Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy



Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 80%

Wind: 3 mph

  • 5 May 2015

    Showers 61°F 45°F

  • 6 May 2015

    AM Showers 65°F 45°F

ODOT reports: Pay now, or pay later

More money urged for state highway, bridge maintenance over next two decades.

Two new reports from the Oregon Department of Transportation echo the warning from the oil-filter ads of the 1960s: You can pay me now, or pay me later.

One report concludes that while 87 percent of Oregon’s 8,000 miles of state highways were rated in fair or better condition as of 2012 — surpassing the goal of 78 percent — they will not stay that way without an infusion of more money over the next 20 years.

The other report says hundreds of bridges west of the Cascades would be damaged if a big earthquake occurs off Oregon’s coast, but that damage could be minimized if bridges were retrofitted or replaced over the next 20 years.

“We can take action today to protect our future economy, with reasonable investment,” says ODOT Director Matt Garrett. “If we don't pay for maintenance and seismic improvements now, they'll be prohibitively more costly later, when we may no longer have any choice.”

The timing of both reports coincides with a financing proposal put forth by the Oregon Transportation Forum, a coalition of governments, highway and other transportation users, and environmental groups.

Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue in their 2015 session, which starts Jan. 12.

In the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project study, conducted by DHM Research for a coalition of public and nonprofit agencies, 72 percent of those sampled ranked road and highway maintenance fourth among 20 potential priorities as somewhat or very important.

Pay a lot more later

Both ODOT reports carry hefty price tags for the proposed work. But the reports also say that not doing anything — or doing too little — will hurt Oregon’s economy and jobs.

“Even though they’re talking about different scenarios, their conclusions are similar: Pay for needed upkeep now, or pay a lot more later, after our transportation infrastructure fails,” ODOT’s Garrett says. “Oregon’s future economy rides on decisions we make today about our roads and bridges.”

The highway report, “Rough Roads Ahead,” proposes an infusion of between $3.4 billion and $5.2 billion for increased road maintenance over the next two decades.

“Under the current ODOT forecast funding, system preservation and maintenance cannot be sustained,” it says.

If maintenance money remains at current levels or even declines, the report says, Oregon’s economy could lose up to 100,000 jobs and $94 billion in activity by 2035.

The Portland area and the coast would be the biggest losers.

“As the trade and export hub for the entire state, the Portland metro region will experience a greater reduction in production than any other region in Oregon,” the report says.

The coast will lose simply because there are few alternatives available to move people and goods, the report says.

With $200 million more annually for maintenance, the report says 85 percent of Oregon highways could be rated in fair or better condition in 2035, close to the 2012 level. With only $100 million more annually, however, the report says the total would drop to 57 percent as 2,300 miles would be rated substandard.

A crack seal applied every few years costs $2,000 per lane-mile; a reconstruction, which would be required if the highway is left to deteriorate, costs $1.2 million per lane-mile.

Aging bridges

In the ODOT report, the projected amount for bridge work is $50 million annually for the next 20 years, but the need for work on 900 bridges is estimated at between $4 billion and $5 billion, four to five times what is projected.

The report proposes a range of $5.4 billion to $7.2 billion, which it says would accomplish two goals.

One would avert load limits on an increasing number of state highway bridges — 350 of them would have to bar trucks of 80,000 pounds starting in 2020.

The other, detailed in “Oregon Highways Seismic Plus,” proposes work to strengthen bridges and limit economic losses resulting from a major (8.0) earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone, which would affect western Oregon, to $84 billion.

The report referred to a less intensive earthquake that struck western Washington on Feb. 28, 2001, and damaged several public buildings including the state capitol in Olympia. But the report says 183 bridges in the area went undamaged because of retrofitting efforts.

The report proposes a five-phase program to replace 138 bridges, mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s and coming to the end of their usefulness; retrofit 390 bridges, and rehabilitate and retrofit 190 others. Work also is proposed to mitigate landslides and rockfalls along highways.

Priority routes are Interstate 5 between Portland and Eugene, Interstate 84 between Portland and The Dalles, and U.S. 97 in central Oregon.

“The question is when, not if,” the report says.

This report follows up a seismic study in 2013.

In 2003, another ODOT report warned of 88,000 lost jobs and $123 billion in economic losses if bridges on key freight routes were not fixed. That report, plus load limits on some I-5 bridges, prompted lawmakers to approve a 10-year, $2.5 billion program, two-thirds of which went to fix key state and local bridges.

Although virtually all of the bridge work is complete, the state will continue to pay off the bonds over the next few years through higher vehicle fees, so the report says that money is not available for new projects.

Link to the ODOT report, “Rough Roads Ahead”:


Link to the ODOT report, “Oregon Highways Seismic Plus”:



(503) 385-4899