Sellwood Bridge: Can’t Get No Respect

I recently attended a meeting of the Portland Freight Advisory Committee, where the Freight Master Plan was being reviewed.

Once again, the Sellwood Bridge came up. The line of discussion: it’s not a freight project, so don’t list it as a project it in the master plan, and certainly don’t spend any funds targeted on freight on it!

The basis of this argument is that as long as the bridge is only two lanes, and Tacoma Street is only two lanes, this is not a freight-friendly corridor. Arguments were advanced to reconsider the option of a new bridge south of the existing one (through the Waverly Country Club) or to rebuild the Sellwood with four lanes on the assumption that sometime during the bridge’s 100-year-expected-life we’ll wise up and widen Tacoma.

[Credit goes to PDOT staffer John Gillam who reminded the committee of the local delivery function the Sellwood bridge – even at two lanes – DOES provide for the movement of goods and services.]

Of course, this is exactly the thinking that caused the Sellwood Bridge to get zero funding from the state OTIA process, even though it scores 2 on a soundness scale of 100 (presumably it will get marked down to zero when it falls into the river).

Meanwhile, the bridge remains the top priority for bicycle and pedestrian advocates as the weakest link in our network for alternative modes.

So perhaps we should develop a plan for a bike and ped only bridge? After all, we wouldn’t want to spend any of our precious bike dollars on something those stinking cars and trucks could use!

When will we get our thinking out of these single mode buckets and learn to think about multi-modal systems? That’s the only path to assembling the funding required to actually do something about this failing bridge.


4 responses to “Sellwood Bridge: Can’t Get No Respect”

  1. Is the “Sellwood Bridge falling down?”

    The “2” rating can be very misleading. I did obtain a copy of the evaluation standards that ODOT uses and that low rating is based on many other things beyond mere structural integrity. Actually the main span of the bridge is quite sound.

    The Sellwod Bridge was fabricated fron new steel in 1925 and thus is not too different from other Portland bridges built at the same time, which have been successfully renovated. It was also designed by noted New York designer, Gustav Lndenthal. Since it is only a two lane bridge there is a high proportion of steel in it for the amount of traffic it can carry.

    Much has been made of the fact it uses older parts. This applies to the approaches which have much less steel, being largely concrete, and most likely very little rebar. The ground under the west approach has moved about a foot and could move again in the future. Do these factors point to replacement? I don’t think so. Why not?

    Again, I believe, the main, steel span is sufficient but the present, concrete approaches would need a similar fabrication. We all agree the “sidewalk” is woefully inadequate; therefore, as with other Multnomah Co. bridges, the deck needs to be rebuilt and enlarged, and needs to provide room for pedestrians. Also, I don’t see why a bikeway could not be hung off the side, ala the Steel Bridge, that would, then, connect to the Springwater Trail. In order to preserve the underlying structure, the deck should be made as light as possible. However, I don’t think that a steel deck (like the HAwthorne Bridge) would work since the slope is too great and cars would spin their tires. Finally I would incorporate a track for a streetcar, connecting to the Westshore Line.

    Since bridges that are much, much larger (Ross Island, St. Johns) have been rebuilt for close to $35 million, I don’t think we need to factor in the $100 million proposal of Bechtel Corp. However, restricting the bridge to two lanes may neccesitate some other financing arrangements, than if a route favorable to the trucking lobby was planned… Since I work in construction I am quite cognizant of the complaint of the trucking lobby… e.g. it’s really hard to extricate cured concrete from a mixing truck. But the solution is for other routes to be developed and to reduce overall VMT in the Metro area.

    We now have a big chunk of money from the federal government to analyze the future of this crossing.

  2. So why not build a new span for cars and trucks with high-speed approaches and that sort of thing and then refurb the Sellwood Bridge into a Bike/Streetcar/Pedestrian bridge with no car access?

    On the other hand, I grew up in Eugene and there are a couple bike-only bridges spanning the Willamette down there that are quite nice.

  3. Kent,

    I am hoping that by an intelligent refurb, we can accomodate all those modes….for under 50 million. What you propose would cost far more and the neighborhood does not want a new thoroughfare, which is what a second bridge would require.

  4. Now that Multnomah County officials have cut the weight on the Sellwood Bridge (“Limits Put on Sellwood Bridge”, June 23), they should aggressively seek funds to fast-track a total repair and upgrade. The old reinforced concrete approach structures at each end are deteriorating and need replacing but the main steel truss structure over the river is a valuable asset that can continue functioning as the center span of a refurbished bridge.

    Other improvements are needed in order to bring it up to modern standards but there is no need to add more traffic capacity that would negatively impact the neighborhoods at both ends of the bridge.

    The travel lanes should be widened, the railings replaced and pedestrians and bicyclists accommodated on a separate lower deck constructed between the lower chords of the existing steel trusses. This would protect pedestrians and bicyclists from traffic and would allow them direct access to the new Springwater Trail.

    County officials have tried and failed to scrounge up a staggering $91 million to completely replace the Sellwood Bridge, when replacement is not needed. Bus riders and freight movement are not going to suffer any further from the repair work, so let’s get going on it now, at far less cost.

    Jim Howell
    3325 NE 45th Avenue
    Portland, OR 97213

    (Published in the Oregonian 7-6-04)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *