Government group approves Community Task Force’s Sellwood Bridge Plans

Instead of lobbying for a wider bridge, learn which bike-riding government official advocated a bridge that was even narrower than the structure proposed …

According to organizer Bradley Heinz, about 800 neighbors came out on the foggy morning of January 31 to show their solidarity for rebuilding a two-traffic-lane replacement for the Sellwood Bridge about where it now stands.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After listening to the testimony of about two dozen citizens, and considerable discussion among themselves and staff members at the meeting, the Sellwood Bridge Policy Advisory Group (PAG) rubber-stamped its approval on the Community Task Force’s (CTF) recommendations for replacing the ailing, 80+ year old river crossing on February 6.

82 citizens and interested parties signed in at the meeting, about 100 people listened and participated in the meeting held in the Multnomah County Board Room.

At the PAG meeting, SMILE president Paul Notti advocates for the neighborhood’s preferred alternative. Behind him, and out of focus, is Multnomah County Public Affairs facilitator Michael Pullen and John Buyer, who was about to testify.

Neighbors say they favor current alignment
Paul Notti, President of the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE), testified that their organization’s board and membership recognizes that the Sellwood Bridge is failing and needs to be replaced. He said SMILE has “lobbied for, cajoled, collaborated, and recently endorsed” a two traffic lane replacement bridge that they say will support the ideals of the Tacoma Main Street Plan, and protect the historic nature of the area — including the Sellwood Riverfront Parks and the historic Oaks Pioneer Church.

“We as a neighborhood, and I as a neighbor and a citizen, are concerned that the size and cost of the proposed bridge are potentially unaffordable, unknown, and unwise – portions of it, not all of it; especially the price tag and as it relates [to the proposed bridge’s] west end.”

Correcting an article in the Oregonian newspaper that “some neighbors approve of Alternative D”, Notti concluded his remarks saying. “Everyone I’ve spoken with over the last couple of years favors Alternative D.”

Notti’s statement was met with a strident chorus of “No! Not true!” from several attendees – unit owners at Riverpark Condominiums, near the foot of Spokane Street, just north of the bridge.

Sellwood Harbor resident John Holmes advocates for Alternative E, and adds, “If you don’t have the funding, maybe this bridge should be repaired and stay right where it is.”

Bridge project compromises property values
“My neighbors and I have been left out of this process,” said Jan Bohlmann, a Riverpark Condominium owner. “Although we live, shop, and pay taxes here, we feel like we’re not [considered to be] part of Sellwood. Given that, I hope you’ll carefully consider what you’ll do if you go ahead with Alternative D. With imagination and effort, I think it can be done without the destruction of units.”

John Holmes, Ed Murphy, and several other residents at Sellwood Harbor Condominiums again testified that they support a narrow bridge and the Tacoma Main Street Plan. But, they decried bridge construction that would result in at least four of their units being dismantled. Albert Gonzalez asked government officials to “remember the 80 people left behind [at Sellwood Harbor] who will experience the vibration, noise, dirt, and aggravation of bridge building.”

Governmental officials confer
The Policy Advisory Group, chaired by Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, included Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Milwaukie City Councilor Greg Chaimov, Federal Highway Administration Manager Philip Ditzler, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen, Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, Clackamas County Chair Lynn Peterson, State Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, and State Rep. Carolyn Tomei.

Regarding bridge rehabilitation, Metro Councilor Robert Liberty stated, “We are making decisions regarding the Sellwood Bridge before we have funding in place. I want it on the record that [bridge] rehabilitation should be more developed as an alternative.”

Portland City Mayor Sam Adams noted, “We can’t go for funding unless we have a project to present, based on a locally-preferred alternative. I recommend going ahead and getting finding.”

Members of the PAG – Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury and TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen – listen to staff reports, as they deliberate elements of a locally-preferred alternative for replacing the Sellwood Bridge.

Alignment discussed and decided
Regarding the bridge’s alignment, Chair Wheeler commented, “I was swayed by CTF consensus on selecting Alignment D. Reasons they gave made common sense. Members of the community will be impacted; people [will be] displaced and we will have to mitigate problems promptly.” He also noted that Alignment D can be built in phases, allowing for phased financing, and for the bridge to stay open during construction.

Adams agreed with the recommendation and said he’ll propose it to City Council for their approval. He added, “I recommend working to help get residents [affected by the decisions] out of their [negative financial] situation as quickly as possible.”

At this point, and throughout the discussion, Liberty opined that a 64 feet width for a new bridge was unnecessarily wide. “A 58-foot wide bridge is just fine.”

After several members of the PAG chimed in, Wheeler said “We have a pretty clear idea [of a  preference for] Alignment D.”

Interchange impasse
At the east end of the bridge, adding a pedestrian or bicyclist activated signal at the intersection of S.E. Tacoma Street and SE 6th Avenue passed without comment.

However, there was significant discussion regarding the west end of the proposed bridge – shown to be nearly 100 feet wide, with a grade-separated and signalized interchange at Highway 43. Many questioned the proposed size, complexity, and cost of such an interchange.

Among other members, State Rep. Carolyn Tomei spoke up. “The purpose of this action is to rehabilitate or replace [the Sellwood Bridge] and provide a safe bridge for multi-modal use, not [necessarily] to improve [traffic on] Macadam Boulevard.”

The PAG members chose to accept the CTF’s recommendation “as a placeholder”, as Wheeler put it, and proceed to the next stage of the process.

Metro Councilor Robert Liberty suggests 64 feet for a new Sellwood Bridge is wider than necessary.

Bridge width narrows
Because the CTF didn’t provide a “clear consensus” on whether the bridge’s cross-section should be 75 feet or 64 feet wide, it was up to the PAG to make the decision. Adams said he’d support the narrower 64-foot width.

After reviewing lane typical lane widths for motor vehicles, bike lanes, and sidewalks, Liberty again spoke up, noting that two 12-foot wide vehicle lanes, plus two 6.5 foot wide bicycle lanes and two 10-foot wide sidewalks add up to 57 feet. “I question the need for a cross-section 64 feet wide.”

Wheeler proposed they adopt language saying that the bridge’s cross-section be “A cross section of 64 feet or less at its narrowest point – with two traffic lanes, two bike lanes/shoulders, and two sidewalks.”

Next steps
Three local jurisdictions – Multnomah County, City of Portland, and Metro each must vote to adopt the Locally Preferred Alternative. If approved, the county will complete and submit the final Environmental Impact Statement, and project managers will begin the permitting process.

Then, the County will need to secure funding for the cost of approximately $300 million. “Our congressional delegation has been very clear that we will need to have a regional consensus on the Sellwood Bridge plan if we want to have a realistic chance of securing federal dollars for the project,” noted Wheeler. “We have now delivered on that regional consensus.”

For more information, see Multnomah County’s Sellwood Bridge website by CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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