PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Despite making improvements to several bridges in 2021, the Oregon Department of Transportation says it can’t keep up with how quickly bridges across the state are deteriorating, at least not without additional funding.

ODOT says its 2021 Bridge Condition Report showed a decline in bridge conditions for the 10th straight year. The department says in the last two years, 25 bridges had improved condition ratings, but 53 bridges had declining overall condition ratings.

“We have a lot of bridges in Oregon. We have a lot that are aging and we have a lot that are in that ‘fair’ condition and we’re seeing a continual decline,” said Katherine Benenati, spokesperson for ODOT. 

Oregon has 2,766 bridges, with about 800 of them more than 60 years old, according to Benenati. These aging bridges are now at or exceeding their life expectancy. ODOT has been working to extend their years of service and says it will continue maintenance, but it is fighting against time. 

Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Oregon received $268 million for repairing and replacing aging bridges and roads. With the way that funding is distributed, Benenati said the state should receive more than $40 million each year for the next five years. Additionally, ODOT estimates local governments will receive about $34 million from the Infrastructure package and that money can be used for bridges. While this will help immensely with some bridge projects, ODOT says it isn’t sustainable. 

The funding that came from Oregon House Bill 2017, the transportation funding package approved in 2017, is also not enough, ODOT said. However, these funds have helped the department provide more money for seismic improvement in recent years. 

The department says it will continue to apply for discretionary grants through the Infrastructure investment and Jobs Act, with the hope of securing more money. 

Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. 4th, said he’s frustrated federal lawmakers haven’t done more in recent years to support infrastructure. He said during the Obama administration, when he wrote a 21st century transportation bill for the first time, he suggested lawmakers invest $100 billion into bridge repair. 

“At that point that would have brought all of the bridges in the country outside of very localized small bridges up to a state of good repair,” he said. 

However, that investment was never made and now he says bridges are still paying the price. 

Now, DeFazio doesn’t believe there will be any further legislation passed by federal lawmakers in the near future that will fund bridge infrastructure. Additionally, he’s concerned about funds in Oregon dwindling as the state gas tax earns less revenue.

In Oregon, fuel taxes are used to create, preserve and maintain transportation infrastructure. DeFazio said as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, and many run on electricity, there won’t’ be as much funding available from the fuel tax. 

“We need to be looking, as we move toward electrification or alternate, renewable fuels, that those vehicles have to pay their fair share,” he said. 

DeFazio, who’s chair of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, announced Dec. 1, 2021 that he will not seek re-election in 2022. He said he’s supporting candidate Val Hoyle to fill his position and that she very much would like to serve on the transportation and infrastructure committee. 

For now, despite its concerns about inadequate funding, ODOT says it is not taking any proposals for additional funding to the state legislature this session, but it may do so in 2023. 

According to ODOT’s 2021 bridges report, 42 bridges were rated “poor,” more than 2,070 were rated “fair,” and more than 650 were rated “good.” Benenati said the bridges that are considered structurally deficient or poor are ones that show a great deal of deterioration. Engineers inspect things like cracking, faulting and signs of erosion around the support structure. 

She said even if a bridge is rated “poor,” it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe or at risk of collapse. 

“We do a really good job maintaining older bridges, but we really want to get more into that ‘good’ category,” she said.