FOR $330 MILLION, the Sellwood Bridge is not getting any more lanes. Instead, it will be getting a terribly needed rebuild to keep it from collapsing into the Willamette.
The Sellwood Bridge Community Advisory Committee chose its preferred look for the new bridge this week, going with a middle-of-the-road design humbly titled "Deck Tied-Arch." The arching steel span with pillars reminiscent of the St. Johns Bridge isn't the ultra-modern icon that lead architect Ricardo Rabines is known for, but it polled well in a citywide survey and hits the budget mark.
The final call on the bridge design will be made in mid-October, weighing aesthetic desires among things like cost and engineering feasibility.
Thirty thousand cars cross the Sellwood Bridge daily, making it the busiest two-lane bridge in the state. Built on the cheap over 80 years ago, the bridge is in such bad shape that on the federal scale ranking infrastructure from one to 100, it scores an alarming two. Cracks in the cement discovered under the bridge have kept TriMet buses off the span since 2004.
No matter what the new bridge's aesthetics, Project Manager Mike Pullen says the rebuild won't help relieve car traffic at all. In fact, congestion is expected to get worse. That's because the point of the rebuild is to keep the bridge functional while also making it more accessible for buses, bikes, and pedestrians.
"In the future, more people will be going over the bridge every day, but they won't be going in cars," says Pullen.
But cars, specifically cars from Multnomah County, will be paying for much of the new bridge. In addition to state, federal, and city funds, a $19 vehicle registration fee to bankroll the bridge kicks in this week for Multnomah County drivers. The project is also waiting for Clackamas County to pass its own vehicle fee, but for only $5.
The improvements will double the bridge's width, but as laid out in a plan agreed upon last year, there will only be two car lanes. That will prevent a bottleneck along Tacoma Avenue, the Sellwood neighborhood's main street.
Instead of making room for more cars, the extra space on the bridge will be used for a shoulder, bike lanes, and a tripling in the width of the sidewalk. The improvements are expected to boost the weekday average of bicyclists and walkers from about 500 today to 9,350 in 2035. While angry drivers sounded off last week about carrying the burden of a project that benefits bikes and pedestrians, it's worth noting that a 2009 study from the Inavero Institute found 89 percent of cyclists also own cars.
Lewis and Clark student Marissa Seiler, who attended Monday's meeting, said she likes the "happy medium" of the deck tied-arch but would welcome any change. She describes her daily bike commute across the bridge to school with one word: