More than half of Oregon’s state highway system bridges—that’s more than half of the 2,700 bridges the state department of transportation owns, not even counting the other 4,000 owned by cities and counties—were built in the 1950s and 19060s.
“If these bridges were people, we’d be throwing retirement parties for them,” says Bruce Johnson, Oregon bridge engineer, in a statement. “Instead, we’re asking them to carry more traffic at higher speeds and heavier weights.”
In the Oregon Dept. of Transportation’s fall release of its bridge condition report, the state says that if not adequately maintained over the next 20 years, the state’s economy could lose $94 billion in production due to poorly performing bridges. The report acts as a call to awareness—if not action—for the state.
According to the report, to replace each state highway bridge on a 100-year cycle requires replacing an average of 27 bridges each year. Currently, Oregon taxpayers fund the replacement of an average of three bridges per year. Plus, bridges should normally receive major maintenance every 30 to 50 years and the current funding model covers major maintenance only once every 100 years.
“Healthy bridges are critical to Oregon’s economy and our lifestyle,” says Matthew Garrett, ODOT director, in a statement. “They connect communities; they link lives. We cannot let those bonds break. We must be willing to make the necessary strategic investments.”
The report did say that because of investments started over a decade ago, only two in eight state highway bridges show signs of wear and tear that would call for significant repair or replacement. But without continued investment, that number will rise quickly due to the age of many of the bridges.
Funding levels for the near future are the lowest in the past 20 years and inflation erodes the purchasing power of each dollar, according to the report.
Garrett calls for a proactive approach. “Patching holes in decks and making emergency fixes to bridges is not a strategic use of taxpayer money, and is very inconvenient to all travelers,” he says. “Strategic investment to repair or replace older bridges in a coordinated manner protects our economy, minimizes detours, delays and traveler inconvenience and keeps Oregon moving well into the future.”