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Willamette River Crossing Project Frequently Asked Questions: Jan. 2023 Update

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An illustration of the general route the Willamette River Crossing will take under the Willamette, with Grand Ave on the East side and Naito Parkway on the west side as reference points.
Frequently asked questions about changes to the Willamette River Crossing (WRX) project schedule. The project will build an earthquake-resilient water line deep under the Willamette River.
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Read our January 2023 E-Newsletter for the full update.

Schedule changes  

What’s the new timeline?   

The project will be paused for approximately a year, after which time we will complete the design and re-engage with the contracting community and the public about construction of the crossing. On this tentative schedule, construction would start in fiscal year 2027–28.  

When was the decision made to change the schedule?   

The decision to change the schedule was made over the last two weeks after consultation with bureau and city subject matter experts and our Commissioner. The Water Bureau had been moving toward a construction start of later this year. However, the last two months brought about significant new information and changes regarding construction inflation, supply chain, competing projects, and City priorities. Changing the schedule for WRX provided the best option to ensure success of WRX as well as other high priority projects.  

What will be different when the project resumes?   

The approach is not expected to change.  

Is it unusual for a project to change during the design phase?   

Nearly all projects change in some way during the design phase, and project plans include contingencies within a schedule and budget to account for some change. This project and the project team have responded and adapted to significant factors that have impacted the project beyond what could have been reasonably anticipated. Some of those factors include new information about the soil from the geoprobe test, supply issues and disruptions related to the pandemic. This delay decision reflects the Water Bureau’s commitment to continuously evaluating the work in our portfolio and delivering the Capital Improvement Plan with the least risk and most cost effectiveness.  

Is this project delayed because of the filtration project?   

This project is being delayed because it is the best plan to ensure delivery of the Water Bureau’s Capital Improvement Plan while meeting federal requirements, including delivery of the Bull Run Treatment projects by the compliance deadline. The convergence of the treatment projects and the Willamette River Crossing project is one factor in the delay.    

Project area and construction   

Where are the affected construction sites?   

The most significant impacts are in Block J, which is the lot between SW Naito Parkway and Harbor Drive, south of Market Street, near where the off-ramp from I-405 North connects to Naito Parkway. Block J will be returned to its previous condition in the near future.  

A map showing the construction area between Naito Parkway and Southwest Harbor Way.

What’s the new location?   

We do not anticipate a change to the alignment. The current location remains the most feasible, least costly and lowest risk.   

Will the Portland Water Bureau continue to pursue easements for the alignment?    

Open spaces near the river are rare and current developments are making them even rarer. The Water Bureau will continue to pursue easements during the pause to ensure the project’s viability.  

Will the schedule change impact the OMSI District master plan?   

The Water Bureau is actively engaging and partnering with OMSI on plans that support the OMSI District development while allowing the future construction of the Willamette River Crossing.  

Community engagement  

How have you kept the community informed?  

Authentic engagement with neighbors, area businesses and members of the broader community have been a priority for the bureau since the project's inception. We began a robust public engagement process in 2017 and will continue to listen, inform and adapt based on community needs.  

In 2020–21, when the project’s exploratory phase revealed a need to change the project alignment and construction method, outreach staff significantly increased the level of public outreach on the project. Outreach staff informed additional stakeholders who were not previously affected by the project and employed additional strategies to reach people, including direct emails, phone calls, site visits, mailings and signage.  

Water Bureau staff presented to the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) regularly in 2022, providing project updates and opportunities for community members to ask questions and share concerns. In July, the bureau presented to the DNA and the RiverPlace Planned Community Association to share project updates and the latest project designs. In March 2022, our public involvement contractor, JLA, surveyed businesses expected to be affected by construction to learn their concerns and gain insights into how to minimize impact to local businesses.   

The outreach staff assertively pursued opportunities to consult with potentially impacted businesses and residents. They contacted businesses in the area to set up one-on-one stakeholder interviews regarding business access needs. They sent mailings and e-newsletters to attract participation in an online open house with video and ASL translation to share project information and gather input on construction concerns. The team attended and presented at three well-attended DNA land use meetings and worked with neighborhood leadership to coordinate and host a group feedback session for nearby businesses.   

The team regularly communicates with neighborhood leaders about questions and concerns they are hearing from neighbors.  

E-newsletters can be found here: portland.gov/water/improvements/willamette-river-crossing/news. We will continue to provide updates as they become available through e-news and on the project website.  

Economics and cost  

How do you expect costs to change when construction resumes in fiscal year (FY) 2027–28?   

It is possible that costs will increase by FY 2027–28, but several factors, along with continuous advancements in technology, make it difficult to predict future costs. There is also no guarantee that the project cost will increase. We are likely to see continued inflation, but its impact could be reduced if the rate of inflation slows. Technology may become less expensive and supply chain issues may resolve, which could affect costs on the Willamette River Crossing and other Water Bureau projects in the Capital Improvement Plan.   

Will this change in schedule impact rates?  

We do not expect this delay to change the rate forecast as it is still balanced across 10 years. For now, we have only changed the project schedule, not the scope, technology, location or other factors that affect cost. As we complete the design, new estimates for the work will be reflected in our capital plan. A benefit of the schedule change is increased flexibility in our Capital Improvement Plan in the next five to 10 years to address potential cost increases without impacting rates. More information about rates can be found here: portland.gov/water/pay-your-utility-bill/water-bill-rates-and-charges#toc-water-and-sewer-rate-ordinance-fiscal-year-2022-2023  

How much has already been spent and how much of that investment can be recovered?    

The Water Bureau has spent $38 million on this project during the last 10 years. When the construction phase resumes in fiscal year 2027–28, it will build upon prior work and expenses.  

Which contracts does this affect and how will they be resolved?   

The JW Fowler (design builder) and MJA (owner’s representative) contracts will likely be closed. New contracts will be procured as we move toward completing the design and beginning construction. The bureau has appreciated the partnership and innovation of these two contractors throughout this complex project. They worked alongside bureau staff to adapt and develop a strong project plan and we continue to partner with them on Water Bureau projects. 

Earthquake preparedness  

What if the earthquake happens tomorrow?   

In the worst case scenario for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, it is quite likely that all river crossings will be damaged and may not be operable. This would result in limited to no water to the west side of the river for six to 12 months. While we are changing the schedule for the Willamette River Crossing, installing this crossing as soon as possible remains a very high priority for the Water Bureau.  

Besides the Willamette River Crossing, what other measures are you taking to prepare for a major earthquakes and other disasters?   

The Portland Water Bureau has centered planning for emergencies and climate change in all of its projects over the last several decades, including the new seismically reinforced Washington Park reservoir, and hardening the backbone of our system (a backbone system consists of key supply, treatment, transmission, distribution and collection elements). The new Bull Run filtration facility will make our water system more resilient to natural and human-caused disasters. Portland's groundwater system is also an important tool for system resilience and climate change. It improves the reliability of our water system by providing a robust secondary drinking water source that supplements the water we get from Bull Run.    

We all have a role to play in preparing for disasters like earthquakes. Learn more about how to store water for an emergency, here: regionalh2o.org/emergency-preparedness. Sign up for PublicAlerts to receive emergency messages here: publicalerts.org.  

Technology 

What new technology will you use?   

The current plan is to use microtunneling technology. Extensive exploration, design and modeling have shown that this technology currently offers the best balance of risks and costs. In the future, we may see new technologies that can do more and go farther at a lower cost. Our approach as we finalize the design will be to reflect on any changes in the industry or other new opportunities that may benefit the project.    

Contact

WRX Project Team

phone number503-823-7499Project Voicemail/Hotline - Press zero at any time to skip the message and leave a voicemail. Please leave your name and phone number twice. A staff person will call you within one to three business days. To report a water service emergency, call 503-823-4874.
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