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Federal dollars will help make Portland International Airport runway earthquake-ready

The project will address a longstanding vulnerability at the Portland region's largest airport.
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Portland International Airport (PDX) at night - the biggest and best airport in the state of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The Port of Portland will receive $3.75 million in federal funding for a seismic upgrade to one of the runways at Portland International Airport, with the goal of making sure it remains functional following a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

The funding comes from the 2022 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress earlier this month and signed into law by President Joe Biden last week. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced the allocation on Monday.

"The Port of Portland is deeply committed to supporting state and community needs during a crisis," executive director Curtis Robinhold said in a statement. "A resilient runway at PDX — one that can withstand the effects of liquefaction — could be an essential lifeline for many Oregonians."

The federal dollars will be combined with state funding that the project received last year, he said.

RELATED: Portland is at risk for liquefaction in an earthquake, here's why

Liquefaction is one of the key concerns for the Portland region when the next Cascadia earthquake hits. It occurs when an earthquake shakes sandy soil with shallow groundwater, which can cause the earth to move like a liquid, collapsing or sinking the structures above. 

The areas closest to the Willamette and Columbia Rivers are at greatest risk, and the entirety of Portland International Airport, including both of its main runways, sits in the red highest-risk zone, according to a map from the Oregon Department of Geology.

RELATED: Researchers help prepare Portland International Airport for when 'The Big One' hits

A team of Oregon State University researchers set off a series of controlled underground explosions near the airport last year to simulate the type of seismic waves that can cause liquefaction, and the experiment confirmed that the runways would not survive a major earthquake without reinforcement.

A functioning runway will be critical to help move in emergency supplies and save lives in the days and weeks following a Cascadia earthquake. 

"Having the ability to fly in supplies will allow us to respond in a much more rapid and effective manner," OSU geotechnical engineering professor Armin Stuedlein, who led the testing research, told KGW last year.

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