WW recently reported that a massive earthquake could render many, or even all, of Portland's bridges unsafe for crossing ["Quake-up Call," Jan. 27, 2010]. What is the city's plan for getting across the river? Should I stow an inflatable canoe in the trunk of my car just in case?
As anyone who's ever waited for their street to be cleared by Portland's lone, horse-drawn snowplow knows, the city is reluctant to blow tax dollars preparing for unlikely disasters. Thus, according to David O'Longaigh, Portland's supervising engineer for bridges, the city has done only "conceptual" planning for a totally bridgeless Portland.
That said, Plan A is to hope it doesn't happen for the next two or three years. By then, the new light-rail bridge, constructed to survive most quakes, will be done. (Our other bridges, apparently, were based on models left over from a Jenga tournament for Parkinsonian lemurs.)
Plan B: Hope that the Phase 1 seismic retrofitting on the Burnside and Marquam bridges holds. (None of our bridges have undergone Phase 2 retrofitting, which is a lot like tearing the entire bridge down and starting over, only more expensive. They say it works great, though.)
But let's say the Big One comes. The light-rail bridge isn't finished, all the other bridges hang in tatters, flesh-eating zombies are roaming the Pearl (I'm pretty sure there'll be zombies), and your boss, for some reason, still expects you to make your shift at Aveda. What now?
Well, on Day 1, you'd best bust out that canoe. In the medium term, we'd likely request ferries from the Puget Sound region, and there are preliminary plans for a pontoon bridge, though in both cases emergency traffic would have priority over you. Still, I'm sure it wouldn't be long before things got back to normal. Just ask New Orleans.