IN THE SCHEME of recent chaos on the Broadway Bridge—the painters' scaffolds and off-limit lanes—a weeklong closure in mid-August came off as no big deal.
The deck near the bridge's streetcar tracks needed repairs, Multnomah County announced early that month. Take another route.
Not everyone listened. On the first day of the closure, photos shot around the internet of a Honda whose drunken operator had decided to try sneaking across the Broadway via the bike and pedestrian path. He'd have made it, if not for that scaffolding.
The larger need for the closure was lost in the noise, but it's just as interesting. It turns out the Broadway almost turned into the Morrison.
As I've written about too much in these pages, a brand-new deck on the Morrison Bridge began failing spectacularly as soon as it was installed in 2012. Screws popped loose, panels shifted and cracked, lawyers got involved, and now the county's working on an expensive replacement.
What no one said outright when the Broadway closed in August is that the same thing had begun to happen on Portland's most florid span.
"The county had gone out and noticed some screws had loosened or popped out," says Kyle Chisek, a project manager with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). "We needed to make sure everything was secure so we wouldn't have a problem like the county did on the Morrison."
This is more than a coincidence.
When the city installed new streetcar tracks on the bridge in 2010, it surrounded them with the same stuff Multnomah County would soon slap on the Morrison: a strong and semi-experimental plastic known as fiber-reinforced polymer. And it went with the same supplier, a North Carolina-based firm called ZellComp.
Not much of a surprise, then, that it got some of the same results.
Multnomah County inspectors sent up the alarm early this year, when a routine inspection turned up some of the same symptoms the Morrison showed early on.
"If we had let everything go, it could have gone there," Chisek says.
Now, it looks like it won't. The city called in Stacy and Witbeck, its contractor on the streetcar project, and had workers fasten the plastic deck to the Broadway extra tight.
So far it's working, according to city and county officials I spoke with.
"It was a good team effort," PBOT Streetcar and Transit Manager Kathryn Levine said. "The county learned a lot from the Morrison Bridge."
Peace of mind isn't free, though. Most of the repair work was covered by warranty, but not all. The reason I even bring this up is that city council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance Wednesday, December 2, that will pay out an extra $31,192 in city funds to cover the work.
That's nothing compared with the millions the county will wind up wasting on the Morrison—something PBOT crows about in filings before the council. And it means, maybe, that long-term disaster has been avoided.