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Oregon Department of Transportation’s OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program : 400 bridges one biological opinion

  • Author(s): Bonoff, Michael B.;
  • Toledo, Zachary O.;
  • Ryan, William A.;
  • Carson, Robert G.
  • et al.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) concluded a study in 2001 of the condition of Oregon bridges nearing the end of their design life—those built in the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s. Funded under the first two phases of the Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA I and II), this study found varying degrees of shear (diagonal cracking) in a large number of the state’s bridges. In July 2003, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed legislation authorizing OTIA III, a $2.5 billion transportation package, including $1.3 billion to repair or replace over 400 bridges under the OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program (Bridge Program) over the next 10 years. Timely completion of environmental regulatory permitting was critical to meet the Bridge Program’s aggressive construction schedule. To facilitate this, ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began working with a number of federal and state regulatory and resource agencies in late 2002 to develop permitting strategies that would meet the dual goals of timely review of individual permitting and protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitat. In addition to coverage under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the preferred regulatory compliance approach needed to ensure compliance with other state and federal statutes designed to protect fish, wildlife, and plant species and their habitat, including the Oregon ESA, Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. As a contractor to ODOT, Mason, Bruce & Girard, Inc. (MB&G) worked closely with ODOT and other state and federal agencies from 2003 through 2004 to prepare a programmatic Biological Assessment (BA) for the Bridge Program. Critical to the BA was the development of a set of environmental performance standards designed to minimize and avoid impacts to ESA listed species. In addition, a fluvial performance standard was developed to ensure that bridges replaced under the OTIA III Program would enhance, not simply maintain, geomorphological features at the bridge site. The BA was submitted to the regulatory agencies in March 2004. In June 2004, ODOT received a joint Biological Opinion from NMFS and the USFWS addressing 73 threatened, endangered, proposed, and selected sensitive species and their designated or proposed critical habitat. In addition to listed fish, wildlife, and plants, the BA also satisfied the requirements of the MMPA, MBTA, FWCA, and MSA. ODOT expects that 85 to 90 percent of the bridges under the OTIA III Bridge Program will be permitted using the programmatic approach, resulting in significant time and cost savings. ODOT anticipates that the programmatic approach to environmental compliance will, program-wide, result in time and cost savings of two years and $54 million over the 10-year program, exclusive of time saved on the part of state and federal resource agencies. Bridge design using the environmental performance standards developed for the program is now underway.

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