March 21, 2006
Rehabilitate the Sellwood Bridge
We're happy to welcome Jim Howell to the rolls of Portland Transport contributors with this perspective on a potentially less costly way to deal with the Sellwood Bridge.
The apparent assumption that the Sellwood Bridge must be replaced and that it will take ten to twenty years to do it is misguided. This historic 1925 structure is currently suffering from lack of maintenance and lack of respect. Both problems can be remedied.
The existing bridge’s useful life can be extended another eighty years by completely rehabilitated it for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.
If county officials and the public can live with a complete closure during construction and are willing to pay for it with bonds repayable with tolls and/or local and state gas tax revenues, not federal funds, it can be done within five years.
The protracted process and huge expense of a replacement span mandated by federal prerequisites, not common sense or local and state requirements, can be avoided if no federal money is involved.
The results of an analysis of the structural condition of the bridge, performed by David Evans and Associates, answered the question about what can be done to extend the life of the bridge for up to fifteen years. However the detailed results of the study did not identify any fatal flaw that would preclude the possibility of rehabilitating the bridge for a much longer useful life at a cost much less than what a replacement span would cost.
The four main steel truss spans, which cross the open water of the river, are in fine shape in terms of strength, although they are suffering from deteriorating paint and a leaking deck. The components that are slowly failing, and that need immediate attention, are the deck support system (“floor beams” and “stringers”) and the approach spans.
In addition to the repairs described in the Evans report, the deteriorated west approach structure, bridge deck and railings should be replaced, and the bridge repainted. Also, the roadway should be widened and a new deck for pedestrians and bicycles could be built underneath the main deck of the bridge.
A below-deck bicycle/pedestrian facility supported by the lower chords of the trusses would be protected from rain and vehicle spray and could provide an easy connection to the Springwater Trail. At the west-end, the new approach structure could be built to provide for bus stops with ramp and stair access to the bike and pedestrian level as well as to a train stop on the proposed Lake Oswego Streetcar Line.
The impact of the Sellwood Bridge closure on commuters can be greatly reduced if a temporary bus ferry system is established to shuttle buses, bikes and pedestrians across the river from the foot of Spokane Street during rehabilitation.
Of course TriMet would have to agree to provide a frequent east-west bus route between Clackamas County and Washington County in the Johnson Creek Blvd./Tacoma Street/Taylor’s Ferry Road corridor. This route would provide convenient connections to many existing bus routes and major transit hubs like Clackamas Town Center and Washington Square.
Although tolls aren’t essential to the concept of rehabilitating the bridge, this project could provide local experience in modern tolling techniques before they are considered for larger highway projects in the metro area. Since 60% of the trips across the bridge originate outside of Multnomah County, helping pay for refurbishing the bridge with a user fee (toll) seems fair.
March 21, 2006 10:51 AM
Wow, that's a very insightful post. For years, it has been accepted in the Metro Area as conventional wisdom that the Sellwood Bridge needs to be replaced by a new span, and that the only questions are what will the new span look like, how many lanes will it have and where will it go?
I'm glad to hear that new studies have shown that the existing bridge will suffice for many more years if it is properly rehabilitated.
As for an under-bridge bike/ped path... that's a great idea, if it really and truly is protected from the drippings of the bridge above. Having nasty, oily, greasy bridge run-off splattered on your head as you walk/ride by underneath would *not* be pleasant!!
I like the idea of the temporary ferry service to get people across the river until the bridge is fixed. It's been too long since the Willamette has had a proper ferry service, and perhaps this might be a good way to re-introduce the citizens of the region to the concept.
March 21, 2006 3:06 PM
It'd be great to connect the riverfront parks along both sides of the Willamette with ferries to make it easier to get around while on foot or bike - maybe even to Vancouver? Oregon City? There some ideas...
I read about 2 years ago about a local businessman that owns the jet boat tours that he wanted to do that. Obviously it hasn't happened yet...
March 21, 2006 7:36 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
Your analysis of the Sellwood Bridge is pretty much what we in the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League believe. We are not interested in seeing this project cost anymore than it needs to. I have always believed that the basic steel structure and piers would continue to be adequate to handle two lanes of traffic. It's already made it for eighty years! I would like to see some very nice historic-style streetlights, such as those used downtown, as long as new lights would be emplaced, anyway.
I believe that a streetcar connection to Milwaukie would be a relatively inexpensive addition...we'll have to see the neighborhood consensus on that one. Maybe they would like the historic, Gomaco cars....
The greater issue is what to do with the increasing commuter traffic between Clackamas and Washington counties, which now accounts for the great bulk of our traffic. When government reps. come to our meeetings we nail them with the question--What about another bridge further up the river? such as at Lake Oswego.
The rating of 2 did not reflect the structural integrity, per se. It was a composite of numerous comparisons to other bridges--including eight lane ones.
March 23, 2006 1:28 PM
Streetcar - very interesting idea. Doesn't the Lake Oswego right of way get close enough to the Sellwood bridge on the same grade to make this possible?
Interestingly, if both a Sellwood bridge streetcar line & Milwaukie Max line were built, trimet would need to make sure the MAX has a high enough speed - and widely spaced stops - make it compete successfully with the streetcar.
What happens if Sellwood becomes Portland's most connected neighborhood besides the Lloyd District, Goose Hollow & Pearl?
March 23, 2006 1:58 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Assuming both Milwaukie Light Rail and the LO Streetcar get built, there are two potential river crossings where you could potentially cross-connect them. One at the Sellwood Bridge and another at the "forgotten bridge" (the railway bridge) in LO. Might make for a very robust network.
Some have suggested bringing Milwaukie LRT into LO via the railway bridge as an alternatve to the Streetcar, but making two river crossings to get from LO into Portland seems like too long a trip.
March 23, 2006 3:20 PM
Not that this is extremely relevant to the Sellwood Bridge discussion, but...
...if commuter rail (DMU) service were initiated from McMinnville, it could cross the Wilsonville-to-Beaverton line at Tigard Junction, and continue to Lake Oswego, then across the forgotten bridge and into Milwaukie, where it could potentially terminate at the light rail station.
Imagine the commuter possibilities! If streetcar went into Lake Oswego, that wealthy suburb could wind up with rail transit connections to most of the employment centers of the region.
The question is, would anybody from Lake Oswego use them?
March 23, 2006 3:22 PM
Jim Howell Says:
You said "The greater issue is what to do with the increasing commuter traffic between Clackamas and Washington counties" I believe a lot of it could be on public transit. That is why I recommend the establishment of an east-west cross-town frequent service bus route in this corridor that would connect two major transit centers (CTC and Washington Square) and intersect many other bus routes in between. This type of “grid” service is very efficient and attracts high ridership. The highly patronized #71, #72 an #75 cross-town routes seem to show this is true.
March 24, 2006 10:42 AM
Lenny Anderson Says:
Thanks for your always thoughtful suggestions...note that Jim is mostly right on transportation issues. We do disagree on tunnels, however...he likes them for transit (the Mall, the Tram), I prefer them for autos (Columbia Crossing, East Bank Freeway).
The key fight on the Sellwood Bridge will be against the push to make it a wider roadway and thereby destroy Sellwood so that the suburbs may prosper. This is the same basic story behined almost all capacity projects... Mt Hood freeway, bigger bridge across the Columbia, even the Delta Park widening of I-5. They move the suburbs 5 minutes closer to the core at the expense of those who live closer in.
March 28, 2006 1:46 PM
Jason McHuff Says:
Just about anything would be better than what is there now for bike (& ped) access. The Willamette Greenway & the Springwater on Willamette trails make for a great loop from downtown...except for the bridge. Also, I've hiked from Gresham to St. Johns, and the bridge (and maybe Burnside) is the worst section.
It'll be a fight to keep the bridge at 2 lanes. Not only is it in an urban area, its the only bridge for miles. Best of luck to SMILe, who will be the ones affected by a wider bridge.
Oh, and there are still Willamette ferries at Canby Wheatland and further south. Overall, it'd be cool having a bus line use a ferry, though they might instead drop riders off on either side and walk on (= +2 transfers).
March 28, 2006 3:15 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
You said "It'll be a fight to keep the bridge at 2 lanes. Not only is it in an urban area, its the only bridge for miles. Best of luck to SMILe, who will be the ones affected by a wider bridge."
Please look at my comment, above, in this thread.
I know PortlandTransport doesn't discuss cars, very much, but another crossing could save many people a great amount of time and miles.
December 17, 2006 10:07 PM
Easton Cross Says:
Jim- I wish to change subjects to the Columbia River Crossing. If you wish to affect this 2 billion project, don't concentrate on the money per se. Concentrate on the land use implications. That will will have a much larger impact on the Metro Councilors than money and, in the end, land use costs will dwarf the cost of the project itself.
April 1, 2008 12:51 PM
I have an idea for the sellwood bridge. It's a gorgeous bridge and the spot it's in is great, but it clearly isn't big enough for the traffic that goes over it daily, including pedestrians and bikes.
I would like to pay for a new bridge in it's place or maybe we could keep the sellwood and put a new one close to the area for only cars. But anyway, my idea is that maybe we could have it be a toll. A TOLL FOR BIKES & CARS. The cost would be minimal, like $0.25 each way. If you didn't want to pay the toll each time with cash, you could have a bar code on your bike or car and something up above high up on the bridge could keep track of how many times you crossed and were scanned. Then instead of being billed and wasting trees, paper and money...you have to pay online. That is the only way to pay so it does save time, etc. When you signed up to get the barcode you agree to the online only. It would be a cheap way for many people to pay easily and I think it's fair. A quarter adds up quite quickly and it could implimented I would think easily and quickly so we could start collecting those quarters now!
December 8, 2008 12:06 PM
charles collins Says:
It seems to me that there is little choice but to rehab the bridge inasmuch as there are no reasonable alternatives offered at this point. If the skeleton is in good shape then resurfacing and moving the ped/bikes path underneath seems
very reasonable. That would result in a minimal disruption and the cost would be a fraction of a new structure.