Sellwood Bridge Update- More than a crumbling relic… a teachable moment!

The Sellwood Bridge itself isn’t winning any awards (yet), but the planning and design process are apparently breaking new ground.  In February 2011 the bridge won an award from the American Council of Engineering Companies for its planning phase, and in January 2012 the planning process was recognized again with an Exemplary Human Environment Initiative award from the Federal Highway Administration.

But we at the Your Car Matters news desk always dig deeper, so this month we’ll tell you about an aspect of the planning that has flown under the radar so far… a program that uses the bridge design and construction process to teach local schoolkids about the ideas of engineering.

We met Lois Cohen at the Sellwood Bridge groundbreaking in December.  Lois is the president of Lois D. Cohen and Associates, “…a communications firm specializing in innovative public involvement programs, school based outreach programs, and workshops on mentor training, generational differences, and marketing for small businesses.”  She created the School-Based Outreach Program for the Bridge, connecting local schools to the real-life issues created by the bridge.  We asked Lois to tell us a little about the project and how it works, and we’re privileged to bring you her response…

“The school outreach program is designed to serve several purposes for the County:

  • To build community awareness and goodwill for the County and the project by involving local school students in an enriching educational experience.
  • To publicize and encourage attendance at Project open house meetings through earned media stories about the school program, and by encouraging students to be Project ambassadors to their parents and other adults in the community.
  • To educate students—Oregon’s future highway users and voters—about the importance of building and maintaining a sound transportation system and how to prepare for careers in the transportation field, from design engineering and related disciplines to highway operations and maintenance.

Larry Gescher, Vice President, Slayden Construction Group, congratulates a student at the Elkton Community Celebration following the completion of an ODOT bridge replacement project.

The school outreach program brings bridge projects alive in local grade school, middle school and high school classrooms. The School Program sub-consultant works with Project team design engineers to plan and conduct informative and interactive educational programs appropriate to the grade level of each student group. School outreach sessions are tailored to the needs of the Project, community and classroom curriculum.

Sessions typically include introducing the project team, their roles and career paths, discussing how bridges are designed and built and why they are important to Oregon’s transportation system, and involving students in a hands-on creative activity such as building and testing model bridges using unique materials like gumdrops and toothpicks, folded paper and the like.  Or, in the case of HS students, having them build much larger and more sophisticated models.

There is an overall focus on how the math and science that students are learning in school today could very well be applicable to stimulating jobs they seek in the future.  In addition, team makes a special effort to be sure that girls understand that these jobs offer great career paths for them.

On the Sellwood Bridge project the team is working with four schools, including:

  • Capitol Hill Elementary School—a nearby school on the west side of the bridge
  • Llewellyn Elementary School—serving the Sellwood neighborhood on the east side of the bridge
  • Sellwood Middle School—serving the Sellwood neighborhood on the east side of the bridge
  • ACE (Architecture, Construction & Engineering) Academy—serving seven high schools in east Multnomah County”

You may not be building a bridge, but if you have another project that could benefit from the outside-the-box thinking that Lois brought to our rickety bridge then give her a call at Lois D. Cohen Associates, 4134 N. Vancouver Ave., Portland, OR, 97217, 503.332.4869,

…and THIS is pretty cool…

The County has set up a couple cameras to cover the new bridge construction.  The one at left is a live camera, and there’s also a time-lapse video that will condense the each day’s construction progress into just a few minutes.  Enjoy!

Here’s a picture from this month’s construction:

2/2/12- As you drive across the bridge, you can see the tops of the cranes poking up over the crumbling handrails.  Here’s what’s going on down below.  They’re starting on the temporary supports that will hold up the bypass bridge during construction.  This is part of the Shoo Fly plan that will move the existing bridge onto new supports, making it the temporary bridge until the new one is built.

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