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Cue the water cannons! Sellwood Bridge breaks ground Friday

sellwoodbridge1
The long nightmare will be over soon.
(Photo: Cindie Olson)

Spirits must be high at Multnomah County’s transportation offices this week. Not only are they finally breaking ground on the Sellwood Bridge project, they also announced Tuesday that they received $17.7 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER program for the final piece of funding needed to replace the bridge.

To celebrate, there’s a big event planned for Friday morning at 10:00 am at Sellwood Riverfront Park. In addition to a slew of regional electeds like Portland Mayor Sams Adams, County Chair Jeff Kogen, County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, and others, the U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg will also be there.

Work is set to begin on the $268 million project this month with in-water construction on the detour bridge (which will have similar bike access as the current bridge) that will be built in order to allow crews to work unfettered on the main bridge (more on the detour here). Work on the new bridge is slated to begin in July 2012 and by the end of 2015, we’ll all be rolling and walking over a much-improved Sellwood span.

In case you haven’t followed this project, you’ll be happy to know that the new bridge will have much better bike access than the current one (which, doesn’t really have bike access at all). The TIGER grant award (which essentially fills the hole left because Clackamas County voters rejected paying their share of the project) means that bicycling improvements are no longer under threat of being budgeted out.

Here’s what the latest designs call for…

At its narrowest point, the new Sellwood Bridge will have a 64-foot wide cross-section with 37 feet dedicated to bicycling and walking (two 12 1/2 foot shared paths and two 6 1/2 foot bike lanes) and 24 feet for cars and trucks (two 12 foot lanes)… (The cross section widens and includes more space for cars and trucks as it approaches the western interchange.)

The 12 1/2 foot wide shared path will be similar (but a bit wider) to the Hawthorne Bridge. The county is expected to use the same pavement markings to help separate bikers and walkers. The bike lane itself will be colored green its entire length…

Other bike highlights include new ramps alongside OR 43 on the west side of the bridge that will connect to existing paths (dark green is bike paths)…

And on the east end of the new bridge, the project will come with a “Bicyclist/pedestrian-activated crossing signal” at SE 6th and Tacoma…

How the bridge interfaces with the dense residential neighborhood on the east side of the river has been a key design consideration. As part of the project’s “2 Percent For Art” budget (the same program that TriMet considered for the sonic bike path idea on their new light rail bridge), the neighborhood is working with the City of Portland and the Regional Arts and Culture Council to develop a “gateway feature”…

The idea behind the gateway is to make it clear to people driving eastbound on the bridge that they are coming into a neighborhood and that they are no longer on a highway. In the words of County spokesman Mike Pullen, the gateway should help people remember that they should “drive appropriately”.

“They see it as not just a landmark,” says Pullen, “but also as a potential safety feature.”

Another exciting aspect of the design if you’re biking or walking across are the four belvederes planned (two on each side). The belvederes will bulb out from the path and offer plenty of room to stop pedaling and take in the view (or take a phone call). There will also be a seating area with a bench…

In times like these, moving forward on a $286 million transportation project that looks like it will vastly improve bicycling is indeed something to celebrate. I don’t blame Multnomah County for including a full “water cannon salute from the Portland fireboat Campbell” to cap off the celebration. See you on Friday!

— Learn more about the project at SellwoodBridge.org.

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