Fitting the Sellwood Pieces Together

An article in Friday’s Trib (“Span plan’s a puzzle“) demonstrates the complexities of planning this bridge. Each option is going to make someone unhappy based on the properties it’s going to disrupt.

And that’s before we even worry about two lanes versus four…

24 responses to “Fitting the Sellwood Pieces Together”

  1. The Sellwood Bridge is the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon. In the coming years, there is an expected increase in number of vehicles using the bridge. If the political mindset is to retain the crossing with only two motor vehicle lanes, then the current bridge should be refurbished and strengthened. If a new bridge is to be constructed, it needs to be a four motor vehicle lane bridge. Transportation dollars should not be spent to replace an obsolete two motor vehicle lane bridge with another obsolete two motor vehicle lane bridge. If the bridge crossing is to become a multi-modal crossing, then it also must be paid for with multi-modal funding whereby motorist paid taxes and fees only pay for the motor vehicle portions of the bridge, and the users of alternative modes are directly taxed to cover the other mode specific infrastructure portions.

    Furthermore, any neighborhood, including Sellwood, should not become a walled off gated community. Retaining a two motor vehicle lane bridge crossing along with the traffic obstructions on Tacoma Street is in effect an action in that direction.

  2. Furthermore, any neighborhood, including Sellwood, should not become a walled off gated community. Retaining a two motor vehicle lane bridge crossing along with the traffic obstructions on Tacoma Street is in effect an action in that direction.

    A 2-lane Sellwood bridge does not a wall make.

    As for the bridge, the question for Sellwood residents is not whether the neighborhood will ever become “gated”, but whether it is a place that people go to rather than go through and whether that through traffic grows to the point that it diminishes the local community.

    The bridge is not the bottleneck anyway – the traffic signals along Tacoma are, and unless you’re prepared to advocate in favor tearing down local businesses and residences to widen those intersections, they will remain bottlenecks.

    – Bob R.

  3. If a new bridge is to be constructed, it needs to be a four motor vehicle lane bridge.

    Just support for Bob’s observation, there is no real reason for a four lane bridge with two lane approaches. I would hope we are past the point of bulldozing neighborhoods to support suburban development.

  4. The Sellwood Bridge is obsolete because it has substandard lane widths, insufficient sidewalks and multiple structural problems, not because it has only 2 lanes. By your reasoning, we could only replace old bridges with bridges that have MORE vehicle lanes.

    I don’t think anyone has ever proposed that Sellwood be a “gated” community (aren’t they illegal here in Portland anyway?), and the only “traffic obstructions” I can think of on Tacoma is the on-street parking. Somehow, I don’t think SMILE sees that quite the same way as you do.

  5. The only way it makes sense to build a 4 lane bridge is if Tacoma is made a four lane road from 99e all the way to the bridge, I just see how that’s going to happen. They’d have to get rid the bike lanes, all of the on-street parking, and either widen the major street intersections or get rid of left turns on said intersections. Most of Tacoma has residential housing on it, I don’t see why people in Sellwood would want to turn the street into a de facto 4 lane highway, as such a four lane bridge would face a great deal of resistance from the community.

    On the other hand, I do think rehabbing the existing structure should be explored, so long as it can bring us significant cost savings (which is not necessarily a given). There’s a lot of money that needs to be spent on maintaining infrastructure here in town, so long as we don’t need to expand capacity on the Sellwood bridge we should try to work with what we already have.

  6. Just about everything I have read indicates that congestion and traffic counts will increase on all East-West corridors in on the Eastside of Portland. This is due to population growth and new eastside development (particularly in the outer portions of the Eastside) and includes traffic increases on both the Tacoma Street and the parallel Powell Boulevard corridor which is also a state highway. Alternative forms of transport will slow but not replace this increasing demand. The City of Portland and Metro response to this demand has been to stick their head in the sand and make modifications to corridor streets that attempt to ration motorist usage and disrupt freight movements instead of attempting to find a way to accommodate the movement of more vehicles. The money the PDOT wasted on Tacoma Street reflects this outmoded way of thinking and funding.

    Four motor vehicle travel lanes (two in each direction) are needed in the Tacoma Street corridor between McLoughlin Boulevard and the West end of the Sellwood Bridge. In addition to a four lane bridge, additional motor vehicle capacity can be accomplished by upgrading and improving Tacoma Street to a four lane street, finding another route from the East end of the Sellwood Bridge to accommodate additional traffic (probably not practical), or by using Tenino or Spokane Street as a couplet in conjunction with Tacoma Street. A couplet of this type would bring big changes to Sellwood, but would have impacts no greater than the couplet Sam Adams is pushing for that takes westbound traffic off of Burnside and adds it to Couch Street.

  7. ^^^^
    Burnside and Tacoma are two entirely different streets. Burnside/Couch works as a couplet because downtown is already a series of couplets in a high density mixed-use environment. Tenino or Spokane are primarily single family residential streets, so you’ll NEVER get the residents to allow their street to become a one-way throughfare.

  8. If you are looking for efficient movement of car traffic from downtown, across the river to the eastside, then you need to build a new bridge south of the Sellwood Bridge which connects directly to highway 224. Unfortunately, Clackamas County hasn’t made any real efforts to consider this option. There is really no reason that Sellwood needs to bear the brunt of the problems caused by high traffic volumes. Portland has elected in the past to sacrifice “efficient” traffic movement in order to save its neighborhoods, that’s one of the reasons that this is such a great city. A bridge directly connecting to 224 would have a lesser impact on surrounding neighborhoods, and probably would be faster than any 4 lane roadway through Sellwood.

  9. You’re right Peter. Only problem, the fine people of Dunthorpe (the uber-NIMBYs) are on the other side of the river from Hwy 224. Not to mention, any connection to the bridge would have to go through the Waverly Country Club on the east side. Therefore, we will NEVER see a bridge there.

  10. The metro area is far too integrated to dismiss these as people just passing “through” and not “to” Sellwood/Moreland. We MUST have E/W crossings over the river in that area.

    The same “through not to” comments could apply to Brooklyn, the areas just west of the Steele and Broadway, St Johns, etc etc.

    I don’t know the number of commuters who use the Sellwood who are “suburbanites,” but this is a red herring. The Sellwood is the main E/W crossing for commuters in most of the Eastside south of Holgate, as well as Milwaukie, Gladstone, and the Sunnyside area.

    For those reasons, I initially opposed the changeover in Tacoma from 4 lane to 2 lane. I interpreted this as NIMBY behavior on the part of the SMILE community.

    In retrospect, the change seems to be working well. Tacoma is slow at points, but not too bad. The real issue here is the backup that is occuring on the west side of the river. Macadam backs up halfway to downtown.

    What’s desperately needed is an alternative E/W bridge that is south of the Sellwood.

    For the Sellwood, what’s needed is a *wide* 2 lane bridge with a second “Steele” bridge type addition for bike and pedestrians. I like the configuration that sets down in what is currently the Sellwood park parking lot. Something has to give here, and I think the parking lot is the best of the worst alternatives.

  11. Time for that expressway from 224 over the Willamette to Lake Oswego with an exciting mulitlevel interchange at Rt 43…offering great access for motorist to the redeveloped LO downtown. Then continue with a simple double decked structure in the RR right of way thru the LO Hunt Club to Kruse Woods and Rt 217. If need be a second deck could be added to Rt 43 in Dunthorpe to releave congestion there as well.
    Let’s build more roads, starting in these communities, where most people drive anyway.
    They will never agree, you say? So why should Sellwood, Dundee, or any other less well endowed communities agree to sacrifice themselves to those who still cling to the idea that we can build our way out of congestion. A fool’s errand.

  12. I hear you, Lenny. And actually, I think the best location for a bridge would be at the end of Oak Grove Blvd to downtown LO, as has been suggested here by a couple of people.

  13. “Burnside and Tacoma are two entirely different streets”

    That is true however with all the dense housing development, a charter school and high traffic business on NW Couch, a case in point is that the proposed Burnside-Couch Couplet (which I oppose) negatively impacts a far greater number of people on Couch Street than would a couplet on a street with single family residents. This is not to say I support a couplet utilizing Spokane or Tenino streets, but additional motor vehicle capacity is definitely needed in this corridor.

    “Macadam backs up halfway to downtown.”

    So because one neighborhood wants to ration entry into what they feel is their exclusive domain and will not do their part regionally and allow one East-West street for traffic to flow through on, the entire system breaks down and their neighbors across the river receive the brunt of negative impacts for their self-centered mindset, Just another one of the reasons Portland where efficiency is sacrificed is a City of great and increasing congestion that is headed toward gridlock.

    “If you are looking for efficient movement of car traffic from downtown, across the river to the eastside, then you need to build a new bridge south of the Sellwood Bridge which connects directly to highway 224.”

    With motor vehicle capacity being reduced on many of the Willamette River crossings due to lane reductions for bike lanes on the Burnside Bridge, proposed streetcars that will gum up traffic on possibly more than one bridge, and TriMet now entirely monopolizing the westbound center lane on the Steel Bridge instead of sharing the road with other vehicles, there is a need to add new bridges for motor vehicles up and down the river. I would agree with a new bridge South of the Sellwood Bridge if Highway 43 on the Westside could be widened and there was a good available connection to it. However that will probably never happen without high density housing being constructed in Dunthorp; and even if even if the wealthy residents who live there support higher densities and high rise buildings elsewhere, they would probably use their wealth to stop any increased development in their own neighborhood.

    Down river other possible motor vehicle crossings could connect Swan Island to the Westside and Sharon Nasset has a proposal for a new through route from the Westside to Vancouver parallel to the railroad alignment in North Portland. The road capacity on Swan Island is under utilized and combined, a pair of bridges crossing the Willamette at these locations would significantly reduce freight and other vehicle traffic in the North Portland I-5 corridor.

  14. Terry, you miss the point (purposely?).

    There is no good reason to have ALL of the E/W traffic from downtown funneled over one small bridge. If there were a second bridge that connected to 224, it would still be the case that all of the SE and Milwaukie traffic would continue to use the Sellwood.

    But there’s just no reason, not for time and not for efficiency, to funnel the traffice headed for Gladstone, Oak Grove, and Sunnyside area over the Sellwood.

    43 is already four lanes all the way down the Lake O. The chokepoint is at the bridge. I would hope new construction would resolve this (though there is an issue with a funeral home and cemetery).

    But once you get beyond the bridge, there is no issue with capacity on 43 south of the bridge.

  15. Then continue with a simple double decked structure in the RR right of way thru the LO Hunt Club to Kruse Woods and Rt 217.

    Nothing is simple in Lake Oswego.

    Actually, nothing is simple anywhere in the Portland metro area, where everything has to be studied to death (essentially until the project can be changed to support a MAX line), but Lake Oswego makes Portland look like it’s an “anything goes” city.

    But let’s put aside political overtones, the argument against MAX, and look strictly at the possibility of installing a highway over the existing railroad tracks.

    First of all is destroying homes in the very wealthy, geographically steep, and somewhat well developed area north of Lake Oswego (Dunthorpe).

    Then to, since highways have a magical tendancy to do it, “destroy” downtown Lake Oswego.

    Next, build an Alaskan Way Viaduct style structure along Oswego Lake (which, by the way, is privately owned) for about one mile.

    Then, explain why a highway is being built so close to homes, increasing pollution, toxic emissions, blah blah blah. Essentially the same argument over I-5 in North Portland, except that the people in Lake Oswego have twenty times as much money.

    In what could be seen as “shocking” to many of the contributors here who have seen my blatant disgust for TriMet/Metro’s funding priorities, there is a very simple solution: Use this railroad for commuter rail service.

    Milwaukie TC is already a transit hub with numerous busses. And probably MAX as well.

    Lake Oswego TC is a transit hub with numerous busses, too. And possibly the Portland Streetcar (although honestly I disagree; I’d rather see a “heritage trolley” operation continue, like Seattle’s Waterfront Trolley, with maybe a modern car for rush hour commuter service as well).

    Tualatin will have the Beaverton-Wilsonville Commuter Rail line. It should also be a transit hub but we all know TriMet isn’t going to do it, but let’s just assume that it might someday.

    And Sherwood might one day have one or two local routes in addition to the 12/94.

    What connects the dots? A twelve-and-a-half mile route of the Portland & Western Railroad – and one that is seldom used by freight trains, too (only occassional service from Cook (where Tualatin and Lake Oswego come together, along Lower Boones Ferry Road) to Sherwood, and one train a day between Cook and Willsburg Junction (north of Milwaukie, junction with Union Pacific’s mainline) – usually at night.

    Using this route as a commuter rail corridor would connect multiple other modes of public transit (MAX and bus, and either trolley or Streetcar in Lake Oswego as well), and would not require a massive freeway structure, any removals or adverse effects onto nearby homes.

    Further, because this route is used seldom by freight trains, newer European-design low floor DMUs could be purchased, making the trains more like MAX, and not require the massive high-level platforms required on the Beaverton-Wilsonville route. Also, nearly all-day service could be provided because of the scarcity of freight train operations.

  16. Erik,

    I 100% agree with you on the Milwaukie to Sherwood commuter rail. My only tweaks would be…

    Start the line at Union Station and continue all the way to McMinnville. Commuter rail works best over longer distances.

    Keep the high floor DMUs so they’re compatible with Beaverton-Wilsonville(-Salem) and any other future commuter lines that use freight rails.

    Move the Tualatin station to where the two lines cross for easier connections.

  17. I saw something interesting in the Train Riders Association of California’s April 2007 edition of California Rail news about CalTrain having a problem with the FRA’s standards on Passenger Rolling Stock, saying they are based on early 20th century standards.(Which had a whole bunch of accidents at the time, which included cases where the cars telescoped into each other) They would prefer that European standards on crush zones, and Positive Train Control be allowed. Not sure if they have a chance on that one. If the proposed LA-SF Coast Route train ever happens, it will have to use CalTrain tracks to get from San Jose to San Francisco.

    Down in Austin, Texas, they are going to use Swiss-made Light DMUs for what CapitolMetro is going to call Urban Commuter Rail. Also being proposed is a regional commuter rail line connecting Austin with San Antonio. The latter will have to use conventional equipment, either locomotive-hauled or Heavy DMUs like the Budd RDCs that work alongside loco-hauled stock in Dallas or the Colorado Railcar DMU.

    Up here, I was thinking that light DMUs have a chance on this one line facing conversion to trail, even though it passes through the growing eastside of Lake Washington.(One branch that crossed it is now the Burke Gillman Trail). Unfortunately, it will require a lot to upgrade the trackage, and put in Positive Train Control(if it’s ready at all).

  18. Keep the high floor DMUs so they’re compatible with Beaverton-Wilsonville(-Salem) and any other future commuter lines that use freight rails.

    Actually I strongly dislike the DMUs.

    The DMUs are essentially “purpose-built” for the Beaverton-Wilsonville commuter line; they wouldn’t be suitable anywhere else. Yes, they do meet FRA Crashworthiness regs for use on, say, Portland-Salem or Portland-Vancouver-Kelso/Longview or Camas/Washougal, but they wouldn’t come close to the needed capacity. And South Florida RTA, which is the only other operator of the DMU, pulled them out of service stating reliability and acceleration problems, choosing their locomotive/car fleet instead.

    I don’t see Milwaukie-Sherwood being a heavy duty (i.e. locomotive and six cars) commuter line in the foreseeable future, thus my suggestion for the Bombardier Talent DMU. Because it is similar to MAX it would be seen as “compatible” by the public, although it’s a diesel and not electric car. Because it’s lighter, it wouldn’t require heavy (136 pound) rail but a lighter (100-112 pound rail). And because of the low floor height it wouldn’t require an expensive high platform.

    I like the idea of extending to Portland but I think that poses too many problems to deal with. However, the idea of extending it on its own route, and foregoing the MAX line to Milwaukie, might make sense – to build a diesel line that could someday be upgraded to MAX (essentially double-tracking and electrifying it), and end it in East Portland (to eliminate the question of a bridge). There, busses (or Streetcar, which would provide the local high capacity transit in inner Eastside, using the Hawthorne Bridge to entirely eliminate the Caruther’s Crossing issue, and potentially string another Tram across the river (even the overpriced Tram is a bargain compared to the Carthuer’s Crossing) to another connection with this new route.

    However, it really wouldn’t be desirable for it to be street-running, so it’d have to be on a separate track along the UP mainline, and I think there are rules in the U.S. for light-rail/heavy-rail lines that are in close proximity to each other – but I’m not sure (clearly there are two instances of MAX/heavy rail operations in close proximity – most notably Lloyd Center-Gateway, but also a very short stretch near the Beaverton Creek station).

    One other benefit of the Bombardier Talent (go to – is that the car itself is scalable from two to four units within one car. Die Bahn (German’s national railroad) uses the Talent on regional routes in both two and three-unit sets, with different door arrangements (typically the two unit sets have one door per set, the three unit sets have one door on the end units and two doors for the center unit, for a total of four doors – likely an arrangement TriMet would favor.) These cars are in use in Ottawa (O-Train), and were considered on the Sprinter line in San Diego (a competing model from Siemens, which is similar in design, was chosen instead.)

  19. TriRail has another DMU on order, and supposedly the State of Vermont and Amtrak are going to buy a few to try out on the Vermonter(although I suspect it will be of the single-level variety as they will interchange with the NEC at New Haven(instead of the train running through to Washington D.C.) Now Colorado Railcar is trying to pitch their DMU as a modern version of the old Jack of All Trades Budd RDC. Interesting how the Alaska RR is considering purchasing one for a new service they and the USFS are pushing for the Chugach National Forest called the Whistle Stop(to avoid confusion with the flag-stop service North of Anchorage). One thing they are asking for? A second Cab.

    It would be intersting to see which other branches all along the I-5 Corridor could accommodate cars like the Talent, Desiro, or Stadler’s FLIRT.

  20. My understanding is that SFRTA is not happy, and they are trying to get rid of the DMUs. There is another operation that is trying to start up in central Florida (Orlando? Jacksonville?) that might end up with all of the DMUs.

    Although DMUs have been proposed for several operations in the Northeast (heck, they’ve been proposed just about everywhere, including as a possible replacement for the Space Shuttle), no one else but TriMet has ordered them. In fact TriMet was supposed to have entered into a joint purchase with a North Carolina agency, but that agency went to a Japanese consortium builder instead. And the Alaska Railroad has never committed to buying a single DMU; they’re apparently happy with the limited Budd RDC service they have, and most of their trains are of the locomotive-and-car consist (although they have purchased conventional cars from Colorado Railcar and seem to be happy with them).

    The only other “interested party” was a Canadian rail tour outfit, and they decided to go with double-deck cars pulled by a locomotive.

    The other DMU operators in North America either have gone to German or Japanese designs, or use Budd RDCs. (Apparently TriMet did consider using rebuilt RDCs, but Trinity Railway Express (Dallas-Fort Worth) didn’t give a rave review of them. Nevertheless, TRE continues to use the RDCs in midday and contingency service.)

    I can’t speak for the entire I-5 corridor (there’s a LOT of railroad branches) but just in Oregon:

    Portland-St. Helens-Rainier-Astoria (used to host the Lewis & Clark Explorer Train)

    Milwaukie-Lake Oswego-Tualatin-Sherwood (potentially to McMinnville and even Corvallis)

    Lake Oswego-Tigard-Beaverton-Hillsboro-Forest Grove (this partially uses the route of the Beaverton-Wilsonville route)

    Canby-Molalla (Last mile or two into Molalla abandoned but right-of-way in place)

    Woodburn-Mt. Angel-Silverton-Stayton (I like this route, it has tourist potential)

    Salem-Dallas (most of this route is abandoned but the right-of-way still exists, including the underpass underneath Highway 22)

    (Potentially Toledo)-Philomath-Corvallis-Albany-Lebanon-Sweet Home

    Eugene-west (potentially to Coos Bay)

  21. One thing they are asking for? A second Cab.

    Forgot to mention, it (the Colorado Railcar DMU) can be ordered with cabs at either end; in fact TriMet’s will have a cab at each end.

    My problem is that TriMet wanted to order the “Aero DMU” cab at one end of the car, and have a “flatface” cab at the other end. I was told, point blank by a TriMet employee, doing this (the Aero DMU) would raise the cost of the car over the “flatface” at either end.

    To me, that it was being considered was stupid. Who cares if one end of the train looks “cool” if the train spends 50% of the time going the opposite way. Really, who cares if the train cab looks “cool”, that just means it’s more expensive to fix when it hits something (which unfortunately is inevitable).

  22. If Sound Transit ever orders a CRC DMU, I would like to see the F59PHIs pulled off of SOUNDER-North, as well as a few of the Bombardier Bi-Levels for added service on SOunder-South, which at times is over-crowded. The route between Seattle and Everett is pretty much flat on the terrain, and the two tunnels between King Street Station and Everett Station handle double-stacked container trains. Also, the aerodynamically-cool looking nose would only get in the way of utilizing the vehicles. Also, ST will be missing out on a good oppurtunity to prove their worth in August. I-5 gets a 50th Anniversary Present(close enough to one, anyway), expansion joint replacement on the elevated portion between Spokane Street and Interstate 90. They are not going to do it at night, but during the day, reducing it to 1 lane! Unfortunately, for midday service, whether with a 1-car DMU or a 7 car locomotive-hauled set(current SOUNDER-South maximum length), a third-main track will be needed, and we lack that.

    NOw interesting about CRC, their home market may be giving them some business. Not all of the FastTracks lines are Light Rail, a couple are commuter rail, although there is a debate going on, Diesel or Electric. Of course they will have to go out to competitive bid, although they have the lead with FRA compliance.

    Although the competition would heat up if Light DMUs was used for the Eastside(of Lake Washington) BNSF line, it would doom a successful Dinner Train operation due to FRA rules. Although BNSF has already made the decision, they are not going to repair a link in the line around Bellevue that will be severed when Interstate 405 is widened. $30 million was the cost of fixing the link. So King County and the Port of Seattle are going to trade. THe port buys the line, trades it to King County for King County International Airport(AKA Boeing Field), a perenial money loser for King County DOT.(Although supposedly the only local tax money put into the airport was $200,000 that 80% of the electorate approved in the 1920s to build it) The Eastside Line used to go all the way to the Canadian BOrder, but was severed between Burlington and Snohomish during the BN merger. The former Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern was railbanked in the Seventies, and ran from Ballard to Issaquah and almost to North Bend. If it was not a round-about route along the East side of Lake Sammamish, it would have made a good commuter rail line. Then again, Microsoft had not located to Redmond.

  23. Background on the ARR DMU proposal, although why not try it with a rebuilt BUDD, first? Although supposedly some say a BUDD could pull an unpowereed car, BUDD strongly discouraged it, even if it was a BUDD Coach, and would pull the warranty if it was done. Now of course, that warranty is probably void today anyway.

  24. Background on the ARR DMU proposal, although why not try it with a rebuilt BUDD, first?

    AKRR already operates Budd RDC cars.

    As for the warranty on a Budd car…well Budd today is owned by a German company and is not engaged in any railroad related business.

    However it appears that ThyssenKrupp has integrated Budd into another component, as the webpage ( ) does not function.

Leave a Reply

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