SALEM — Oregon’s pipes, roads, bridges and other structures for moving around the state and to get power and water need significant work, civil engineers said last week
Much of Oregon’s infrastructure is deteriorating with age, and the state must do more to prepare for a potentially major earthquake, according to the Oregon chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. A group of 28 experts from the society pored over data on 10 types of structures from roads to dams, unveiling their findings at the Capitol Wednesday, in their second such report. The first was done in 2010. They graded all of the areas C for “mediocre” or D for “poor” and “at risk.”
Some of those structures, like pipes, aren’t visible. But what they provide — like clean drinking water — is essential to the state’s economy and quality of life, the civil engineers said.
Nationally, each family loses an average of $3,400 per year in disposable income due to “poorly functioning infrastructure,” said Greg DiLoreto, former chief executive officer of the Tualatin Valley Water District and chair of a national committee within the American Society of Civil Engineers focused on the country’s infrastructure.
“That’s money they could be saving for retirement, vacations, college educations.” Oregon has better infrastructure than the country overall, but not by much. Engineers found that in particular trouble are the state’s wastewater systems, dams, levees and the energy grid, including the systems that transmit and distribute electricity and oil.
The engineers say that the state’s bridges, drinking water systems, inland waterways, ports, rail, and roads are middling. In most cases, the structures that support each of these systems are getting older and less reliable.
‘We can do better’
The engineers also warn that the state needs to do more to prepare for the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, which could be severe enough to damage power lines, natural gas and oil lines, roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and communications.
“We need strong leadership, extensive planning and robust funding to prepare our infrastructure for being resilient,” said Mark Libby, chair of the committee that prepared the Oregon report. “It’s important to remember that every dollar spent toward building more resilient infrastructure saves at least six dollars afterwards.”
According to the state’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, there is a roughly 10 to 14 percent chance of a 9.0 magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone quake in the next 50 years.
Two years ago, lawmakers increased taxes and fees to improve the state’s transportation system. Engineers said that’s a step in the right direction, but urged legislators to provide more money for a state program called Connect Oregon, which distributes state money for air, rail, water and bicycle and pedestrian transportation infrastructure projects.
Matt Garrett, Oregon Transportation Department director, acknowledged during a press conference on the report that “we can do better.”
“It’s clear our work to enhance the condition and the resiliency of our infrastructure system is nowhere near complete,” he said.
In their review, the engineers found that Oregon levees, wastewater systems, dams, and energy transmission systems are in poor condition. Oregon has nearly 900 dams, the majority regulated by the state. In the next five years, 70 percent of them will be more than 50 years old, and they’re not ready for an earthquake.
Gov. Kate Brown has requested House Bill 2085, which would update the state’s dam safety regulations. When a dam fails — as dams have 39 times in Oregon since 1897, according to engineers’ testimony— that poses a risk to roads, bridges, property and life.
The House passed the bill in April and it is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate this week.