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New strategies slow deterioration of roads and bridges
11/08/2011
With significant investments in recent years, Oregon’s highway system is in pretty good shape. Thanks to the investments of the OTIA III State Bridge Program and other sources, Oregon has a lower percentage of structurally deficient bridges than most states, with about 75 percent of the 2700 bridges on state highways classified as non-distressed. Similarly, the surge of investments in paving—particularly the Recovery Act as well as funding from the OTIA packages—has brought pavement conditions to a good state.
 

However, with expectations for reduced funding now and into the foreseeable future, the highway system is expected to deteriorate. Arresting this deterioration will require new strategies to ensure that scarce resources are invested as effectively as possible. 
 
Bridges
The $1.3 billion OTIA III program strategically addressed bridge needs on critical freight routes that are key to Oregon’s economy but left billions of dollars of additional bridge needs unmet. What’s more, the OTIA III State Bridge Program was a one-time infusion of bonded funding and did not provide long-term sustainable funding to preserve and replace bridges. Now that the surge of investments under OTIA III is winding down, funding for bridge repair and replacement has fallen, and bridge conditions will significantly deteriorate over the next several decades.
 
 

ODOT is devising new strategies that will invest in high value coastal, historic and major river crossings by protecting them to extend their lifespan before replacement becomes necessary.
   
Only a portion of the OTIA III State Bridge Program was paid for with new revenue. The remainder came from a portion of the funding that would have gone into the STIP’s Bridge Program. About $25 million a year from the Bridge Program has now been dedicated to repaying the OTIA III bonds, and federal Bridge funding is at significant risk of being cut. As a result, bridge program funding levels for 2012-15 are the lowest since the mid-1990s, dropping from $90 million in 2009 to about $55 million by 2015.
 
The largest portion of state highway bridges were built prior to 1970, particularly during the Interstate era of the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, between 2030 and 2060 ODOT will be hit by a massive wave of bridges that will reach the end of their design life and will require replacement or substantial repair. In the 2030s and 2040s, ODOT will need $5-6 billion per decade to deal with this wave of replacements and repairs—about 10 times the amount currently being invested. At current funding levels, by 2050 only 25 percent of state highway bridges will be non-distressed. Even at higher funding levels, the portion of distressed bridges on the state highway system will jump significantly.
 
Recognizing that we are unlikely to have the funding to meet all bridge needs, ODOT is exploring cost-effective bridge preservation strategies that will hold high priority parts of the system together as best we can. These strategies include:
  • Giving priority to maintaining the highest priority freight corridors to ensure efficient movement of goods.
  • Investing in high value coastal, historic and major river crossings by protecting them to extend their lifespan before replacement becomes necessary.
  • Developing a bridge preventive maintenance program to extend the service life of decks and other components.
  • Using practical design strategies to narrow the scope of bridge projects and fund only basic bridge rehabilitations and rare replacements with bridge funds.
 
Pavement Conditions
Though little of the state highway system’s pavement is in poor condition, much is on the cusp of falling into poor condition. Consequently, the gap between pavement needs and available funding will cause pavement conditions to significantly deteriorate over the next decade. The possible reduction in federal funds will reduce the amount of paving ODOT can do each year, and inflation has significantly reduced purchasing power.
 
After the surge in Recovery Act funding, funding levels for ODOT’s Pavement Preservation Program for 2012-2015 are lower than they have been since the 1990s. Under current funding levels, by 2019 the portion of Oregon’s Interstate highways with pavement rated fair or better is projected to slip from 97 percent to 74 percent.
 
Unfortunately, these deteriorating conditions could cost the state more in the long run. With pavement, the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies. Neglected pavement that has deteriorated to poor condition usually requires expensive reconstruction. ODOT estimates that it costs 8 to 12 times as much to reconstruct pavement in poor condition as it does to do preventive maintenance or minor rehabilitation on pavement while it is still in good condition.
 
Given these realities ODOT is implementing a number of pavement strategies.
  • Focus a larger share of pavement spending on the Interstate, where deteriorating conditions will have a greater impact.
  • Implement more low-cost paving only and chip seal type treatments.
  • Focus preservation dollars on pavements only.
  • Look at adding statewide highways under 5000 daily vehicles to the low volume roads program.
 
ODOT is hopeful that implementing these strategies will help arrest some of the deterioration, particularly on the Interstate. Under our new strategy, Interstate pavement conditions would stay above 85 percent fair or better through 2019.