Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Smiles all around as Sellwood Bridge project breaks ground

Posted by on December 16th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury (L) smiles as she poses with a check from USDOT Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Polly Trottenberg at the ground breaking event in Sellwood Riverfront Park this morning.

Elected officials, community leaders, and a bunch of very happy schoolkids amassed at Sellwood Riverfront Park this morning to mark the official beginning of the Sellwood Bridge Project. It was a day when the beaming smiles on Multnomah County officials’ faces were almost, almost, brighter than the gorgeous sunshine.

In an era marked by bleak budgets and political stalemates, starting a $268 million transportation project that has been years in the making and included a myriad of agencies and jurisdictions, is indeed something to celebrate.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury looked like a kid on Christmas morning as she addressed the large crowd. Underscoring the urgent need to replace the bridge, she shared a story about how her kids have recently starting singing, “London Bridges falling down.” “Except,” remarked Kafoury, “they weren’t saying ‘London’.”

Commissioner Kafoury was about as happy as you’ll ever see an elected official. You’d be happy too if you were breaking ground on a $268 million bridge project.

Kafoury, like many others who spoke this morning, claimed that the new Sellwood Bridge isn’t just another project. “This bridge represents our community’s values, our community’s ethics,” she said. Or, in the words of ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell, the project is a, “Symbol of seeing the connection between investing in our transportation system and what it can do for our communities.”

How does a simple bridge become a symbol for something greater?

One way, according to Kafoury’s colleague, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, is that the new bridge will, “Expand capacity for bikes, for pedestrians, for buses, and even for streetcars as well… We’re proud that this project will significantly reduce our carbon footprint.”

County Chair Cogen is proud to put his face on this bridge.

Cogen also said the project is a symbol of another set of values our region holds near and dear: collaboration and partnership between government agencies and with the public.

L to R: State Representative Carolyn Tomei, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, State Senator Diane Rosenbaum, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, Multnomah Coounty Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, USDOT Asst Sec Polly Trottenberg

Cogen said,

“We live in a time of stalemate and often stagnation, where critics say it’s impossible to get things done. But this project is a clear example that when we work together in partnership, as a county, as a city as a state, and as a federal government, we can make things happen, we can big important things happen. We can make that happen [pointing to the bridge]! And today we’re kicking it off!”

The decrepit Sellwood Bridge was a fitting backdrop to the event.

Partnership was a theme many of today’s speakers touched on. ODOT’s Jason Tell called it, “Extreme collaboration.”

Polly Trottenberg, the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, who was at the event to hand over a $17.7 million check to Multnomah County, spoke about the intense competition for limited TIGER grant funds:

“The TIGER competition was fierce. USDOT received 848 applications requesting over $14 billion and we had only $511 million to award. We looked all over the country for the best projects, and I have to say, the application for the Sellwood Bridge project knocked it out of the park!”

Multnomah County definitely deserves props for this project. I’ve found the process easy to follow and they put together the best major project website I’ve ever interacted with. Go ahead, have a piece of cake, you deserve it!

While Multnomah County owned the limelight today (and rightfully so), it was kids from nearby elementary schools who stole the show. Two girls from Llewellyn Elementary, who shared a rehearsed presentation with the crowd, summed up the feelings of many people in attendance when they proclaimed, “The new bridge is going to be waaay cooler than the old one.”

You know your project is a winner when it gets kids this excited.
(Photo by Len Rubin)

Speaking of this being a “cool” bridge, check out this cross-section drawing that was shown today…

The new bridge is slated to open in 2015, the same year as TriMet’s new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge. Portland Mayor Sam Adams pointed out during his remarks that this coincidence, “Fortifies our moniker and motto of ‘Bridge City’.”

On that note, I leave you with one final photo. As promised, water cannons!

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  • Allan December 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    All well and good. At some point we’re going to run out of money to build new bridges, but today is a good day for bikeable communities. This will help expand the river recreation corridor and increase pressure for improving the willamette greenway trail

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    • Joe in Portland December 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      not a new bridge per se, but a replacement bridge. Agreed that much new construction are unfunded mandates for maintaining in perpetuity. But the Sellwood has had much of the transportation matrix evolve around it for nearly a century. Replacement makes sense. New projects must meet a higher standard; relevance to the existing infrastructure.
      No more ‘Build it and they will come”, but rather ,”OK, we built it,now we need to make it better”.

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    • Marid December 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      Why would we ‘run out of money’? Are people going to stop working? Will the GDP of the US drop to 0? What kind of nonsense is that?

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  • chad December 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I still think the design is lacking something….A tollbooth.

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    • Lynn December 16, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      …and just where would you put the toll booths. If you had attended any of the meetings during the past 5 years, you would know that lack of space at either terminus was a HUGE issue.

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  • Paul Johnson December 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    How much did the party, photo op and novelty check cost?

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    • SR December 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      As a Llewellyn teacher there with 1 of the “keynote” kid speakers, it looked “on the cheap.” The cake was probably the only “costly” thing there and my kids had none of it. 🙁

      I prefer these events rather than everything happening in the “dark.”

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  • Julia December 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Well, I for one can’t wait for the finished product! Great news for Portland.

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  • Rol December 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Building new bridges is what happens in healthy, prosperous places.

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    • Paul Johnson December 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Yeah, for a minute I thought I was in Tulsa again.

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      • q`Tzal December 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

        You aren’t imprisoned here.
        It is a free country, you can leave if you want.

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        • Paul Johnson December 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

          Gotta have some savings to do that; you’re welcome to contribute.

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    • Marid December 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Or rather, building new bridges leads to healthy, prosperous places.

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  • Andrew Seger December 16, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Wait are there gonna be exposed streetcar tracks on the bridge already? I really hope not. The west end of the broadway bridge already has way too many cars crossing into the bike lanes. Hate to see the shiny new Sellwood bridge bike lanes ruined by tracks that aren’t even used!

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    • Kristen December 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      I don’t think the Sellwood Bridge is getting light rail. You might be thinking of the new Portland-to-Milwaukie bridge that is already under construction.

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      • Kristen December 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

        … Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. I didn’t read the article. 😛

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  • davemess December 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    What is the other elevated lane next to the pedestrian lane?

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  • Roger Averbeck December 16, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    The cross section is (on each side): 12 ft wide multi use path; 6.5 ft bike lane; 12 ft travel lane.

    Bikes can use the bike lane or the path…

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    • Machu Picchu December 18, 2011 at 6:47 am

      I don’t know if the drawing is interpretive, but the graphic on the outer three-ish feet looks like single-use to me. Like peds get a lane, bikes get a lane, then they share one in between. Is that right?

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  • susan rosenthal December 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    We will soon have two safer crossings on the southern end of the city Today i rode my bike across the Ross Island Bridge on the sidewalk Even on the sidewalk it was a hair raisng experience. I can’t wait for safer routes.

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  • dwainedibbly December 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    “This bridge represents our community’s values, our community’s ethics,” she said. This quote makes me think of the Clackass County voters who voted against chipping in to help pay for it. (With apologies to those who voted “for”.)

    I thought that the streetcar tracks were removed as part of the cost cutting that was necessary. Or maybe I’m thinking of something track-related at each end.

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  • Andycigarettes December 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    OMIGAWD! I (maybe)won’t die trying to cross the river! Thanks officials!

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  • alanBell December 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    construction cost now 64 million less than the original price after Clackamas County pulls out. Whats that say about lining someones pockets multnomah county crooks

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    • Andrew Seger December 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      Erm actually it’s cause Staff Jennings went out of business and the county didn’t have to build an offramp just for them. Plus the 16m saved by putting in streetcar tracks & ramp later.

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  • michael downes December 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I have to ride over from SE Brooklyn to the South Waterfront every morning taking the little man to school. It’s either the grim passage over the Ross Island (if we are running late) which is sketchy especially when the wind blows or a long detour down to the Hawthorne and back up to the South Waterfront. The Springwater Corridor to Sellwood would be a nice change especially in the Spring & fall if not for that creaky old bridge and it’s attenuated sidewalk (I’m not sure why anybody would build a bridge with only a single three foot wide sidewalk?). My family for one cannot wait for these bridges (MPLR & Sellwood) to be completed. It’s going to improve our journey immeasurably. Throw in the Gibb Street bridge over the I5 and things are shaping up nicely. Not bad going for a recession.

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  • Joseph E December 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I find it odd that we are getting a 12 foot wide “MUP” on each side, and 6 foot wide one-way bike lanes on each side. Why not build an 9 foot wide sidewalk and a 9 foot wide bike path on each side? They could even be at the same level, as a 18 foot wide MUP, on each side. The current plan seems duplicative and a little confusing.

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    • Paul Johnson December 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      9 feet would be exceptionally odd. A bicycle lane is six feet wide if it faces oncoming traffic of any kind or adjacent to a general purpose lane, four feet if protected by another bicycle lane. 10 feet would give you a narrow curbside bike lane and a standard width streetside bike lane. 12 would make both lanes six and six.

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  • Andrew K December 19, 2011 at 7:56 am

    I am so happy to see construction begin on this. Though it is not a perfect design, it is a 200% improvement over what is there now. It’s nice to see people pushing through the muck of challenging times and getting things done. Kudos to those who stuck with it and made the project happen.

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  • Mike Lynch December 20, 2011 at 8:38 am

    This is great news, and congratulations to Multnomah County.

    @Joseph E, good point, but I’ve seen extra-wide bike lanes become a second lane for cars before. I’m not sure what the effect would be in Portland, though.

    Also, it appears in the cross-section that there *are* tracks on it. Is this to demonstrate that it is capable, if necessary; or has something changed (it has been a while since I’ve been following Sellwood Bridge)?


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    • Mike Lynch December 20, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Scratch that – there’s no way anyone would allow rail when the lanes are only 1×1. Must just be the image. Sorry about that.

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      • Paul Johnson December 20, 2011 at 8:49 am

        Wanna know how I know you’ve never been on Lovejoy?

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        • Mike Lynch December 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm

          Ah! Apologies. Lovejoy allows cars to pass if a streetcar suddenly becomes inoperable. Maybe I should rephrase that it would not be allowed on a street cross-section that has only 1 lane in each direction (ie – no additional lane for passing vehicles without disrupting the flow of traffic). Whew!~ Anyway

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    • Paul Johnson December 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

      I’ve seen people try to shove Hummers down the standard-width 6 foot bike lanes, particularly in Washington County, here.

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  • q`Tzal December 20, 2011 at 10:26 am

    On one side we have the extremes of the New Urbanism movement that would abandon suburbs to the rural wilds concentrating all city funding on an ultra compact “Blade Runner -esq” urban core. A scenario which logically produces a situation like occurred in the Tennessee city of South Fulton “Fire dept. watches home burn because family didn’t pay fee” because it costs exponentially more to provide services outside a set geographic region without collecting an extra fee that family didn’t pay.

    On the other we have the extreme of the statistical average Tea Partiers'(*) demands for a return to the old fashioned way of doing things before cities. Because everything was better in the past. (/sarcasm)

    In between we have normal, average, level headed people in towns like Sellwood who have decided that there is a middle ground between these two definitions of progress. Compromise, not rhetoric, is the bedrock of civilization and it is the foundation of this bridge.

    (*) It is easy apply “Tea Party” to a group of angry conservative leaning citizens; it seems harder to define discreet political beliefs amongst individuals who want to be individualists as part of group.

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