34 years past its life expectancy and having the worst bridge-sufficiency rating in the county.

At their Dec. 23 work session, Washington County commissioners decided not to close the bridge but instead repair it for $175,000 next summer, extending its life between five and 15 years. The informal decision will be finalized in June while approving the 2015-16 Fiscal Year budget, which will include that funding.

“I see bridges a little differently than roadways, because once a bridge is removed or restricted it’s probably never going to be put in again,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Andy Duyck. “I can’t see policy makers, including ourselves, saying ‘Let’s make this a priority.’”

Duyck was one of several commissioners who emphasized how closing the bridge could hurt the economy and community of Forest Grove.

County Commissioner Roy Rogers said he wants to see what the 2015 state legislature does with road maintenance funding and whether it could help with replacement costs.

County estimates put its replacement cost at $1 million.

“If I had my absolute preference, we would not be dealing with this at the present time and see what the legislature is going to do,” Rogers said.

Dave Schamp, the county’s road operations and maintenance manager, said he’s glad the bridge will stay open for now, but its eventual replacement or closure is inevitable.

“Essentially what you’re doing is just kicking the can down the road,” said Schamp, who seemed uncertain about how long the bridge would survive.

County staff will continue to monitor the bridge and respond to any problems, Schamp said. “If we thought there was any likelihood it could collapse under any normal traffic, we would close the bridge.”

The repair — scheduled for sometime between July 1 and Sept. 1 — would include hollowing out rotted posts and putting fresh timber inside. Schamp described one post that was 13 inches in diameter with 8 inches of rot in its core. Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - The Porter Road Bridges support structure is rotting, including this piling marked to show that of its 13 diameter, 8 has rotted.

The biggest task, he said, will be repairing the bulkheads — a wood partition lining the roadway on each end of the bridge that helps resist pressure and water. Schamp said workers would need to disassemble the bridge to replace the bulkhead wood.

When finished, Schamp said, the bridge could carry highway-legal loads and allow the county to lift its current 13-ton weight limit.

Until then, Schamp said, some engineers fear the possibility of a truck winding up on Porter Road because of its proximity to other truck routes.

“If you get a truck down this road to that bridge, it’s almost impossible to turn around, so they’re forced to go across,” he said.

And that could create problems.

“If we get a highway-legal load across this bridge, there could be significant problems that occur almost immediately,” Schamp said, referring euphemistically to a bridge collapse.

Beyond bridge repairs, the pavement on Porter Road also needs improvement. It currently rates just 36 on the Pavement Condition Index scale of 0 to 100. Ratings below 50 usually call for reconstruction rather than repair.

But Schamp said he suspects the board will approve spot repairs to the pavement, which could cost $50,000 to $100,000, rather than full reconstruction, which would cost $300,000.

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