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.

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