Sellwood Bridge Update- A year in the life of our wobbly neighbor

Some of the biggest news in Portland is happening, almost literally, right in our backyard.  The Sellwood Bridge was built in 1925 at a final cost of $541,000 ($6,678,393.75 in today’s dollars).  The long-overdue replacement is planned to cost $268.8 million and be completed in 2015.  We’ve been particularly concerned about the project because if you look at the map, the fence for the construction staging area will be right along the north border of our parking lot.  We believe knowledge is power, and the best way to minimize the effect on our clients is to keep you posted as the project progresses.  So, a couple years ago we added the Sellwood Bridge Update to our standard complement of recurring columns.  You’ll catch the latest here every month until the day the new bridge opens, but until then here’s a recap of what happened in 2011, and some special things that are already happening in January 2012…

The year started off bright with the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approving the design for the new bridge.  The funding package for the then-$290 million project was coming together with Clackamas county deciding to contribute a temporary vehicle registration fee to the project.  Things continued to look good in March as the lowest rated bridge in the country won an award for the design process of the replacement.

A continuing funding gap drove a continuing search for cost-cutting ideas, and April saw the introduction of the Shoo-fly concept to cut costs and ease construction.  Instead of building with the old bridge in place, the Shoo-fly would involve building temporary supports to the north of the bridge.  The old bridge would then be cut and moved over onto the new supports, where it would function as a temporary bridge during construction.  Here is a time-lapse video of the procedure being used on a bridge in Elkton, OR, and a narrated computer animation of how it would work on the Sellwood.

In May, a referendum forced Clackamas county’s funding decision to be reviewed by voters.  We strongly supported Measure 3-372, and even recorded a KPOJ spot for it.  Everyone went into the election secure in the knowledge that the voters of Clackamas county would vote in favor of this critical issue.

In June, we dealt with the aftermath of Clackamas county’s vote NOT to fund the project, leaving a $42 million shortfall.

July saw the first drilling rigs working on the project, testing the river bed and gathering the final data to start construction.  Not much happened in August, although we did tell you about a “Mystery Dock” that had appeared on the southwest beach of the bridge.  September was slow as well, as the design, budget, and timeline were finalized.

Things started to heat up a little in October and November. selected the Sellwood Bridge as a backdrop for a rally demanding public investment in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  (One of own Tom Dwyer employees was honored to speak at the event.)  Condos under the bridge were demolished, and officials continued trying to close the funding gap by applying for a federal TIGER grant.

But the snowball finally started rolling in December and January.  The final bridge design was selected, although final engineering still needs to be done.  The in-water work began for the Shoo-fly supports, and a proposed construction schedule was distributed, but the biggest splash was the Groundbreaking Ceremony at Riverfront park.  City, County, State, and Federal Officials were all in attendance as they announced that the Bridge had been awarded $17,700,000 from the TIGER grant they applied for in November!  Although there’s still a multi-million dollar shortfall, the County feels sure the remaining funding should be no problem to obtain.  And most reassuringly of all, in January, the big barges came in and the heavy construction started in earnest.

If you’d like the most up-to-date official information on this continuing adventure in civil engineering then the best place to go is the County’s homepage for the Sellwood Bridge project at  If you want the latest in hazy rumor and how the project affects your favorite neighborhood mechanic, then turn to Your Car Matters throughout 2012!

Bridge Update BONUS!

Here are two Sellwood Bridge stories from the Daily Journal of Commerce that we ran across in writing this article.  “7 Things You Don’t Know About The Sellwood Bridge” will give you great things to talk about as you drive over the bridge and try not to think about its imminent collapse, and “The Girl With The Sellwood Bridge Tattoo” will introduce you to Lindsey Bosse and her fresh ink.  See you in 2012!

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