Oregon halts construction on water pipeline project after 12 years and $38 million

(UI) — The Portland Water Bureau abruptly stopped work on the intended building of a new water pipeline beneath the Willamette River today after more than 12 years of planning and preparation and the investment of $38 million.

In order to safeguard the westside's drinking water supply in the event that the bureau's current, seismically sensitive pipelines should rupture in a significant earthquake, the Water Bureau intended to lay a new pipeline under the river as part of the Willamette River Crossing project (WRX). (Those six pipelines link 360,000 customers, several businesses, hospitals, and other institutional customers on the west side to the city's primary water source, the Bull Run watershed.)

“In the last 45 days alone, new information on construction inflation projections, supply chain challenges and overlap with other Water Bureau, city of Portland and regional projects of a similar nature intensified the potential risks with moving forward now,” the bureau told Willamette Week who initially reported the story.

Jodie Inman, the bureau's chief engineer, told Willamette Week that the original goal had been to deliver a final proposal to the Portland City Council this spring and then to start building in the fall. The beginning of construction has now been delayed until 2027–2028.

According to Inman, the bureau's approach is still good, and the money it has already spent will not be squandered because the restart will be able to build on the previous work. However, Inman noted that the bureau's administration and Commissioner Mingus Mapps decided to put the pipeline on hold due to ongoing inflation, contractor rivalry, and the bureau's work on the Bull Run water treatment project—a far larger operation.

Ron Doctor, the head of a group of South Waterfront locals who had raised concerns about the expense and efficiency of the city's planning, praised the choice. His group requests that the city look at alternative, less disruptive approaches to the current scheme.

“I’m pleased that PWB has realized that their current WRX Pipeline plan is not feasible,” Doctor told Willamette Week. “And I’m pleased that they are closing down their construction sites and will rebid the project.”

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