THE PISSING MATCH over who should pay what for the desperately needed Sellwood Bridge rebuild finally exhausted itself last week—some three weeks after Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen fired off an acidic letter accusing Mayor Sam Adams of holding back the city's share in exchange for a series of late-in-the-game demands.
In a rare summit of regional leaders, held at city hall, Portland agreed to maintain its $100 million contribution to the $330 million bridge, but also to not seek an opt-out clause or to immediately take control of the county's other Willamette River bridges. In return, the county will let the city study the project's price tag, with half of any savings funneled to TriMet's deficit-plagued rail line to Milwaukie.
Call it a happy ending—especially because a prolonged impasse could have jeopardized federal and state cash. Just don't call it a peaceable one.
Sources close to each side are still quietly sniffing that it was the other team, not theirs, that bent to pressure from Salem and Washington, DC. The sting of leaked memos and letters lingers. And sources privately question whether mayoral politics are in play; Cogen is an oft-rumored rival for Adams in 2012.
Meanwhile, county officials are irked by the way Adams has very publicly styled himself as the deal's savior—taking credit on his website for gathering the parties and talking up his role in the light-rail bailout.
Adams has said all along he wants what's best for Portland—and it's true that money for the light rail line might not have been found without his insistence. But county officials complained that his increasing, shifting demands have made it hard for them to trust him.
"Jeff is all about partnership," says Cogen's spokesman, David Austin, noting his boss' muted comments after the deal. As for Adams? "He's all about grandstanding."
Sources say if anyone genuinely deserves credit in this mess, it's US Representative Earl Blumenauer. Blumenauer made Adams give up the notion, for now, of transferring the bridges. He also persuaded Cogen to accept Adams' call for a cost analysis. He found a way to make the light-rail rescue work.
Without him, the fight over the seismically endangered bridge might still be boiling.
"We didn't take sides," says Julia Pomeroy, Blumenauer's chief of staff, who attended the summit. "We just wanted to help move it forward."