We need a lot of bridges in the “Land of 100 Valleys.” They get us to work, to school and to the woods. When most of Douglas County’s 299 bridges were built, timber revenue from federal forest management helped finance their construction.
Now, a generation or two later, these bridges are facing the end of their lifespan. One hundred of them are already deemed structurally deficient, with many more on their way. Unfortunately, the drastic reduction in federal timber production in western Oregon has gutted the county’s ability to pay for bridge repair and replacement – not to mention law enforcement, county libraries, social services or even the formerly fee-free dump.
Ideally, Douglas County would repair or replace six bridges a year to keep ahead of the lifespan curve. But current county revenues allow for less than one bridge to be repaired each year. Without additional funds, all residents will be negatively impacted at some point.
Our county’s bridges are critical for commerce – especially the forest products sector. Bridges help loggers get to the woods, logs to mills and forest products to market. This economic activity produces nearly $1.5 billion in annual economic output and 6,000 family wage jobs in Douglas County alone.
Douglas Timber Operators represents our local mills, loggers and forest landowners who make that output possible. We have been working with our members, Douglas County and Congressman Peter DeFazio’s office to help find some short- and long-term solutions to the county bridge problem. DeFazio is now Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. It was with DeFazio’s help that Douglas County recently received a $16.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for bridgework. This is a significant boost for us and we hope that more opportunities are possible to augment the county’s bridge repair budget.
Additional timber receipts from federal forest management can and should be part of the solution. Both DTO and Douglas County are litigating to direct federal forests to produce their fair share of timber as intended by federal law. It could take years for any such change to become effectual, and is not likely to generate the same level of revenue that originally built our bridges. That leaves us with no simple answers in the near-term. I personally know that our county commissioners and public works director are leaving no stone unturned. DTO appreciates the work they are doing to keep our roads and bridges safe for our use.