This Week in the Mercury


Friday, October 11, 2013

Coming Next to the Enervated Morrison Bridge: Closures

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Morr_Bridge.jpg

Amid all the speculation about who's to blame for the degraded new Morrison Bridge deck and which entity should pay for fixes, there is a stolid certainty: Repairs must be made.

And since lawsuits drag on—a trial for claims in this case isn't scheduled for almost a year—and the county says the Morrison is getting worse by the day, it's time once again to prepare for construction closures on one of Portland's busiest spans. Paid for, at least for the time being, by you.

"Because of the loosening up and cracking of the new system, there will need to be repairs done sometime in the next year," Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen tells the Mercury. "We're still planning how to construct an RFP (request for proposals) for the work."

The county doesn't know how extensive that work will have to be, Pullen says, or where it might source new materials. The fiber-resistant polymer (FRP) that makes up the failing bridge deck is only available from a handful of companies, and the county previously determined only two of those make products that suit the Morrison. One—Martin Marietta Materials—no longer manufactures FRP decking. The other, ZellComp Inc., is a target of the lawsuit joined by the county last month.

This all creates the very-real possibility the county will purchase the same problematic material, from the very company it claims did a poor job designing said material, to fix the Morrison. Which doesn't invite that much confidence, right?

Another to-be-answered question: Just how the work would be paid for, short term. In its September filing, the county wrote: "The cost to repair the defects in the FRP Decking is currently unknown, but the total damages the County will incur as a result of these defects will likely exceed $2,000,000." The county doesn't have that much contingency money lying around specifically targeted for transportation projects, Pullen says, but it's possible officials could transfer funds within the county budget.

Long term, of course, officials hope they'll be reimbursed for the repairs by Travelers Insurance, the company that guaranteed the work of the contractor that installed the bridge deck. But that determination won't be made until the lawsuit plays out, and that probably won't happen until the bridge is repaired.

"The county is hopeful that it can fix the bridge before trial," attorney Eric Grasberger, a private lawyer representing the county in the matter, told a Multnomah County judge earlier today.

Anyway: Maybe start planning alternate routes now if you use the Morrison a lot.

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