East and West, joined again?

OK, have you heard about the new bridge yet? Well here’s the scoop: A new bridge is being considered. Big deal, right? We’re Bridgetown, so it makes sense. But there’s a catch: It will carry pedestrians, the train, and perhaps the bus, but NO CARS. And what’s it for? Hooking up Pill Hill and OMSI.

This is the part where I put my warning that the cranky pants are ON.

Here’s the part I don’t understand:

The bridge would link downtown and OHSU, the city’s largest employer, with OMSI, one of its biggest tourist and educational attractions, and with Milwaukie to the south. Carefully sculpted, the span could become a symbol of the region’s aspirations as a national center for design and innovation.

So you want to connect the east side and the west side, but you want to do it south of the Ross Island Bridge? That seems like a good idea, it would be nice to-oh wait, we already DID that, and it’s called the Sellwood Bridge! Remember that one? Yeah, it’s the one that opened in 1925 (yes, that means it’s 82 years young) that was built using pieces of other old bridges. Oh yes. There are parts of the olden Sellwood Bridge that were olden WHEN IT OPENED. And you wonder why there are (I think) ninety-something Tri-Met trips a day that got diverted OFF the Sellwood Bridge? I don’t. And while we’re at it, here’s a tidbit you might be interested in: That bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis? It had a safety rating of fifty. Sellwood Bridge’s rating? TWO.

When I read this story, here’s what I am reading: OHSU got their tram and it wasn’t enough so now they want to walk to OMSI on their lunch hours too. Does Pill Hill have anything to do with OMSI? I mean, once Body Worlds leaves, I don’t know what purpose it would serve to hook the museum to the hospital. I guess I’m supposed to be happy they don’t want a tram extension, but it still doesn’t sit well with me. I can think of other ways to slap up a bridge:

* Build a double decker bridge, bottom for car/bus traffic and top for pedestrians and bikes.
* Build a new bridge next to the Sellwood for cars/buses and repair the Sellwood for bikes/peds.
* Build a bridge directly over the southern part of Ross Island, and put a nice park there Golden Gate style.

And I came up with those without trying very hard. It’s entirely possible I’m missing a key piece of this story somehow but I read the article twice and looked up a couple of other news sources which shed no additional light on the situation for me, so if you know something I don’t, please let me know. Otherwise this is the dumbest thing I’ve heard since last summer when they said Town Center was going to remain completely tore up for the entire holiday season. Is there a thinking person left in a decision making role in this place? </rant>

16 Comments so far

  1. Brian Brewer (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

    Working at OHSU I have heard some about this. Here is the neat part:

    This bridge would/could complete an academic/healthcare loop for the city. Linking OMSI, OHSU Hill, OHSU South waterfront, and PSU with a nice loop for streetcars and buses. This opens up the collaboration for these various academic entities within our city.

    Is it the right idea? I am not sure.


  2. Brian Brewer (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 1:54 pm

    And also, please don’t take for granted how advanced this city is. I come from the midwest, just seeing the fact that people can realistically take mass transit as a way of living is amazing to me.

    Can their be a perfect city? probably not. Will City officials always make EVERYONE happy? Never. So I dunno, whats the damage if this gets built? From what I hear most of it will be federally funded. I could be wrong.


  3. Reid Beels (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

    The O article seems to be having fun talking up the walking / biking / wheelcharin’ possibilities of this bridge but, in the long term, it’s all about the orange line. As hard as it is to think of _more_ MAX construction at this point, the new tracks they’re now building are set up to allow river crossing at both ends of downtown. The line would extend light rail service to neighborhoods in, the west side of SE. Not necessarily a justifier for the bridge, but something to look at.

    Here’s a map: http://trimet.org/images/projects/southcorridormap.gif


  4. Sadie (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

    Excuse me, but OMSI is an academic institution? Sure, it’s a good place for explaining science to the masses but don’t mistake it for an institution of higher learning or cutting edge research. Why does it need to be in this loop? OHSU and PSU are not that far apart. On a good day you could walk between the two schools. Also, there are frequent service buses that will move you between the two. And if you need to go to the south waterfront area there is always the streetcar.


  5. Brian Brewer (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    You are excused.


  6. Bob R. (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

    Discussion of this bridge is often done in shorthand for the immediate endpoints of the bridge (“OHSU to OMSI”) but if that’s how we examined bridges, few of them would be worth it.

    After all, how many people need a bridge to get from 2nd and Burnside to MLK and Burnside? There’s not much at either end, right?

    The point is that bridges provide a transportation link for corridors, not merely bridgehead destinations.

    The Caruthers crossing (or whatever it winds up being called) will provide transit access from inner SE Portland and Milwaukie to downtown, as well as connecting somehow with South Waterfront.

    Today, the central city has SIXTEEN (count ’em) exclusive autos-only lanes (no bikes, no peds on the Marquam and Fremont bridges) and no completely dedicated high-speed transit lanes. This new bridge will most likely add our first two-lane full speed transit-only river crossing.

    (There is one partial transit-only lane on the Steel bridge westbound, but as any MAX rider knows, trains have to crawl along on the old bridge. This new bridge is an opportunity, for the southeast approach at least, to have unimpeded transit across the river.)

    – Bob R.


  7. Bob R. (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

    Here’s my response to each of the brainstorming ideas:

    1. Build a double decker bridge, bottom for car/bus traffic and top for pedestrians and bikes.

    The height and slope of the bridge are going to be a big issue. Both sides of the water will have to start low, but get tall enough for barges to clear, and have a reasonable slope. Adding a second deck may complicate the structure too much.

    2. Build a new bridge next to the Sellwood for cars/buses and repair the Sellwood for bikes/peds.

    The problem here, and this has been a sticky point at many meetings, is that if you build a new Sellwood bridge in a slightly different location you A) wind up condemning a lot of occupied private property and B) have a very, very complicated interchange on the West Side with unstable geological conditions.

    Further, on the old bridge, the bridge decking itself is in very bad shape. The underlying structure may be able to be rehabbed, but you’re going to spend a lot on redecking just to keep concrete from crumbling and falling into the river. That’s a lot of money to spend for just bikes/peds, when it would likely be cheaper to just integrate bike/ped facilities into the new design.

    3. Build a bridge directly over the southern part of Ross Island, and put a nice park there Golden Gate style.

    Going that far south eliminates any access from inner SE areas like Powell and Division. You’d basically be crossing somewhere near Holgate, and the elevation differences would be a big issue as well. MAX and many bus routes would miss Powell/Division and the central eastside industrial area if they were diverted that far south.

    Also, it is planned that the Portland Streetcar loop project on the eastside will use this new bridge as well (if it is not built, then the loop might use the Hawthorne instead). The bridge location is being selected to maximize transit opportunities — too far north or south on either end and you wind up losing too many connections.

    – Bob R.


  8. george (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

    i think the bridge deserves to be an architectural showpiece, even if it means it will cost quite a bit more.

    we know from experience what building bridges on the cheap does over the long run. its much smarter to build one bridge to last 100 plus years. then have a bit liability down the road in 50 years.

    also the value that landmarks add to the city are hard to compute, but on the other hand, its hard to think of a valuable city WITHOUT landmarks.


  9. McAngryPants (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

    Ahem…did someone say my name?


  10. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 8:24 pm

    I’m not quite there yet, McAngrypants. My pants are just cranky right now. (:


  11. Smashing. (unregistered) on October 5th, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

    Wow. What an idea… but seriously how come such little projects that only impact a very small percentage of people and cost so very much always get the greenlight but projects like making the Sellwood Bridge two lanes each way (and fixing Tacoma Street by putting it back to two lanes each way) with bike lanes and improvements to I-5 always seem to require more research?
    There are so many other things to be doing with that money such as more roads, lanes and improvements to existing roads that are of much greater importance and impact for the huge majority of people in the area.


  12. Jonathan (unregistered) on October 6th, 2007 @ 9:25 am

    It’s all about Unification, you know, like the Vulcans and Romulans…

    This is my third day in a row referencing Star Trek. I’m on a roll.


  13. brian (unregistered) on October 7th, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

    Yeah. Well, before everyone wets their pants about this span, I would hope that the lawyers have been contacted and have reviewed their Maritime Laws. This span is to be of a height of 72ft in order to work for the land access. A tidbit. Remember those tall masted ships, namely the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, that visited during Rose Festival 2007 and staged cruises complete with mock cannon battles? Yeah, well, we took the kids out on our boat to follow along and the little pirates had a blast, esp when the cannon was shot at us! But I digress. The mast heights are 87ft and 75ft respectively. Not exactly an easy slog under a 72ft bridge. Who cares right. Yeah, well I do believe that the laws state that under no circumstances can river vessels be impeded whatsoever. Which is why a rich dude with a sailboat can have a bridge drawn up when you’re trying to drive across and your running a bit late. I do hope the Poprtland Design Commission has done their homework on this. I also wonder if the the Rose Festival Assoc. is happy to contemplate if the ships return will folks still shell out $40 a head to go around in circles under the Marquam? This year they sailed from the sea wall upriver to Willamette Park. Also, what happens when the river reaches or exceeds flood stage like a few years back and a few floating homes break free – will a standard tugboat be able to pass under this new folly to save the homes or ?


  14. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on October 8th, 2007 @ 12:08 am

    Bob R: Connecting Burnside makes sense. In fact I’m sure there’s a case to be made for all the bridges. My real concern is still that you can see daylight through the Sellwood bridge, and Tri-Met can’t even put bus routes on it, but we need a separate brand new bridge that doesn’t even carry cars. If I saw a lot of cyclists or pedestrians on other bridges near where they want to do it then I guess I could see where it might be useful. For now I think it’s dumb, and I really want someone to change my mind with info I haven’t seen yet.


  15. Daaaaave (unregistered) on October 8th, 2007 @ 7:22 am

    This bridge is first and foremost designed to get the MAX over the water down their new Milwaukie line. The Sellwood bridge is certainly not appropriate for that.

    Crying because a side benefit means it helps the largest employer in Portland manage their terrible traffic problem is just silly. Boohoo…I don’t know anything about the Tram but Wayne Garcia told me it cost a lot so I’m not happy…But hey, why do public works at all if you’re not going to personally benefit from it?

    As for the Sellwood, I’d be fine with just blowing it up. Hard for me to get too excited about a bridge that ties Macadam to Tacoma. Obviously quite a few people feel the same way since everyone whines about the state of the bridge but no one wants to pony up the cash to repair it. A more fun idea would be to run a bridge over Waverly to the north side of Dunthorpe. Connect to the west side of 224 and now you’ve got Milwaukie and Clackamas tied in and the feeder street is a hell of a lot better than two-lane Tacoma.


  16. Joseph (unregistered) on October 8th, 2007 @ 9:37 am

    Whether or not I agree with it, everybody seems to be missing the fact that every time there is a public meeting about what to do with the Sellwood bridge, Sellwood residents show up and demand that the bridge remains two lanes so they won’t see an increase in traffic through their neighborhood. I think it’s a bit like moving into a house near the airport and then getting upset when the airport wants to increase business (read: lure more air traffic). You knew the airport was there, you knew that air traffic wasn’t going to decrease, so what did you expect? Same story in Sellwood. The bridge has been there forever and nobody should have expected that a day would arrive when it would serve LESS traffic, but that’s what everybody that lives there is demanding – less traffic.

    But I digress. The point here truly is that the Steel Bridge is nearing capacity for the number of MAX trips that it can accommodate. To accomplish two established high-priority regional goals: 1) MAX to Milwaukie and 2) MAX to SoWa, you need a new bridge in the vicinity of SoWa. Or you run MAX through the CEID to get to Milwaukie and you wait for Barbur MAX to get MAX to SoWa. But if that’s what you wanted then you should have been involved with this process a little earlier in the game, say, ten years ago.

    And, as someone who is familiar with transportation project funding, I can assure you that this new bridge is not going to hold up funding for repairing the Sellwood.

    No matter what happens in Sellwood or in more northerly points, it doesn’t change the fact that Clackamas County needs it’s own automobile bridge north of Oregon City and south of the Portland city limit.



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