Photo By: Steve Morgan
For several hours this past Saturday, an old bridge across the Willamette River was moved a few feet so that construction could begin on a new bridge on the same site. However, this prosaic explanation does not account for either the seriousness of the plight of the Sellwood Bridge or the fact that its movement was a sight that was seen and cheered by many people who saw the construction of the new bridge as a sign that their long-term concerns about safety were being answered by the Oregon Department of Transportation and their Multnomah County Commissioners. The seriousness of these concerns needs to be well-understood, so let us take a look at some of the history and geography of the Portland area.
For years, the Sellwood Bridge has been slowly falling apart. The bridge has been covered by unsightly plastic wrapping to keep concrete from falling off into the river. A slow landslide on one side of the bridge has heavily damaged the concrete pillars that used to support the bridge, requiring repeated treatments of industrial glue to avoid collapse. The bridge was the structural equivalent of a pair of glasses held together by scotch tape. On the federal 100 point scale of bridge safety the Sellwood Bridge scored a 2, prompting such concerns that heavy trucks and buses were forbidden from using the bridge . The bridge was a massive disaster waiting to happen, seeing if funding or time would win the race. For now, the old bridge is being prepared for its role as a temporary detour while a new bridge is constructed on the same site, due to be complete in 2015.
Why was the Sellwood Bridge allowed to get into this position to begin with, though? There are not very many bridges that cross over the Willamette River in Portland , and of these bridges, the crossing for Tacoma Street is the furthest south within the city of Portland itself, a bridge that is the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon, and one whose demise has been visible since the 1960’s with numerous plans being offered to repair the problems that ran aground on the shoals of a lack of funding . Now, hopefully, the Sellwood and Westmoreland areas can be helped and the transportation detours that have marred the area of late can be corrected. We look forward to seeing this bridge when it is completed.