Total Lack of Bridge Imagination Continues to Plague Region

As if the box-girder Columbia River Crossing was not bad enough, Portland Architecture and several other blogs are reporting that TriMet will ignore the elegant modified cable-stay design by international designer Miguel Rosales in favor of a cheap and generic cable-stay alternative.

Maybe while Fred is in Australia he can take a look at the Opera House and get a lesson in what imaginative and inspiring design can do for a place.


17 responses to “Total Lack of Bridge Imagination Continues to Plague Region”

  1. What’s the cost difference between the elegant design, and the cheap alternative?

    If it’s only a small amount–it may well be worth it. But top-drawer architectural firms are generally quite expensive (the expense gets you the name-brand architect, a prettier design, and probably a larger construction budget; it generally does not get you superior engineering expertese); and the architectural community loves to complain that public agencies don’t spend sufficient dollars on the architectural community.

    Given that Tri-Met is busy slashing bus routes to deal with declining payroll tax revenues (thanks to the recession); complaining that they aren’t spending buckets on “design” doesn’t seem right. I fully understand that it’s two different piles of money; and money saved in design and construction cannot be diverted to fund operations–but still.

    I think the right thing to do is to compare the price-tags (and pictures) between the byootiful bridge, and the no-frills bridge–and then decide as a community if the elegant design is worth the additional money. Certainly, a no-frills attitude can result in ugly eyesores like the Marquam Bridge–but given the choice between an ugly transit bridge and no transit bridge, ugly would serve the community better.

  2. Scotty, those are important points, and all the costs should be on the table in the interest of transparency, at the very least.

    However, it is important to note that the design which was just (apparently) axed was in fact the “compromise” design based on costs.

    There were other leading contenders based on design appearance, such as the “wave” (also an early compromise, as I recall).

    Much ink on dead trees was recently devoted to touting how this hybrid design could give us a nice appearance, relatively low profile, and reasonable costs.

  3. Forgive the harping, but it really is a big mistake to think of the bus route cutbacks just in terms of declining payroll taxes.

    Yes they are highly significant and may well account for the biggest part of the deficit. The point is that if all we had to cut was just enough to make up for lost taxes, we’d only have to eliminate the very worst performing runs. It’s the management decisions involving everything from fuel futures contracts to WES that are forcing us to eliminate runs with costs per boarding ride in the neighborhood of four to five dollars.

    We are losing about $100,000 per week on WES alone. The 74’s nine runs serves an average of 20 riders during each of its 8.5 daily service hours. Assuming that each rider contributes approximately $.80 to TriMet’s receipts, then the agency may save only about $77 for each hour cut. On the 86, however, TriMet saves almost $90 for each hour eliminated. The difference may not look like much, but it shows that each additional service cut beyond the most obvious saves less and less money.

    Bottom line – if all we had to deal with is the current recession, the cuts would be few and sensible.

  4. If the difference between the beautiful design and the bland one isn’t that great, maybe the City of Portland can step up to cover the cost gap. After all, the Portland Streetcar will be using the bridge almost as much as MAX, and the bridge will also be an important link in the City’s pedestrian and bike networks.

    Speaking as a Portland taxpayer, I have no trouble with the City putting a bit of my tax dollars into giving us a landmark bridge for the Portland Streetcar to cross.

  5. Chris Smith with the ball.
    He’s eying the hoop.
    Chris takes aim,
    Maybe while Fred is in Australia he can take a look at the Opera House and get a lesson in what imaginative and inspiring design can do for a place.

  6. We are losing about $100,000 per week on WES alone

    Obvious move: eliminate the WES.


  7. I’ll reiterate the suggestion I made months ago: if Tri-Met is having trouble paying for this bridge, maybe they should open it to private cars on a toll-only basis. Set the tolls high to keep traffic volume low, and Tri-Met could not only build a much better bridge, but free up money to use elsewhere on the project.

    Even at peak times, there would be a MAX crossing every six minutes, a streetcar every ten minutes or so, and a bus maybe once a minute. That means there is a LOT of unused capacity to sell to private motorists while still keeping the bridge clear enough for smooth transit operations.

  8. Righty on C , Senior Fred should look at the
    gorgeous Opera House , and see that great design lasts for ever! A few bucks today is going to mean nothing in twenty years , however if TRIMET cheaps out , we will lament it always. Can’t we just add length to the re-payments ?

  9. Obvious move: eliminate the WES.

    Sorry, but that horse is already out of the barn. I’m sure Portland & Western wouldn’t want their contract terminated and I have been told, on a WES preview trip in fact, that the FTA considers it a “black mark” if an agency can’t operate a project it gives money for.

  10. If only WES was a little more useful, rather than just peak-commute service. I’ve thought about using it to get to Fry’s, but it’s just too much of a pain with the limited hours.

    If I miss the last train, am I supposed to pay for a cab from Wilsonville to Tualatin to catch a bus back?

  11. pay for a cab from Wilsonville to Tualatin

    No. SMART provides all-day bus service between there (and from directly behind Fry’s) and it even uses I-5 and runs on Saturdays.

  12. Dave – TriMet’s 96 bus leaves Wilsonville as late as 8:28, if that helps.

    Jason & Jim – To save “only” $5,000,000 a year? Imagine what TriMet would be like if it stopped feeding at the federal trough. I think were stuck with the consequences of this thing for a very long time.

  13. Jason McHuff Says:
    Obvious move: eliminate the WES.
    Sorry, but that horse is already out of the barn. . . . I have been told, on a WES preview trip in fact, that the FTA considers it a “black mark” if an agency can’t operate a project it gives money for.
    JK: That (black mark) would be a good thing. It may be the only way to get Trimet to quit wasting money on Goldschmit’s toy trains.


  14. Re: black mark

    The FTA wanted to pass on WES, but our 3rd district congressman disagreed. This then became a Blumenauer boondoggle and a wonderful example of the potential for real harm from earmarks. The FTA might just like to have a real world example of what happens when its recommendations are ignored.

    If anything, let’s hope that the FTA gets a little more respect and clout. I’m very concerned that the end run around the FTA to get DEIS funding for the Lake Oswego project coupled with Mr. Blumenauer’s putting in an earmark for full project funding even before the DEIS is completed will give us something that has even more problems than we know of.

    Another thing I don’t quite understand is why the streetcar option has been getting so much support from the “bicycle community” [including the congressman] when, according to the project Alternatives Analysis, the streetcar would increase the cost of a pedestrian/cyclist path from about $7 million to about $50 million. Funding for the path is not included in either the earmark or Metro/TriMet’s project cost estimates.

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