The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Adams’ concerns force County to back away from Sellwood Bridge redesign proposal

Posted by on July 16th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Adams did not like what the County had to offer.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Facing fierce opposition from the public — and stern questioning from Portland Mayor Sam Adams — Multnomah County decided to not move forward on their cost-cutting proposal for the Sellwood Bridge project. The proposal would have had significant impacts to bicycling on the bridge and it has only been public for about one week (versus six years of process to reach consensus on the existing design).

Adams was clearly displeased with many aspects of the proposal throughout a meeting of the Project Stakeholder Committee which took place at Multnomah County headquarters today. At the meeting, the County was asking Adams and the PSC (which includes state legislators and reps from TriMet, ODOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and more) to agree to the plan ahead of a vote by the County Commission scheduled for this Thursday.

“I don’t understand why you proposed such a radical change at the last minute, and now we’re changing it back. What’s that all about?”— Mayor Adams

Multnomah County project manager Ian Cannon brought members of the PSC up to speed on the project. Cannon explained that cost estimates for the project have gone up due to a variety of reasons, and as a result, they were looking to “value-engineer” the project. It became clear right away that the brunt of the cost-cutting was being put on the backs of bicycling and walking access. The biggest ticket item on the chopping block was a $2 million 700 foot structure on the west end that would carry biking and walking traffic from the south side of the bridge down to existing off-highway paths along the Willamette River. Without that bridge path in the mix, the County figured there would be so little demand on the bridge’s south side that they could shift most of the biking and walking access to the north side (the new, “asymmetrical” cross section would save additional $300,000).

In his presentation, Cannon said the County sought these value-engineering measures with an eye toward getting, “A very similar outcome in a more cost-effective way.” Put another way, the County said they wanted to “substitute or eliminate specific aspects of the project without adversely affecting the function or safe user experience.”

The Project Stakeholder Committee.

But judging from opposition to the idea from biking and walking advocacy groups and from neighborhood activists, the County failed to meet their own standard.

Adams spoke up loud and clear for those groups today. In an unrelenting fashion, he asked Cannon many questions and it became clear early in the meeting that the County has failed to fully flesh out their proposal.

At one point, TriMet representative on the PSC Dave Unsworth asked Cannon: “If you’re heading north on Highway 43 on a bicycle, how do you get through this intersection safely?” “That’s a good question,” Cannon replied, “I don’t have a great answer for you right now. We’ll have to consider that as we move forward.”

On the north side of the western end of the bridge, the County proposes a long switchback ramp for bicycle traffic to access the riverside path. Adams wanted to know if there was an accompanying stairway in the plans, similar to the stair/ramp combo on the Eastbank Esplanade near the Steel Bridge. “No. Currently there are no stairs,” replied Cannon.

Adams said he’s heard from groups like the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance about a lack of clarity around the plans. Adams also grilled Cannon on the details of the project’s budget, wanting to know why the County was so far off on their estimate and why they didn’t have more money in contingency plans to cover it.

Central to Adams’ questions were how the County’s estimates could be off by as much as $70 million. As Adams peppered Cannon with a series of questions about the budget, he grew frustrated: “This causes me great concern… You’re asking us to do this on a quick timeline,” he said. “This is a big [budget] swing and there are some details that are pretty important to our constituencies out there… You’re asking us to approve this today and the board is supposed to vote this Thursday?”

Cannon said that, yes, the County wants to move forward quickly with the proposed changes so that the overall project timeline could be maintained. But you could tell from Adams’ displeasure from early in the meeting, that he was not comfortable with the proposal. Adams pointed out that, even with the south sidewalk removed, the County still had belvederes on the south side in the plans. “Why keep the south belvederes on the south side if there’s no sidewalk?” he asked.

Ian Cannon (L) and Mayor Adams.

When asked point blank by a PSC member why the County was now pushing the asymmetrical design, Cannon acknowledged it would save only $300,000. Upon hearing that an exasperated Adams and fellow PSC member (and Metro Council Chair) Carlotta Collette both gasped, “Is that all!?”

The County’s new design and the project in general raised a lot of several questions from PSC members. After the PSC heard a report about the proposal from members of the project’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee and then heard public comments, it became clear the County’s proposal — especially the rushed timeline — would not have their support.

When it came time to vote, PSC Chair and County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury saw the writing on the wall. She put a motion on the table to go back to the symmetrical design (and by association, the multi-use path bridge) and move other pieces of the cost-cutting proposal forward. Adams was first to comment when she opened debate on the motion.

After saying he felt Kafoury’s motion was the best way to proceed, he said to her, “I don’t understand why you proposed such a radical change at the last minute, and now we’re changing it back. What’s that all about?”

Adams added, “I guess I’m just, respectfully, suffering from whiplash here.”

In addition to the timeline, the PSC meeting raised new concerns for Adams. He’s especially concerned about the budget issues. At $84.5 million, the Sellwood Bridge is the most expensive transportation project he has been a part of in his eight-year career. He’s now requested a meeting with the project contractor to get the answers to his questions.

Adams told the County that whatever they do from here on out, they need to come up with the cost savings by looking “within the project.” “Don’t do it by adding more money onto our [the City of Portland] ledger… I’m already having to cut maintenance, I don’t want to cut more.”

In the end, the PSC voted to recommend the original, symmetrical cross-section and its $2 million biking/walking path, while accepting the other cost-cutting measures put forward and to “continue conversations” to refine the design. From here, it’s not clear what action the County Commission might take on Thursday, although it’s unlikely they’d ignore the strong concerns expressed by the PSC and by the public today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Bike-Max-Bike July 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    And Sam rewards my vote once again!

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  • Alex Reed July 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Yay Sam Adams!

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  • KRhea July 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Sounds like the “Son of Sam” was packin’ some serious heat at that meeting. Good for him. I hope he has a few more of “these” in him before he exits office as I’m not sure we’ll have another person in his chair with as much passion for cycling for a long time.

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  • bjorn July 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Nice work Sam, if they are running short of funds they need to look to Clackamas county. I basically only use this bridge on my bike and I will be damned if I am I going to pay a surcharge on my car and then have them cut the bike/ped facilities to the bone.

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    • q`Tzal July 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      No, no.
      They are philosophically opposed to taxes and fees but see no hypocrisy in using government built and maintained infrastructure without contributing anything.
      I propose that people that don’t believe in taxes have to carry around a special ID card so when ever they use ANY government service they have to pay UP FRONT and in full.

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      • Case July 17, 2012 at 8:53 am

        Live in Mult Co, free ride. Live in Clack Co, toll bridge.

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  • Chris I July 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Perhaps they can look at that ridiculously over-designed auto interchange on the west side if they are interested in value engineering?

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    • 9watts July 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      If the line of questioning and the framing at the BTA blog ($2M cut vs. $70M! cost increases)is a fair assessment of the situation ($70M? really?) then I can’t but feel this whack at bike accommodations was done in bad faith, and lends support to the suspicion some of us harbor that people who ride bikes in this town/county are separate but very much not equal.

      I’m impressed with how this turned out and the manner in which Adams conducted the investigation, but not impressed with the ‘other side.’

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  • Trevor July 16, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    “while accepting the other cost-cutting measures”
    Does this mean the bike community may still lose the green lanes and the walking community may lose the surface differentiated sidepaths?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm


      I think the green colored lanes could still be in jeopardy. The original cost-cutting proposal said they were axed; but today Cannon said (somewhat reluctantly in my opinion) that he has put them in the plans. I think it’s something the CAC and the public will have to watch closely.

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  • Michael July 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Great job mayor Adams

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  • michael downes July 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Way to go Sam! Fingers crossed our next mayor has half his cojones.

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  • q`Tzal July 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    It’s amazing the chutzpah that an elected official gets when they say they aren’t running for office anymore.

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  • Rol July 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I approve.

    You do realize of course that this is $3 million within a total budget of $85 million. Or 3.5%. Are they trying to tell me they can afford $82 million but not $85 million? Seems so pointless that it starts to seem like the only reason for it is just to be downright mean-spirited on purpose. Especially with this sleazy sneaking it in at the last minute.

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  • dk July 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I don’t understand why they’re building (moving) the temporary bridge. I haven’t looked at the budget, but that has to be expensive. I live in the Sellwood/Moreland neighborhoods and not having the bridge would be a big impact on me and it still seems like a waste. If we were all mile and honey, then sure, why not. With the economy the way it is, tell people to find a different bridge for a couple of years.

    Or, they could just take out the ability to get on the bridge from the south-west by car, as well as the ability to go south on the west side. It seems like that would save a fair chunch of change and help ensure that the people that payed for the bridge got the most benefit.

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    • sabes July 16, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      I read that the temporary bridge helps make the project faster and cheaper.

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      • Chris I July 17, 2012 at 6:22 am

        Compared to what? The cheapest option would be to demolish the current bridge and build one in its place, but this would close the crossing for 6-12 months.

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    • TK Conrad July 16, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      I live in Sellwood as well and would be willing to put up with no temporary bridge (which is bound to cost more than the $2 million in savings they were looking to recoup). However, I was at a public forum years ago where local business owners in Sellwood/Westmoreland insisted on a temporary bridge because losing the westside connection would decimate their clientele.

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      • Spiffy July 17, 2012 at 8:02 am

        I’m skeptical of their assumption on loss of business… the west side has minimal residential density… most of their business comes from their neighborhood not from across the bridge… it’s just their car-centric thinking…

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        • Joe Adamski July 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm

          Several years back, ODOT closed the St Johns Bridge for several weeks and then had reduced access ( daylight hours only) for 18 months. It had a huge economic impact on local businesses, some folded, and many are still in recovery mode. Like the Sellwood, there are no crossings immediately close for alternatives. I believe the business owners in Sellwood are right to advocate a temporary bridge.

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          • Joe Adamski July 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm

            oops, replied to the wrong thread. This was supposed to be a reply to TK Conrads comment.

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  • Jack July 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    “Without that bridge path in the mix, the County figured there would be so little demand on the bridge’s south side that they could shift most of the biking and walking access to the north side”

    If you remove access, obviously traffic volumes will shrink. But the whole point of building a bridge is to provide access from one side of river to the other. I bet if they instead removed access between hwy 43 and the bridge, demand for those expensive motor vehicle lanes would go way down. But I doubt that was considered.

    Glad to hear that reason prevailed for once…at least for the time being.

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  • matt picio July 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Kudos to Mayor Adams and to the stakeholder committee for asking tough questions and not backing off. Also glad to hear Metro councilor Carlotta Collette also questioning the savings. Collette has been a supporter of bike/ped improvements since her days on the Milwaukie City Council, and it’s good to see her continuing to push for the improvements active transportation desperately needs on big facilities.

    And I would point out that the original, consensus-driven design appears to be moving forward without delays. Good to see that “process” does not always equal “later”.

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    • Rob Anderson July 16, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Thanks Matt for being on top of this, these events today were a welcome relief. Glad to see things moving back forward again.

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      • matt picio July 17, 2012 at 12:45 am

        I had nothing to do with the most recent stuff, other than adding one voice into many – the BTA and WPC were big hitters on this one, and Sam Adams knocked it out of the park. I was happy to be part of the original input a few years back, but again, I was a voice among many – other Citizen’s Advisory Committee members (Joe, Andy, Liz, Greg, Roger, Susan – I’m probably forgetting 1 or 2 others) were as vocal or more vocal with their observations and suggestions. Ditto for those on the stakeholder group who have been involved since the beginning. They deserve the credit on this one, and they all did an awesome job.

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  • GlowBoy July 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Awesome job Sam!

    And BTW, I would really like us to keep the green colored lanes. Not only to keep motorists off the bike lanes, but because it will function as a “traffic calming” feature.

    By coloring the bike lanes different from the motor vehicle lanes, you create the perception of a narrower roadway, and that will help keep drivers’ speeds down. An important effect, because people otherwise have a tendency to go fast on bridges.

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    • matt picio July 17, 2012 at 12:48 am

      Amen. $81,000 is pocket change – the effect on safety is well worth the expense. If there were a death on the future bridge which *might* have been prevented had the green lanes been there, $81k *might* pay the legal fees of arguing the county’s case.

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    • Spiffy July 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

      our bridges already have a speed limit that exceeds the connecting roads around them… in other words, we’ve been trained to speed on bridges…

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  • Charley July 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    This is why I voted for Adams. Hopefully this can get worked out.

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  • Tourbiker July 17, 2012 at 3:01 am

    what’s next? fill in the wetlands use it for parking?

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  • Philip Krain July 17, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Sam did an amazing job today. He nailed it at every angle, especially identifying the budget. A couple items for clarity:

    This was initially a $300 million budget, thus the MUP savings were less than 1%. Supposedly, it’s as high as a $370 million budget, until the “Value Engineering” kicks in. These meetings have discussed specific numbers related to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but no specific numbers on other savings, such as the switch to concrete from steel (in places) and the perched piers. My expectation is that Sam is going to negotiate with the contractors and will obtain the MUP’s $2 million cost through that process, as opposed to change the entire bridge design.

    Sam didn’t seem to like the idea of green stripes down the bike lanes. He raised concerns about their maintenance and they can be slippery. I suppose it’s possible to put down some sharretts or some other signage.

    I’d love to see a grade change from cars, to bikes up 3.5″+ with a rolling curve and back down to original grade for pedestrians. The raised bike lane/cycle track would have to be widened, in order to comfortably hold all bike riders. This would result in a cost savings, using ~9′ of concrete for bikes as opposed to 12′ for pedestrians. The bike lanes would be transformed into a one way cycle track. That’s a savings of 6′ of concrete, the entire distance of the bridge.

    If done appropriately, bikes would have a better view over the railing and pedestrians would have their own space. My large concern now is the narrowing of the bridge, in order to replace money the west side interchange has sucked out of the project!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 17, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Sam didn’t seem to like the idea of green stripes down the bike lanes. He raised concerns about their maintenance and they can be slippery. I suppose it’s possible to put down some sharretts or some other signage.

      Hi Philip,

      Thanks for your testimony at the meeting!

      As for the green lanes… I don’t think you’ve got Sam’s opinion just right. His concern was about consistency and how, if the County lays down green lanes, he would be concerned that it might send the wrong signal to users that they could also expect a bike box and/or other, PBOT-engineered things to go along with them. Yes, mentioned maintenance/slippage concerns; but I don’t think he feels those alone are reason to avoid the treatment here. We’ll see how this element plays out and I’ll be ready to do some follow up if necessary. Thanks again and keep us posted.

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      • Laura July 17, 2012 at 9:51 am

        also…many of the CAC members are hoping for colored concrete rather than green thermoplastic…no slip and longer lifespan

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      • HAL9000 July 17, 2012 at 11:19 am

        I wonder if they can dye the concrete green instead of using the thermoplastic? Would last forever and not affect the surface grippiness.

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  • David Parsons July 17, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I don’t understand why they’re building (moving) the temporary bridge.

    Because it keeps the crossing open while the replacement bridge is being built. It’s *important*, you see, that Clackamas County commuters be able to keep crossing at Sellwood instead of having to drive down to the I205 bridge or up to the Ross Island bridge.

    Be thankful the old span is being moved instead of demolished, because the previous proposal was to build a temporary bridge at a cost of about $20 million over the the cost of shifting the existing span.

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  • karl d July 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Am I the only one who likes having a Jersey Wall between the bikes and cars???

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    • are July 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      i hate having the jersey barrier between the “bike lane” and the MUP

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  • Terry D July 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Excellent work Sam defending what was properly vetted. Every major project seems to get the bike “amenities” cut, then need to be added later at major expense. The south side bikeway would have required a major retrofit later on if built the new way. We need to remain vigilant to keep these big projects (Like the new Max construction) on target in keeping the promised bike infrastructure or else we end up with inferior connections requiring major expenses later on…like the Gibb’s street bridge. The elevator is a major disaster….I have been on it twice now, during the night and day. The “wheel well” for bike tires on the stairwell does NOT work, the elevator may be fine for normal bikes, but I have a fried that tours with a cargo-carrying tandem that would never fit….so when the Red Electric Trail westside connection to Fanno Creek is built (in pieces but it is coming), and the West side riverfront path is built the “$12 million Premier bike connection” between the two will be the bottleneck from hell…..and will need a million dollar ramp to fix….which they luckily at least left room for.

    NO MORE expensive inferior infrastructure labelled as “Bike friendly” please…..

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    • peejay July 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

      “…expensive inferior infrastructure labelled as ‘Bike friendly’… ”
      [cough cough] Hollywood Transit Center overpass…..

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    • Alexis July 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      You should contact people involved in the bridge project with your concerns. When I was there on opening day, they mentioned that they made an effort to accommodate trailers, cargo bikes, etc. in the elevator, but it’s probably true that a tandem plus trailer wouldn’t fit — they do have to draw a line somewhere.

      The bike ramp issue has to do with an ADA requirement that the railing has to be directly over the edge of the stair, and one of the project staff mentioned that they would consider requesting an exception in future projects to avoid that problem and make the ramps more usable. There was definitely a lot of thought put into that bridge — doesn’t negate the problem of it being an expensive retrofit, but it’s not a bad project all things considered.

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      • Terry D July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm

        LOL….actually I just finished that e-mail. 🙂

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  • Andrew K July 17, 2012 at 10:17 am

    wow, nice job Sam and thank you for the reporting Bike Portland!

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  • jack July 17, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I’m glad Sam Adams was able to do this, hoping for something positive to happen out of this.

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  • El Biciclero July 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Wait, is this a $268M, $300M, or $84M project they are trying to fiddle with? Too many conflicting numbers keep popping up in posts and comments.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 17, 2012 at 11:01 am

      $268 was original estimate… Now County says it has ballooned to $299M (which I rounded up to $300M). The $84M is the City of Portland’s share of the cost.

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      • 9watts July 17, 2012 at 11:07 am

        And then there is the $70M figure that the BTA mentioned yesterday as representing cost increases. Hm.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 17, 2012 at 11:22 am

          I’m not exactly clear on where Adams is getting this “$70 million budget swing” figure. I couldn’t follow his questioning yesterday. I think it’s the difference between initial project costs and the newly adjusted estimates … and with a pot of contingency funds thrown in.

          Bottom line is that Adams was saying there’s a lot of money floating around the project and he’d like to see tighter fiscal controls before agreeing to cut back important pieces of the project.

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          • Carl (BTA) July 18, 2012 at 10:55 am

            Last night’s article by Steve Beaven explained that number well. “Adams estimated the total of cuts and new spending at $70 million, with $30 million from the city and the county, $10 million from the contingency fund and $30 million in proposed cuts.”

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            • Philip Krain July 19, 2012 at 7:17 am

              Thanks Carl and Jonathan for clearing my posts regarding budget numbers and green lanes. I talked with mike pullen last night about these issues. If i heard correctly…JM, as you stated, originally 268, then ballooned to 330, due to west side rock cut. They decreased the rock cut considerably, which brought the number back down towards 300. The smaller rock and contaminated soil is giving them expensive grief, which throws their numbers off They are looking at keeping the number 299 and not a penny more. There’s still 30 % of the project cost in negotiations. As they’re moving forward with the project, How the MUP ended up on the chopping block as optional is amazing. Having said that, all indications say budget is going over. The county can say they’ve tried to find cost savings and were rejected.
              The green bike lanes would be stained concrete, which would be great.
              Overall, I believe the County could and should have done itself a large favor by putting out very clear information related to these discussions. One should not need to investigate and/or study this material to understand the project status. I believe they have done themselves a disservice by confusing so many people, especially the people at “The Table”. Cheers

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  • kww July 17, 2012 at 11:45 am

    You want an instant budget relief on this project? Toll booths for all those clowns from Clackamas who will use this bridge. It is revolting that Mult. Co. wants to dilute the bicycle amenities that will benefit Mult. Co. residents like myself who live in Sellwood.

    I also drive and use the bridge myself. I would gladly pay a toll for either use.

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    • Chad Berkley July 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Agree! Tolls on expensive capital projects like this put the cost burden where it belongs….on users. I’m glad Sam stood up for the symmetrical design, I just wish someone would stand up for toll booths on these large projects.

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      • kww July 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

        Yes, I believe the existing CRC bridge did have tolls for an initial period of time, before becoming toll free.

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    • CaptainKarma July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      No tolls for carbohydrate fueled moms with ducklings!

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  • Joe July 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    cool news! thanks Sam Adams and BikePortland

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  • kww July 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Does anyone know if there will be public testimony at the meeting on the 19th?

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  • dwainedibbly July 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Finally, a last minute change that got shot down. (I’m thinking of Williams, Multnomah, and the Portland Loo on the South Park Blocks,which was supposed to be on the edge of the park until it suddenly got moved right into the middle of the block.)

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  • Rob July 18, 2012 at 6:54 am

    How much would it save to close the bridge completely during construction?

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  • Zaphod July 18, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Thank you Sam!!!

    This says it all
    “I don’t have a great answer for you right now. We’ll have to consider that as we move forward.”

    Really happy Sam stepped up and lead.

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    • peejay July 19, 2012 at 8:46 am

      I’d be happier if people forgot this crazy idea that “lead” is the past tense of “lead”. Please, it’s “led” and look it up if you don’t believe me.

      [end spelling rant]

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  • jim July 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I think we all want to know why the price suddenly increased 30 million dollars. Were they being dis honest about the facts before? Where does the money trail lead to? Who is going to be rich from this project?Are all govt agencies incompetent? Maybe we should just hire the Chinese to build a bridge for us cheaper and better?

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  • paul July 20, 2012 at 10:53 am

    It appears that the initial costs were based on quotes, not fixed price contracts. It is possible that they could not sign contingency contracts because funding was not in place.

    Not excusing bad estimated, and 30 or even 70 million is not pocket change especially in this economy, however even the higher figure is around 30% of the original estimate. 30 million will be only 10% off on costs. Compare to the 300% underestimate for the Tram, or compare to your typical home renovation, and it’s not that unexpected. The problem is that there cost overages should have been factored into the initial estimates.

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