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“With a heavy heart” Adams explains Sauvie decision

Posted by on May 7th, 2008 at 8:32 am

Gas Price Press Conference-1.jpg

Adams addressed the media
in his office this morning.
(Photos © J. Maus)

In a cramped meeting room in his office a few minutes ago, Commissioner Adams explained how rising gas prices have impacted PDOT’s transportation budget and that the Sauvie Island Bridge span reuse project is the first casualty.

Standing next to PDOT Director Sue Keil, Adams said rising fuel prices have given PDOT a “double hit” and that the situation has forced them to “rethink how we spend our money.”

As expected, Adams also addressed his decision to halt plans to install the Sauvie Island Bridge span in Northwest Portland. He expressed some of the same sentiments he shared with me last night.

Gas Price Press Conference-2.jpg

It was a cozy press conference.

Adams re-iterated that PDOT numbers show the Burnside/Everett/Glisan corridor is very unsafe and he said he still disagrees with Mayor Potter’s assertions (made in an Oregonian editorial) to the contrary.

“I disagree with Mayor Potter’s editorial that [this corridor] is safe and I disagree with him when he says it [the bridge] is not needed.”

According to Adams, the latest estimates from ODOT show that Portland has a new $2 million decrease in Gas Tax revenue, in addition to a $700,000 hole PDOT had already estimated back in October. That $2.7 million gap means PDOT will now undergo a comprehensive evaluation of their spending.

Gas Price Press Conference-3.jpg

Director of PDOT, Sue Keil

PDOT Director Sue Keil said part of that evaluation will include cost-saving measures across the bureau. She mentioned PDOT will review vacant position to determine essential hires, restrict discretionary spending, look for productivity improvements, and “examine opportunities to reduce fuel consumption” among their vehicle fleet.

Keil said this current funding crisis is not new and that PDOT has already been cutting costs in recent years. “This is not about simply cutting fat… this is serious stuff,” she said.

A member of the media asked Adams how disappointed he was in the Sauvie span decision and he replied, “I do it with a heavy heart…because of the human tragedy [that occurs in that corridor]…”

On that note, Adams said he’s going to try and keep the $500,000 in general transportation funds from the Sauvie span project and use it to make improvements to the Burnside/Couch Corridor.

When asked if there was any way the Sauvie span project could still happen, Adams said, “No. It’s dead and buried. It will be scrapped.”

–More coverage of the press conference on the Portland Mercury blog.

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  • shooter May 7, 2008 at 9:39 am

    What irony, rising fuel costs ultimately kill a project that would help reduce our reliance on fuel.

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  • Bryan May 7, 2008 at 10:10 am

    I smell a bike tax in the works.

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 10:11 am

    How disappointing, and yes, ironic.

    Now that the bridge won\’t be built, we can all watch to see how hard Potter fights for sidewalks in East Portland. Note to East Portlanders: Don\’t hold your breath. You were just pawns in Potter\’s political game.

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  • Austin Ramsland May 7, 2008 at 10:21 am

    As disappointed as I am that we won\’t be seeing a new Flanders bridge for Christmas, I am even more impressed with Sam after this announcement.

    There is a lot of empty talk about leadership these days – but to make such a difficult decision (especially one that he was so invested in) during the final days of a campaign, while potentially alienating a core constituency, takes a ton of strength and courage. I am not sure I could have made the same call if I was in his shoes.

    As sad as I am about the bridge, I am terribly impressed with Sam.

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  • Mmann May 7, 2008 at 10:22 am

    \”Dead and Buried.\” I\’m bummed by how the whole thing shook out, from the moment Potter set out to kill it. Another example of the problem of \”sin\” taxes like the cigarette tax and our state\’s reliance on lottery funds – and yes, I do view gas tax as a \”sin\” tax, since it\’s based on taxing a kind of addiction. I can\’t help wondering – and I really do have this question – would Sam have \”pulled the plug\” if he wasn\’t running for mayor? I\’m pretty sure Potter wouldn\’t have raised the roadblocks and of course Sho wouldn\’t have been in the picture. Seems like it\’s easier to do the vision thing when you\’re not running in what\’s looking like a tight race. I still believe it was a good idea and the whole city would have benefitted, for decades to come. Lost opportunity.

    and Bryan (#2), I propose a tax on bike tubes and tires (equivilent to the percentage tax on gas), not because it would raise any significant revenue, but simply to get those who say cyclist don\’t pay their \”fair share\” to STFU.

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  • Mike_khad1 May 7, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I\’m dissapointed. But at the same time, judging by the posts I read on BikePortland, it seemed like there was lukewarm support for the bridge relocation amongst cyclists.

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  • Pete May 7, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Could this have been approached with a local option levy and/or bond measure?

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 10:32 am

    If we were paying a tax, those idiots would still say that cyclists don\’t pay their fair share, because the tax wouldn\’t raise anything close to what\’s needed to pay for road maintenance.

    Of course, cyclists already do pay taxes for road construction and maintenance.

    And of course, cyclists don\’t damage roads.

    Nor do motorists come close to paying for road maintenance with their taxes– and they DO damage roads.

    Reality still won\’t stop the idiot chorus from saying that cyclists don\’t pay their fair share.

    I\’m not saying there shouldn\’t be some sort of tax– it might tax some of the wind out of their argument– but we should understand that reality and facts have nothing to do with the argument against us.

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Correction: \”TAKE some of the wind out of their arguments\”

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Pete @ 7– With 20/20 hindsight, that\’s what should have been done.

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  • Brad May 7, 2008 at 10:45 am

    You can probably take Adams and PDOT at face value on this. Perhaps the media challenges to this project caused a more in-depth internal review and the numbers just didn\’t shake out.

    Perhaps there were discussions in the council or Adams himself felt that scrapping this project would make it easier to garner support for Safe, Sound, and Green Streets as that project has more citywide impact?

    It could also mean that Sho Dozono is polling too close for comfort with ballots showing up in mailboxes this week. This bridge project on the Westside and aimed at a small but vocal interest might have eroded Eastside support for Adams\’ campaign. Potter\’s comments may have been having a large effect on voter opinion.

    If Adams placed his political ambitions on this project and lost to Dozono, Portland may have also lost out on other bike improvements from Safe & Sound. It\’s far better to lose this bridge but gain a truly bike friendly mayor for at least four years. He can do far more for us with with position, time, and an improved economy in the future.

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  • bahueh May 7, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Huh? what \”human tragedy\” is occuring in this very small corridor?

    is there something we all missed?
    are cyclists and pedestrians dying by the score?

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  • Paul May 7, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I bet Terry Parker is throwing a celebration party this minute.

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  • Resident May 7, 2008 at 11:30 am

    This opens the door for something other than a nasty old cookie cutter green truss bridge to be put in that location. Sell it off for scrap and use the proceeds to design something worth looking at as you cross it on a daily basis.

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  • Donna May 7, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Resident, construction costs increase in price every year. It\’s entirely possible that by the time the city is ready to put in a bridge at Flanders, we still won\’t have enough to pay for the bridge after the truss is sold.

    I think that\’s one of the reasons downtown Portland is completely torn up and building construction is happening like crazy. Both public and private concerns realize that with each year a project is delayed, the costs will increase at totally unpredictable rates. We\’re living in strange and uncertain times and I fear it will only get more uncertain.

    I am sad about this, as I believe it\’s possible we may now never get this bridge because of said uncertainty. That said, I also understand why Sam made the decision he did. Resource allocation is never simple.

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 11:43 am

    esident, a new bridge will be constrained by federal regulations. I suspect that when we get a bridge there, it will be a cookie cutter bridge, built to federal standards.

    Of course, we can also think outside the box– close the Glisan and Everett bridges to autos, put in appropriate traffic controls at the bridge ends– including red light cameras– and divert auto traffic to Burnside. It won\’t cost nearly as much as a new span at Flanders, and we can use the savings to pour sidewalks in East Portland.

    That should keep the critics happy.

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  • Resident May 7, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Good to see some outside of the box thinking! Not every issue can be solved with $. As for now, the easiest solution is for people to change their route. I gave up on the sidewalks and road design improvements out in outer east county years ago, might be time to do the same on the bridge. Cant always get what you want…as the song goes.

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  • no one in particular May 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Austin @4: please, this works out absolutely perfectly for him. He still gets his big props from the bike/green crowd, but now all the fiscal conservatives get to think he\’s great, too. He just played both sides of the fence and won. A difficult decision? Maybe, who knows. Great political maneuvering? Absolutely.

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  • Matt Picio May 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Donna (#15) – I don\’t think we will get a span there, and I think that the bike community should prepare to see a lot more projects drop off as we start sliding down the backside of the oil production curve.

    On the upside, paint is cheap, and as more people transition from cars back to bikes over the next 5 years, we can start earmarking more road surface for cyclists – and eventually re-integrating back into shared roadway once enough cyclists are on the road for \”Joe Average\” (or \”Jane Average\”) to feel comfortable biking among motorized traffic.

    Get ready for a rough ride, folks – Peak Oil affects everything, and although it\’s on the City Council\’s radar, state and federal officials are virtually ignorant of the situation, and no one is properly prepared to relocalize our economies, production, and agriculture.

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  • kg May 7, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    So if this killed the little old Sauvie Island bridge project may I assume that the 12 lane CRC is dead as well? One more thing I am still in disbelief that people keep talking about our current fuel situation like it is a temporary condition. This is it folks gas will never be cheaper in your lifetime. We need to put the brakes on all new auto-centric infrastructure development and move towards more efficient paradigms. Dick Cheneys\’ American way of life may be withering away but mine is just beginning to bloom. So let go of the past and look to the future.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) May 7, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    \”On the upside, paint is cheap, and as more people transition from cars back to bikes over the next 5 years, we can start earmarking more road surface for cyclists\”

    I agree with Matt. Re-allocation of road space away from motor vehicle traffic to human-powered traffic is the future.

    I already think we should start doing this. One of my ideas is a \”multi-use lane\” that would be marked with something like sharrows (only more aggressive) and maybe bollards and signage. The lanes would be posted on certain hours/days as being for non-motor vehicle traffic.

    Think of the St. Johns Bridge or MLK. On the weekends, traffic volume goes waaay down… and there\’s absolutely no reason that people shouldn\’t be afforded more safety and space at those times. … maybe I should write a story about this.

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  • Jim Labbe May 7, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Some of the same arguments against the Flanders Bridge Crossing were made of the
    $30 Million East Bank Esplanade in 2001. The Oregonian was among those
    that later retracted their \”snide\” and \”snarky\” position and admitted they
    were wrong. They admitted to misjudging the Esplanade which- in their
    words- turned out to be a \”runaway success\” (see attached editorial from

    The City will have the chance to look back on this decision and assess the
    judgment of opponents and proponents and the City Council in pushing and ultimately abandoning this
    time limited opportunity. It may well turn out that the more cost effective
    opportunity was missed, but it will certainly be the case that there will
    be more people relying on human power and fewer on single occupant
    vehicles in Portland. Like the East Bank Esplanade, I suspect this
    will make a difference in how history judges this debate that was so lost to the political season.

    Jim Labbe

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  • John Reinhold May 7, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Isn\’t the $500k Adams wants to save for bike/ped improvements the only money that was coming from PDOT?

    Weren\’t all the other sources from non-PDOT funding?

    So how can they say that it is from rising PDOT costs and shrinking PDOT budgets that they have to cancel this project – but claim they still have the money that PDOT would have contributed for use in the corridor?

    Did I miss something? If that is the case than this is purely political.


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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) May 7, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    \”…how can they say that it is from rising PDOT costs and shrinking PDOT budgets that they have to cancel this project…\”

    John, from what I understand in listening to Adams at the press conference is that the crux of the decision to pull the plug came from the part of the project that is going out to a competitive bid.

    $3.9 million from the total project estimate of $5.5 million was at \”guaranteed maximum price\” that Kuney could not go over (or they\’d pay themselves). The remaining part of the project would have gone to the lowest bidder.

    What Adams said is that given the current price of fuel, he did not think that those bids would come back at $1.6 million or less — which is the difference between his stated estimate of $5.5 and the $3.9 guaranteed max to Kuney.

    does that make it more clear?

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  • ss May 7, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    this is most certainly Adams playing politics. although i\’ve always thought Adams to be a strong bike advocate, i have heard recently that his ultimate project that he is really fighting for is the Burnside/Couch couplet, and that he was going to throw out the card of the Flanders bridge if Burnside Couch was to be threatened, or if his win for Mayor was to be threatened.

    In the same way that Adams didn\’t stand up for the Safe, Sound and Green streets transportation funding plan well enough earlier this year, we should all question whether Sam is truly as great of an advocate as our constituency likes to believe. After all, Burnside Couch couplet is all about the automobile and streetcar, and isn\’t about improving facilities for cyclists. the Flanders bridge was a concession, and now a failed concession at that

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  • Spencer May 7, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I almost shed a tear today.

    Sam made a hard, practicle decision today. This is another step towards becoming the mayor and leader he is destined to be. It is easy to sit in the peanut gallery and judge, but he is in the mix making decisions. Sure he might have taken a little too long to make it, but onward we go.

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  • ralph May 7, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    The Burnside/Couch Couplet isn\’t doing so well in the cost area either.

    Initial estimates were $12M.
    Bumped to $21M in 2006.
    Up to $23M in 2007.
    And just announced another $4M taking it to $27M.

    The city\’s computer upgrade project just received a further $18.5M from council, taking the cost from an original $31M to $49.5M.

    What an amazing lack of fiscal control.

    I don\’t expect much more when they start the cash grab for Safe, Sound and Green.

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  • travis May 7, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    what a shame. that bridge would\’ve been great.

    i wonder how much it would cost to get either safe pedestrian access on the freemont bridge or a pontoon bridge somewhere near there connecting northwest portland and north portland.

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  • the other steph May 7, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Jim (#22),
    couldn\’t agree more. what a shame that this opportunity has slipped by. hopeful for a day in the near future when we have a mayor that understands the importance of investing in flavors of infrastructure that promise far-reaching positive social impact and financial benefits.

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  • Dan May 7, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Hmm, I\’ve never thought that it was so bad to take a lane on Burnside, Couch, Everett or Glisan to cross the 405. I don\’t really see losing this project as a big deal.

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  • rixtir May 7, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Dan, this project was about giving cyclists who don\’t feel comfortable taking a lane a safe crossing over the 405. That is the main i pediment to getting more people on bikes in Portland– those who would like to ride, but don\’t, are concerned about their safety. Creating safe facilities for them will get more people on bikes, and it\’s been demonstrated that more people on bikes makes the road safer for all cyclists– even those who don\’t feel any discomfort at taking the lane.

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  • wait wait don't tell me May 7, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Is it not possible to ride UNDER the 405?

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  • East Portlander May 7, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    OK, so now that this isn\’t going through, where are the sidewalks in East Portland Mayor Potter said could happen? Exactly how much sidewalk can be built for the measily price of that crucial bridge project?

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  • rixtir May 8, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Sure, it\’s possible to ride– or walk– under the 405. You just have to go 4 blocks out of your way to do it. Or use the existing bridges for human-powered transportation, and divert cars 4 blocks out of their way.

    Which makes more sense?

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  • Lenny Anderson May 8, 2008 at 10:23 am

    The lesson here is this…drive a wedge thru the bike community and you can kill a bike project. When you fight over crumbs, you lose even the crumbs.
    My guess is most of PDOT\’s projects are for keeping traffic moving…i.e. motor vehicle capacity of one sort or another; the Flanders Bridge was the exception.
    Portland, \”the City that Works\” to keep the motorist happy.

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  • Marc Rose May 9, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I don\’t know the ins and outs of the funding for the Flanders Bridge. But I have to admit that, as someone who lives and cycles a lot in the PGE Park/NW Portland area, I just didn\’t really get the bridge idea. I mean, a few of the intersections in the area are not the greatest — especially, for PEDESTRIANS, when you get to, what is it, about Couch and 15th, that is, the first crossing on Couch after you cross the 405 bridge into NW Portland. The whole corner is a mess.

    But for biking? I just don\’t see the big deal as long as you are willing to wait for a light to turn green for safety\’s sake. I can empathize with the angry people writing letters to the Portland Tribune this week asking, why does Sam Adams want to move an old bridge to please some cyclists while SE Portland property owners are paying high taxes while still not getting basic needs like sidewalks and paved roads?

    It smells like a white elephant project to me that is another example of the wealthy/trendy neighborhoods getting most of the funding while more outlying districts are neglected. What am I missing here? Given all this, in my personal opinion at least I hope that has not been aggressively pushing the bridge idea.

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  • Marc Rose May 9, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I now see Rixtir\’ comment about the bridge making things feel safer for cyclists who don\’t want to have to \’take a lane\’ to cross the highway. But doesn\’t Rixtir say something somewhere else about taking a small fraction of the money and just improving the design of a few of the crossing areas?

    I mean, $5 million or whatever it is to help people feel safer about a 150 ft. area just doesn\’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But perhaps I am also not empathazing enough with people who are nervous about cycling. But in general I do – I can TOTALLY understand why many people avoid the roads! But when I go from NW Portland to downtown on a bike, the main thing that concerns me about safety is that you can sort of fly downhill through the Pearl etc., but there are many lights, crossing, and sometimes a bit of potholes, so the combination of speed and chaotic traffic is dangerous. I certainly never thought of crossing 405 as anything more as a moment of unpleasant fume-breathing and meditation on our gas-guzzling society.

    OK I\’ll be quiet now 🙂 But keep in mind that, in the end, I\’m an experienced cyclist, and just never really got the Sauvie Bridge idea.

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  • rixtir May 9, 2008 at 10:35 am

    What I meant is that the Flanders crossing was meant to provide a safe crossing for cyclists who don\’t feel safe mixing it up with cars on the current crossings. Making infrastructure safer for THOSE cyclists gets more people on bikes, and more people on bikes makes cycling safer for ALL cyclists.

    Another way to approach creating a safe crossing would be to dedicate one or both of the current bridges at Glisan and Everett to cyclists and pedestrians. That would take infrastructure away from automobiles, and give it to pedestrians & cyclists, at less cost than building a new crossing at Flanders. I meant it more as a paradigm-shifting way of looking at the Flanders crossing, but it does make a lot of sense to re-examine our assumptions about infrastructure.

    Whether we build a new crossing for cyclists & pedestrians, or create infrastructure for them from exiting infrastructure, the goal is the same– to make crossing the 405 safer for those who don\’t feel safe mixing it up with traffic…and ultimately, to make cycling safer for all of us.

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  • wsbob May 9, 2008 at 11:47 am

    That\’s it Mark, you\’re an experienced cyclist, and the bridge isn\’t really necessary for cyclists that are experienced. Some of them can and would ride over cars if they had to.

    The bridge and the bike boulevard\’s are for ordinary commuter cyclists, or I should say, potential commuter cyclists. They haven\’t become cyclists yet because crossings like the Everett and Glisan car bridges make them prefer to drive their cars instead.

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