Experts say Medford viaduct wouldn’t withstand large earthquake

MEDFORD, Ore. — Scientists say there’s a one in three chance the big one hits in the next 50 years. The legislature is discussing a bill to address Oregon’s earthquake preparedness, but what it doesn’t address is how to fix the Medford viaduct.

“We are in earthquake country and have very little earthquake memory,” Eric Dittmer, SOU geology professor emeritus, said.

With a large earthquake on the horizon, experts say the region is ill-prepared. One vital structure that would be in jeopardy: the Medford viaduct.

“When it comes down, you will have two cities. The administration, police, fire, city hall on one side. The hospitals and other important structures on the east side,” Dittmer said.

Built in 1962, the viaduct is a half-mile stretch of I-5 that runs through downtown Medford. Several studies have shown it wasn’t built to withstand a big Cascadia earthquake.

“The viaduct is simply an example of the incredible cost is would be to deal with all of Oregon infrastructure. Most of which was built before we knew about the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” Dittmer said.

ODOT declined an on camera interview today, but has been talking about the future of the viaduct for years. ODOT has made adjustments to the viaduct, but the type of funding needed to make the seismic upgrades it needs could require help from the federal government. ODOT says that could cost well over $100 million.

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