Updated: Purposefully Approaching Sellwood

Update: 11/15/06

The Daily Journal of Commerce weighs in with coverage today.

Original Post: 11/14/06

Whenever a project is going to have a Federal funding component, there is typically a two-tier governance structure for the project. A citizen/stakeholder committee will work through the details, making recommendations to a steering committee, which is composed of elected officials (or agency heads) from all the governments that will eventually have to sign off on the Federal application. The steering committee makes sure that the project proposal doesn’t stray from political reality.

So while it’s interesting to follow the stakeholder/CAC discussions, the rubber meets the road at the steering committee, as it did on Thursday when the “Policy Advisory Group” for the Sellwood Bridge met to approve the Purpose and Need Statement for the project.

The Purpose and Need statement is critical because it defines the parameters of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you get it wrong, you may restrict yourself from what you later determine to be the best solutions. For example, in the Columbia Crossing projects, the purpose and need is pretty much defined as building a bridge in the exact location of the current bridges, which rules out the western arterial approach we’ve discussed here lately.

Our elected officials, particularly at Metro, understand the importantance of the Purpose and Need and there was a lot of pointed discussion at the meeting about what the statement might force or eliminate.

Metro Councilor Robert Liberty went so far as to ask if we could define the Purpose and Need based on the kinds of communities we want to create on either side of the bridge, rather than solely the transportation function of the bridge. An official from the Federal Highway Administration quickly threw cold water on that idea.

There was agreement to follow the advice of the 1999 study, which recommended a bridge in roughly the current location (as opposed to say further upstream towards Oregon City).

But the group was careful to make sure that the statement did not:

  • Force replacement of the bridge versus a rehabilitation option.
  • Require 4 lanes rather than two.

Both of those questions will be decided later in the study.

There was an interesting question raised by a Clackamas County official about whether the Purpose and Need should include a statement about freight (it does). I presume this was motivated by a desire to preserve commuter capacity on the bridge, but hearing an elected official question the importance of freight on any facility is a rare occasion!

Here’s what the finally arrived at:

Project Purpose

The purpose of the proposed action is to rehabilitate or replace the Sellwood Bridge within its existing east-west corridor to provide a structurally safe bridge and connections that accommodate multi-modal mobility needs.

Project Need

The proposed action would serve the following needs:

  1. Provide structural capacity to accommodate safely various vehicle types, including transit vehicles, trucks, and emergency vehicles; and to withstand moderate seismic events;
  2. Provide a geometrically functional and safe roadway design;
  3. Provide for existing and future travel demands between origins and destinations served by the Sellwood Bridge;
  4. Provide for connectivity, reliability, and operations of existing and future public transit;
  5. Provide for improved freight mobility to and across the bridge; and
  6. Provide for improved pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, mobility and safety to and across the river in the corridor.

7 responses to “Updated: Purposefully Approaching Sellwood”

  1. Eh, I don’t see “streetcar” on that list. Wasn’t one of the options under consideration to provide for a streetcar connection across the Sellwood Bridge?

  2. “needs” 1 and 3 could both encompass Streetcar if that’s where the various committees want to go.

    My guess is that at this point, you would want to make sure the bridge deck could support the weight and that the bridgeheads could accomodate the Streetcar, but probably wouldn’t plan to install rails until the Streetcar system plan was better developed.

    On the other hand, before the rehab or new bridges gets built, the system plan may very well be done, so it could be an evolving situation.

  3. There is obviously one very important stakeholder component left out of item number six; “motorists” who will undoubtedly pay the majority of the taxes to fix or replace the bridge, should also have been included. This statement however is typical of a Policy Advisory Group made up of socialistic minded officials that no longer represent the majority of people who drive, but are more than willing to take their money.

  4. Chris,

    A word on “socialist minded officials.” Both major parties, and probably many minor ones, have cetain tricks up their sleeves, in the struggle for political power. The days of a democracy “by the people” have long since passed….

  5. I’m on the CTF, and I have drafts-a-plenty of the purpose and need statement.

    Originally, ‘1’ said “buses,” but ‘4’ said “public transit.” This might have excluded the streetcar, so ‘1’ was changed to say “transit vehicles.” As I understand, there’s no current proposal to extend the streetcar onto SE Tacoma St., so some coordination might be needed going forward.

    A historical note brought up at a previous meeting: The current Sellwood Bridge wasn’t designed for a streetcar line, however the other bridges at the time were either designed for it or had lines running across them.

    There is obviously one very important stakeholder component left out… “motorists….”

    I can assure everyone that motorists are not being excluded or overlooked from the discussion, as evident on page 11 of the 10-16-06 Meeting Notes. The CTF itself has several motorists, and we’re well aware of the amount of motor vehicle traffic that uses the bridge. On a recent online survey on the sellwoodbridge.org website, 83.7% of participants stated they use a “personal car or truck” when they cross the bridge. A summary of the results are available here. (BTW, the percentages don’t add up to 100% since the question said “check all that apply;” other options were “bicycle,” “bus [before buses were restricted],” “commercial vehicle,” and “on foot.”)

    Our next CTF meeting is 5:30 PM Monday, Nov. 20th, 2006, at the Sellwood Baptist Church, 1104 SE Spokane Street, which is actually right off of Tacoma between 11th and 12th, and 2 blocks away from TriMet routes 41 and 70, and we have a regularly scheduled public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

    (note: opinions expressed in this post are my own, and not necessarily reflective of the collective views of the Sellwood Bridge CTF or any other party associated with the project. As a member of the CTF, I do my best to understand the needs/views/concerns of others.)

  6. A word on “socialist minded officials.” Both major parties, and probably many minor ones, have cetain tricks up their sleeves, in the struggle for political power. The days of a democracy “by the people” have long since passed….

    Call me an optimist, but I haven’t completely given up on democracy yet!

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