This Space for Rent

I don’t think this is a good idea

The Sellwood bridge is, um, in need of repair. In particular, the western approach to the bridge is falling apart (to the point where you can't drive trucks or city busses on it.) The disrepair of the bridge has been well-known for quite some time now, but nobody is actually doing anything about it. A few years ago, a while after we moved into the neighborhood, we went to a few SMILE meetings where various representatives of ODOT tried to convince the neighborhood association that they just had to put in a new four-lane bridge to replace the existing two-lane bridge. Since the neighborhood plan was to convert Tacoma avenue into a 2 lane street, this didn't go over very well, particularly after the ODOT people said that they were thinking about a couple of choices, and Sellwood was only one of them -- the other choice? A bridge running from downtown Milwaukie, just south of the Waverly Golf Course, across the river to, um, Dunthorpe. For some reason, nobody at the SMILE meetings thought this was a serious alternative to a Sellwood bridge, and thus kept shooting at the 4-lane Sellwood bridge idea until it went down and stayed down.

4-5 years passed, and the bridge fell into worse repair, with not one bit of interest from either ODOT (still licking their wounded pride after being told to shove their 4-lane bridge plan), Multnomah County, or, well, anyone. And eventually the west approach to the bridge started to disintegrate, at which point the chickens started to run around in anticipation of the guillotine.

It turns out that Multnomah County had attempted to get money to replace the Sellwood bridge (why not just demolish the western approach and build a new one? Would that make too much sense for modern civil engineering™?) but the trucking lobby was blocking it because they wanted a 4-lane bridge to connect Tacoma (2 lane) to Macadam (4-lane, but it's a really twisted 4 lane road.) So here it sits. It wasn't a problem before they stopped running the #40 bus, but now it's a problem because I can't easily take the #40 from work to New Seasons anymore, but would have to get off the bus somewhere on Macadam, walk across the busiest 2-lane bridge in Oregon, then walk home after shopping.

But, anyway, people are now batting around plans to replace it.

Metro counseller Rod Monroe proposed one plan to the SMILE board. His plan is a 4-lane bridge, but a 4-lane bridge with a trolley line across it, connecting the (not-yet-built-and-goes-through-fucking-Dunthorpe) trolley line across the river along Tacoma to 17th Ave, then north to Division street where it would connect to the (not-yet-built) east-side extension of the 23rd/Pearl/PSU/Riverplace trolley line. The details are missing from the little meeting announcement in the Bee, but even if it's going to be built by the city of Portland and won't be as hideously expensive as the lines planned by members of the military-industrial complex (if they can be torn away from the motherlode of taxpayer money that is Iraq), there's still the teeny matter of it being ~6 miles from Riverplace to the Sellwood bridge, a mile across to 17th, and another 6 miles up to Division street, which translates to $325 million (@ $25 million/mile) that would have to be found somewhere in Oregon.

I guess Multnomah County could secede from Oregon and then pay for it with part of the money we'd save by not having to transfer state income taxes to the "anti-tax" welfare queens in the rest of the state (a good idea anyway; If the anti-tax welfare queens were stupid enough to float an initiative to kill off the state income tax, I'd vote for it just so I could watch the rest of the state realize that, um, no, the flow of money between Metro and the rest of the state is not in the direction they think) but aside from that I can't really think of any way that money will appear. (And, anyway, that's in the range that the backers of the incredibly stupid major-league baseball proposals are asking for; if the city could get that sort of money for something useful, we've have to call in airstrikes to shut the MLB twits up.)

I suspect that's not the plan. I suspect the plan is to build the "trolley bridge" with just enough money to build a 4-lane bridge with "room for" streetcar tracks (and thus federal transportation subsidies), but, shucks, we can't finish the trolley line because all of a sudden we don't have money for it.

And wouldn't that be a surprise. Given my druthers, I'd rather wait for a bridge replacement plan that doesn't smell like week-old fish.


To be fair, the highway-barreling-through-Dunthorpe thing was one of three proposals for a new bridge. Another was from a more populated part of Milwaukie and a third was way up the river, I forget exactly where. And I'm not sure the speakers were from ODOT -- I'm actually thinking maybe they were from Metro (before David Bragdon was heading it).

One thing that still amazes me about Sellwood Bridge traffic is that as you get on the bridge from the west side, cars coming from the north have the right of way, yet almost universally allow the cars from the south to join in via a voluntary alternate merge. I really doubt you'd see that courtesy in the East Coast locales where I learned to drive.

Julie Tue Sep 7 01:50:13 2004

To follow up, I've heard that Rod Monroe is actually willing to propose a two-lane bridge that's got trolley tracks, and that he's hoping that the federal government would put some money into the kitty for it.

The only problem with getting the federal government involved is then the military-industrial complex will get wind of another opportunity to make millions off the deal, and then spending $25 million/mile would begin to look like some sort of dim memory of a more frugal age. But at least a two-lane bridge with streetcar tracks doesn't smell like a giveaway to the 4-lanes-or-bust crowd.

David Parsons Tue Sep 7 22:36:51 2004

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