AN ARGUMENT regarding the design of Portland's newest bridge over the Willamette River could end up costing TriMet and its partners an extra $28 million.

The original budget for the bridge from the South Waterfront to Milwaukie would cost TriMet and its partners at the city $134 million, with the federal government kicking in an extra $850 million. But in April, design groups brought Guatemalan architect Miguel Rosales to Portland to present plans for an innovative "hybrid" bridge that melds two traditional designs that would up the budget for TriMet and its partners.

The local partners on the project (including the City of Portland, TriMet, and state lottery funds) are $101 million short on the $566 million they need for the bridge, so they're looking to close the budget gap wherever they can. "And this is in the most rosy of scenarios," says TriMet rep Mary Fetsch—the feds still might pull out another $100 million of their promised funds.

On May 22, TriMet announced that it was no longer pursuing Rosales' plans, and that it had awarded further design for the bridge to California architect Donald MacDonald. MacDonald has said he is in favor of a more traditional, cheaper, V-shaped cable-stay bridge. But architecture lobbyists like Brian Libby from are continuing to push for Rosales' more expensive hybrid bridge, with a distinctive swoop in the middle.

"This is a bridge at the center of Portland and the opportunity to do something great is slipping away," says Libby, who thinks the bolder design is worth the extra expense. "They're making a major decision by looking at two jpegs."

Meanwhile the Willamette River Bridge Advisory Committee split on the design choice at a meeting last Thursday, May 28. "These renderings are beautiful, but the only people who would have the opportunity to see that view are the news room helicopters," said Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, who supported the cheaper option.

A TriMet steering committee including Mayor Sam Adams and TriMet boss Fred Hansen will make the final decision on which bridge to choose in late June, according to Fetsch.