Bridge To Be

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending two hours out on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers on a jet board tour of the ‘working waterfront’ (it included the fastest trip I have ever made between the Hawthorne and Steel bridges).

The purpose was to remind regional decision makers (I got on by virtue of my MPAC seat) that much of our region’s (indeed, our state’s) economy depends on things that happen on the waterfront, so we don’t go rezone it all for view condos. Message received :-)

But on the way back as we passed one of the Port of Portland terminals I saw what looked like a bridge. And in fact it was – it’s the center span of the new Sauvie Island Bridge, which will be hoisted into place soon in a miniature re-creation of the way the Fremont Bridge was completed.

Of course, the center span of the OLD bridge will hopefully make the reverse trip up-river and eventually become a bike/ped bridge over I-405.

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7 Comments

7 Responses to Bridge To Be

  1. Ross Williams
    September 13, 2007 at 7:14 am Link

    The purpose was to remind regional decision makers (I got on by virtue of my MPAC seat) that much of our region’s (indeed, our state’s) economy depends on things that happen on the waterfront,

    Is that really true? I doubt it. This is the continuing pitch to the old Oregon when the river was still a highway. The Port isn’t going to go out of business, but it is not the economic engine for the region. That has long since moved out to Washington County. The Port should spend less time pitching public “decision makers” and more time pitching the real decision makers, the ones with private capital to invest in businesses that might take advantage of the Port’s facilities.

  2. John Reinhold
    September 13, 2007 at 8:54 am Link

    Ross,

    The river is still very important, even to the Washington County folks.

    Much of the things that we need and produce come and go via the river. I know first hand, as while we boat on the river we have to dodge ships and barges…

    :)

    But even though there has been a shift to “clean industry” out in Washington County, things still move by ship to and from the USA, and the Portland region. The more unfriendly Portland becomes to shipping, the more of that shipping moves to Vancouver, and Longview/Kelso.

    We need to keep the river active for shipping to keep our economy balanced and vibrant. I also would argue that we need increases in rail as well, but that has nothing to do with this particular focus of river usage.

    But it also is important for national security and stability to have decentralized ports in the event of natural or man-made disasters. Every time we close or restrict a port – it makes the remaining ports more of a risk and our shipping network more fragile. We need good ports all over the USA to make sure that things like Hurricanes, Terrorism, Labor Strikes, Volcanoes or Earthquakes, Tsunami, draught, or winter storms don’t cripple our ability to move people and freight.

    Personally I think that shipping is on the verge of a renaissance as there are many energy efficient and clean energy advances being made for the shipping industry. Trans oceanic ship travel is getting cleaner and more efficient.

  3. Ross Williams
    September 13, 2007 at 9:26 am Link

    Much of the things that we need and produce come and go via the river.

    I don’t think that is true. The major product shipped through the Port of Portland is wheat exports from Eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Oregon does not have a resource based economy any more. And it is an inland port too far from major markets for imports to ever be anything but a bit-player in the local economy.

    Trans oceanic ship travel is getting cleaner and more efficient.

    The problem is that Portland has very little to offer to modern oceanic ships. No one is building new ships that can serve Portland. The Port is deepening the channel to serve larger ships that are already obsolete. The deeper channel will raise the price wheat farmers receive by increasing the loads the grain boats can carry and reducing shipping costs. But it is not going to make Portland a major seaport.

    If you look at the costs of that wheat you can question whether there is even a net benefit to the local economy from those exports. There is a lot of controversy about taking out the Snake River dams to restore salmon runs. The major reason for those dams is wheat shipments and the also facilitate irrigation for wheat farmers. Meanwhile, the coastal communities in Oregon who used to rely on the Salmon fisheries are hurting as a result of those dams.

    No one is going to argue the Port should be closed. But, aside from the airport, it’s operations are no longer that important to the regional economy. And they are going to be less important as time goes on.

  4. Lenny Anderson
    September 13, 2007 at 9:47 am Link

    It is instructive that the Port is moving its HQ to PDX…that is where the real future lies.
    At T-2 what the tour did not notice was any ships…few call at this dock, while across the river on Swan Island 1000 engineers are designing the next generation of trucks at Freightliner, sometimes solving problems while out for a walk along the Greenway Trail.
    On Swan Island Vigor Industrial (the shipyards) is the only major employer using the river…Freightliner, adidas, Columbia Distributing, UPS, Fed Ex are all using rail and roads; adidas ships nothing from its NA HQ.
    The vast majority of the tonnage in and out of our Port is wheat, bulk minerals and automobiles. T-6 containers going out are mostly straw and air; those coming it are a “rounding error” in comparison to LA/Long Beach’s volume.
    There are busy sites along the river…Gunderson, the cement docks (importing Chinese cement for condo highrises), but the real obstacle to economic development in the Portland Harbor is its SuperFund status…a deal killer for sure for most private investment.

  5. Ross Williams
    September 13, 2007 at 10:33 am Link

    The vast majority of the tonnage in and out of our Port is wheat, bulk minerals and automobiles. T-6 containers going out are mostly straw and air; those coming it are a “rounding error” in comparison to LA/Long Beach’s volume.

    I think this is an important difference with LA/Long Beach and the other major port economies. The real local economic benefit is from the businesses that create added value to those imported products. As far as I can tell, the Port has no strategy for attracting those kinds of businesses. And Portland’s distance from major markets makes it much more difficult for them to do it even if they did have a strategy.

    The last time I heard Bill Wyatt talk about the Port’s strategy it essentially was “we hope LA/Longbeach won’t be able to provide adequate transportation connections and companies will look at Portland as an alternative.” But hope is not a strategy. Even if LA does fail, there is little evidence Portland is a likely alternative, much less inevitable. The port’s strategy looks a little like those empty industrial parks that dot the landscape of rural America as monuments to hope in defiance of economic reality.

  6. Wells
    September 13, 2007 at 11:34 am Link

    Well, I’ll just reiterate my opinion about moving Willamette River grain elevators out to Hayden Island. All grain shipping operations would achieve multi-million dollar efficiency gains: rail, barge, trans-oceanic shipping. Even new grain silos would be built to modern standards. I suppose new docks would likely be built in Albina and Rose Quarter. The geese might be disadvantaged.

    I believe heavy industry should be separated from population centers and thus the cement plant too should probably move from central city, maybe out to Hayden Island also, maybe leaving the dome structure as a fantastic landmark with new purposes.

  7. Bob R.
    September 13, 2007 at 12:03 pm Link

    Wells –

    I don’t know enough about grain shipping to comment on the feasibility of your proposal, but if what you say is correct, removal of the grain elevators from the Rose Quarter area would provide an excellent opportunity to construct a new river crossing to augment or replace the Steel Bridge, allowing for dramatically improved (and untangled) rail operations for both light rail and heavy rail.

    – Bob R.

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