Oregon City Fears Isolation After Major Earthquake

March 21, 2013

Officials in Medford, Ore., say an emerging state plan for recovering from a major earthquake would keep their region isolated for a lengthy period because repair efforts to get traffic moving north-south would be focused east of the Cascade Range.

The plan calls for making a priority of repairs to U.S. Highway 97 through Klamath Falls. The highway runs north from Interstate 5 in Northern California and along the eastern flank of the Cascades.

It connects to Eugene through Oregon 58 across the mountains to the Willamette Valley and to Portland by Interstate 84 in the Columbia Gorge.

In planning for “the big one,” the Oregon Department of Transportation has identified Highway 97 through Klamath Falls as the “seismic lifeline” route through the southern portion of the state, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

Medford officials worry the plan would bypass the mountainous stretch of Interstate 5 in southwestern Oregon.

To avoid economic chaos, Medford officials say, they’ll need to plan for such measures as improving an I-5 viaduct in the city or planning an alternate route around the city.

“From an emergency perspective, we know we will be on our own for a while,” City Councilor Al Densmore said.

The transportation department has attempted to identify the most cost-effective routes to move traffic and supplies through the state as it attempts to prepare for a major quake, said spokesman Gary Leaming.

He said the hardest hit area from a major quake likely would be Southern Oregon, especially areas along U.S. 101 south of Coos Bay. He said that coastal area would be particularly isolated by a big quake.

“It will be so catastrophic,” Leaming said. “We’ll be hard-pressed to get goods and services into that area for a while. It will be a region-wide crisis.”

The department prepared a March 14 letter to legislative committees on emergency preparedness to explain the potential impacts, and a full report is expected in a few weeks.

The department projects damage to the state’s highway system would result in an economic loss of $350 billion over eight to 10 years.

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