Other bridge priorities take precedence over paint, county says

Even though Multnomah County just spent two years and $28 million to renovate and repaint the Broadway Bridge - making it the county's costliest transportation project at the time - there still are a few portions that were not painted.

A few observant pedestrians have noticed recently that parts of the handrails are peeling and rusting.

It's true - some of the work had to be delayed for budget reasons, county spokesman Mike Pullen said. 'I've joked that it's sort of a navigational aide, because the middle of the bridge, where the ships go, is shiny,' Pullen said.

Nearly a third of the bridge was left undone because the county came $5 million short in federal and state funds, so crews had to prioritize the bridge's most critical needs, he said.

The county closed the bridge for two months while workers replaced the bridge's lift span, updated the wiring system and repainted the deck, which traps the most moisture and therefore gets the most damage.

But Pullen said crews had to delay repainting the handrails on each side closest to land, as well as three spans of steel trusses above the roadway - two on the east side and one on the west.

In all, 70 percent of the bridge was repainted, which was more than the original 50 percent anticipated.

'We thought we'd only paint the deck,' he said. 'Gradually they found efficiencies and expanded the project. They never thought they'd be able to paint the whole thing.'

Pullen notes that the American Council of Engineering Companies, a statewide organization, gave the renovation project its highest honor for engineering and design this past spring.

One might wonder how painting a few remaining parts of a bridge can amount to $5 million. Pullen says removing lead-based paint costs about eight to 10 times more today than it did 25 years ago because of more stringent environmental rules.

Once, workers could sand paint off and let it go into the river, Now they're required to contain the structure in a tent, test workers' blood for lead and take other special precautions.

Bridges made of steel must be repainted every 20 years or so because of the corrosion that occurs when moisture is trapped in the paint, Pullen said.

Pullen said the parts that were left undone might not look pretty, but they probably won't be repainted anytime soon, considering the county's other bridge priorities, such as repairing or replacing the aging Sellwood Bridge and replacing the Morrison Bridge's open steel grating - which is slippery when wet - with something safer.

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