When the Big One hits, the Burnside Bridge will crumble.
Debris will crush portions of Naito Parkway, Interstates 5 and 84, the Eastbank Esplanade and Saturday Market. Drawbridge locks will come unhinged, and the bridge will snap in two and collapse into the Willamette River.
That is, unless it's redesigned first.
Multnomah County has identified the Burnside Bridge as a crucial lifeline route across the Willamette, and for years has been studying the best options for a retrofit. In spring 2018, the county reached out to Portland State University's School of Architecture for help on new bridge designs.
On May 15, architecture students unveiled their ideas. Jeff Schnabel, associate professor of PSU's School of Architecture, says there were seven big ideas the county gravitated toward.
"While there wasn't any one scheme that was identified as 'the solution,'" he says, "there were individual ideas the county indicated they would like to carry forward in their planning and design process."
Schnabel says the final design will probably include a combination of these seven ideas—intended to make the Burnside better before and after the ground shakes.
Create quick access to the water to connect people to a water taxi in the case of earthquake-related evacuations or emergency supply deliveries.
Build better connections to Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade, with structures that could serve as safe meeting points after an earthquake. "Prior to the earthquake," Schnabel says, "enhanced connections from the bridge to Portland's waterfront open spaces could potentially enrich the qualities of both."
Project large digital media art pieces and messages onto structures on the bridge. "After the earthquake, these same displays could provide critical information such as the location of loved ones and the direction to services," Schnabel says.
Turn the bridge into a massive, high-wattage, "Bat-Signal"-style beacon that could orient residents after the earthquake. Such a big light could also serve as a civic centerpiece in less dire moments.
Make the bridge more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. "This could be accomplished with generous travel widths and places to stop on the bridge to take advantage of its unique views to the river and city," says Schnabel.
Build bike and pedestrian lanes separated from car traffic.
Make the area under the bridge, where the Saturday Market takes place, safer and more inviting. "Nearly two-thirds of the Burnside Bridge span is over land," Schnabel says. "The territory under the bridge is currently dark and relatively uninviting, particularly on the west side."