DALLAS - Delays in upgrades to Oregon's transportation infrastructure will result in higher costs and major economic losses down the road, according to two recent studies from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The "Rough Roads Ahead" study details the undesirable economic effects of delaying highway pavement and bridge repairs, with between $3.4 billion and $5.2 billion of additional funding needed over the next 20 years.

A separate study of seismic effects on the 8,000-mile state road network proposes a $5 billion bridge upgrade program that could reduce by $84 billion the expected economic losses from a major earthquake in western Oregon.

Growing debt service from earlier transportation bond programs, declining federal support and other factors will limit the state's ability to maintain its highways, the economic analysis said.

"ODOT will have only a fraction of the money needed to keep aging bridges and pavement in its current condition, so conditions will deteriorate," it said. "Under the current forecast funding, system preservation and maintenance cannot be sustained."

Many highway bridges in the Portland area are susceptible to seismic damage and could collapse when, not if, the next major earthquake strikes the region, said Bruce Johnson, the state's chief bridge engineer.

"We first of all feel like it's our responsibility and due diligence to let people know, like our Legislature and the public," Johnson said.

State gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees bring in about $1 billion a year to the Oregon transportation fund, but that is not sufficient to meet the state's growing needs, said Oregon DOT director Matthew Garrett.

"We can take action today to protect our future economy, with reasonable investment," Garrett said. "If we don't pay for maintenance and seismic improvements now, they'll be prohibitively more costly later, when we may no longer have any choice."

Oregon DOT needs an additional $405 million a year to keep the state highway system in good repair, the study said, including $200 million a year over the next 20 years to make major repairs on routes with the worst pavement conditions. However, projections are that Oregon DOT will have a maximum of $100 million annually for pavement preservation and repair work.

If it has to operate at current funding levels over the next 20 years, Oregon would need to spend $3.4 billion to $5.2 billion to return its roads to current condition levels, the study said.

Preserving highway bridges at their current conditions would require an additional $180 million a year, or $3.6 billion over 20 years. Returning the distressed bridges to 2014 conditions after 20 years at the current funding level would cost $5.4 billion to $7.2 billion, according to the study.

A major earthquake off the Oregon coast similar to the March 2011 Japanese earthquake could level hundreds of highway bridges west of the Cascades, the seismic study warned.

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries said there is a 40% chance that a major earthquake will occur along the Oregon coast sometime in the next 50 years.

The proposed $5.1 billion, five-phase program to upgrade the seismic resistance of 700 highway bridges could lessen the economic impact of a large earthquake along a major fault line in western Oregon, the study said. Pre-emptive seismic fixes to bridges over the next 20 years would reduce the anticipated $355 billion of economic losses from bridge failures by $84 billion.

Oregon DOT's $1.8 billion of outstanding highway tax revenue bonds are rated triple-A by Standard & Poor's, Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service, and AA-plus by Fitch.

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