Saturday, August 2, 2014

MWACT Meets August 7th, Agenda includes Earthquake Prep - updated

Thawing permafrost
releases methane
via Nature
Feeling apocalyptic? The news this week has all kinds of things to fuel your pessimism and paranoia.

Some apocalyptic scenarios are "black swans" but others are ones we know about, expect, can anticipate, even mitigate - and still do nothing about.

In a piquant irony, Thursday the 7th the Mid-Willamette Valley Area Commission on Transportation will learn about "ODOT's Bridge Seismic Safety Program" and receive an update on the Salem River Crossing EIS. (Agenda here.)

Oregon Highways Seismic Options
Report, March 2013
The "Seismic Options" report gives us a fairly knowable apocalyptic scenario:
Most of the bridges over the Willamette and Columbia rivers will either have major damage or will have collapsed [from the earthquake]. Regional commerce will be impaired. Within the first few days and weeks, fuel, food, potable water, communications options, and medical supplies will be in short supply, with few options for restocking or restoration due to lack of mobility, damage to the utilities carried by bridges, and damaged cell towers....

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has so far expended minimal resources on retrofitting to prepare for such an earthquake. As a result, we are currently unprepared for use of the highway system immediately after a major seismic event. [italics added]
The report suggests that "for every dollar spent to reinforce a bridge, on average Oregon will avoid the loss of $46 in gross state product."

Contrast this to the return on a $500 million investment in the "Salem Alternative." I guarantee you it's not a 46x multiplier!

If dollars are scarce, it makes waaaaaay more sense to invest in reinforcing our existing bridges than in building a shiny, new one.

It's not complicated.

Update, August 10th

N3B has a great report from the MWACT meeting on Thursday.

We're nowhere close to being ready
Most interesting? This, news of a plan to accelerate bridge reinforcement from a 200-year cycle to a 50-year cycle - along with news on where we rank locally:
ODOT has developed a 50 year plan to complete this [seismic] work at a cost of about $2 billion. They have prioritized the "lifeline" routes and ranked the projects into three tiers. Unfortunately, we learned that the Marion and Center Street bridges fall into Tier 3 which means that ODOT does not plan to retrofit them for decades. Mr. Johnson was asked how much it would cost to retrofit the Marion and Center Street bridges and his answer was $66 - 67 million for the Marion St. Bridge and $75 - 80 million for the Center Street Bridge. This cost includes design improvements and repairs in addition to the seismic retrofit of the bridges.

ODOT plans to go to the 2015 Legislative Assembly and begin to get funding for the Bridge Seismic Safety Program so that it can get underway. We are behind California and Washington in getting our bridges retrofitted to survive "the Big One."
You might recall one of the charts from the transit studies:

"most of these workers have jobs located in downtown Salem"
(from the flexible transit study)
Here's another thing: A very high number of State employees live in West Salem. While it might look like the connection in Salem across the river is a "low" statewide priority, from a risk-assessment standpoint, assuming meaningful numbers of people survive a quake, how dependent is a functional state government on the West Salem employees?

If we reinforce the Capitol and other State offices, if we reinforce I-5 and have a supply line into the part of Salem east of the river, if enough of State government is standing to function, what part of it still cannot function because there's no way for employees and managers who live in West Salem to reach critical offices?

From here this question of human resources looks like an excellent reason all by itself to allocate money to reinforce one of the two bridges ASAP and to redirect planning and funding resources from the Salem Alternative to other, much more pressing, seismic projects.

And it's a way of looking at the bridge that really should be bi-partisan. Whether you love to drive or hate driving, whether you think we should build up or build out, whether you're a fan of big government or of small government, it sure seems like a no-brainer: Investing $150 million to reinforce the existing bridges to a "big one" standard makes way more sense than leaving them untouched and planning for a new bridge engineered to only a "medium" earthquake standard that will cost $500 million or more.

Update 2, Sept 24th

I didn't notice this promptly to update it, but it seems that a bare-bones retrofit of both bridges could cost not $150 million, but just in the neighborhood of $35 million. The exact number isn't important, but it seems like a pretty good retrofit with some multi-modal enhancements, things for all folks, whether they walk, bike, or drive, would come in well under $100 million. (Remember that 46x multiplier!)

A bare-bones seismic retrofit doesn't fit on the chart


Jim Scheppke said...

Right on SBOB! Thanks for alerting us to this important meeting. NO 3rd Bridge will be there and we plan to comment in the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. The MWACT needs to be told to get their priorities straight. YES to a seismic retrofit of the Center or Marion Street Bridge as soon as possible. NO to spending millions on planning for a 3rd Bridge that will never be built. I hope some of your readers will come to the meeting and speak out!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with notes from the N3B meeting summary. Thanks, N3B!