Is Sellwood Bridge falling down?

Is it safe to cross? Although the bridge is rated a “2” on a federal sufficiency scale of “100” it could be years until it is replaced. We’ve got the scoop (and some neat photos) right here …

Under and around the girders, inspectors take a close look at the substructure of the Sellwood Bridge.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As you read in our article featuring Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler’s remarks last week – the Sellwood Bridge is one of his four top priorities.

But, a couple of Sundays ago, surprised motorists on both side of the Willamette River who wanted to make a crossing discovered they were in for a long detour. The Sellwood Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic while it underwent an announced major inspection.

We watched as a special rig was deployed to allow inspectors to take a close-up look at the bridge’s underside. Slowly, a hanging scaffold snaked its way between girders and struts.

Although it looks precarious, inspectors ride a specially-designed rig that permits them to safely look at the underside of the bridge.

Because of their closer-than-usual examination of the Sellwood Bridge throughout the day, inspectors were able to scrutinize less than half of the structure.

“They’ve completed just 40% of the inspection,” later reported Multnomah County public affairs office official, Michael Pullen. “Inspectors will return on Sunday, October 7, to complete the inspection. This time, they’ll come back with additional manpower.”

Low-scoring bridge
Having heard that the bridge rates a “2” on a federal scale of 100, we asked Pullen why such a poorly-rated structure was allowed to carry any traffic.

“The rating is called a Bridge Sufficiency Score,” Pullen explained. “This is a measure of both structural sufficiency and how well it meets traffic demands.”

Getting an up-close look, inspectors carefully examine rivets that hold the bridge together.

Double whammy drops score
The Sellwood Bridge, Pullen went on, scores poorly in both categories. “It gets a double whammy. First, it has structural problems. And also, it performs poorly for all five transpiration modes — pedestrians, bicycles, cars trucks, and busses.”

The reason the bridge is posted for a 10-ton weight limit, explained Pullen, is to keep it from deteriorating more quickly than it already is. “This doesn’t mean a 20 ton vehicle would collapse it. It means it has less capacity to carry heavy loads.”

Inspectors will be at it again – meaning the bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic, on Sunday, Oct. 7.

Says bridge is safe
When we asked if the bridge was safe to cross, Pullen replied, “If the bridge was considered dangerous for the public to use, the county would close the bridge.”

So far, he added, inspectors haven’t detected any major problems “they didn’t know about. They are finding continuing deterioration”.

While the bridge will again be closed to vehicular traffic for the day on Sunday, October 7, the bridge sidewalk will remain open for bicyclists and pedestrians – although there could be short, intermittent delays for sidewalk users.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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