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Oregon's bridges continue structural decline, according to new report

Oregon Department of Transportation
The Scottsburg Bridge in Douglas County, pictured in 2016 before its replacement last year. Bert Hartman of the Oregon Department of Transportation says the current rate of replacement is too slow to keep bridges at a recommended 100-year lifespan.

The condition of Oregon’s bridges continued to decline last year, according to a new report from the state Department of Transportation.

Last year, the percentage of bridges in the state that were considered “distressed” hit a ten-year high. Structures with that designation frequently have restrictions on the weight of crossing vehicles.

Bert Hartman is the managing engineer of ODOT’s Oregon Bridge Program. He said older bridges weren’t designed for newer, heavier vehicles like modern fire trucks.

“My parents, their generation, built a system. I've had it to use for myself my whole life, taking it for granted. But that next generation, they're not going to have that luxury.”

Hartman said the state needs to replace aging bridges more quickly. At its current pace, ODOT estimates that existing bridges would need to continue functioning for 900 years.

However, Hartman said the Bridge Program lacks sustainable long-term funding. And Eugene City Engineer Jenifer Willer said inflation has made repairs more expensive.

Despite this, Willer said Eugene is pursuing multiple maintenance projects. She said there are plans to strengthen the Coburg Road Viaduct in upcoming years, in order to lift current restrictions on weight.

According to ODOT, Oregon’s bridges are regularly inspected and safe for public use.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.