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Sellwood Bridge committee considers slicing costs, adding features

by: David F. Ashton Alex Cousins of JLA Public Involvement starts the meeting.

When members of the Sellwood Bridge Community Advisory Committee met at SMILE Station on July 11, they were presented with a uniquely bifurcated agenda.

Meeting facilitator Alex Cousins with JLA Public Involvement put it succinctly when introducing the meeting. 'This may seem a bit of an odd meeting. In the first part, we'll be talking about how we can cut back the project's budget to meet the funding shortfall; and, in the second half, talk about which amenities to add.'

With light attendance - about ten observers - CAC members finished their pizza supper while introducing themselves. Then, the floor was opened to public comment.

Claudine Moreno said she was present to 'represent family interests in the neighborhood who were concerned about safety.' She advocated that safety elements - especially where the bridge transitions into Sellwood - be kept in the design, despite the budget shortfall, exacerbated the failure of the Clackamas County levy.

Dr. Michael Brodeur asked, 'Why do you have to have such wide sidewalks on both sides of the bridge? If you narrowed the bridge, maybe you wouldn't have to take the houses down at Sellwood Harbor.' CAC member John Hren explained that bridge construction work would require a substantial easement in which to work, even if the bridge cross section were reduced.

Before discussing cost-saving concepts, the CAC received a review of the current funding shortfall situation - and strategies that Multnomah County is pursuing to close the funding gap, including:

• Seeking unallocated state and federal transportation funds;

• Applying for a competitive federal transportation grant;

• Possibly shifting federal funds from a future County bridge capital project; and,

• Continuing to seek funds from federal reauthorization legislation.

Throughout their discussion, the theme of the consensus was that officials shouldn't 'nickel and dime' cost savings on the bridge itself.

The project, CAC members reasoned, has two primary components: The bridge itself, and major interchange construction on the west side connection to Highway 43. If as much as 10% had to be cut from the project, the wise path, it was suggested, would be to defer elements that didn't mar the design and operation of the bridge itself.

For example, a current proposal calls for two ten-foot balcony-like lookouts on each side of the bridge. If this amenity were deferred and added at a later time, they would look unsightly and cost much more than incorporating them into the overall construction design.

On the other had, slimming the west side interchange - so that only a single lane of traffic coming from Lake Oswego north on Highway 43 would head eastbound on the bridge - would save money. With one lane, the interchange would still function, but it could be widened in about eight years when there could be more of a traffic problem.

With discussion finished about cutting costs, Ricardo Rabines, principal from Safdie Rabines Architects, led the second half of the discussion - about potential amenities.

Up for discussion were:

• Treatments of the columns and retaining walls;

• Pedestrian finishes on the sidewalks, to differentiate the pedestrian and bicycle spaces;

• The possibility of railings - how high and translucent they might be;

• How these treatments would be incorporated to the rest of the structure;

• Lighting the bridge;

• Possibilities and potentials for art and art areas; and

• The importance of lookouts, balconies, and benches.

'We're discussing minimum versus maximum sizes; the relative importance of each category of amenity to the community,' Rabines said.

It's important to solidify community interest in amenities at this time, Rabines said, 'So we can incorporate them into the budget as we develop the project. Prices are going up and down; we can find out what the minimum or maximum is that we can do, and how we can evaluate it in terms of importance.'

During this discussion, architects presented ideas for treating the surface of the multi-use paths for bikes and pedestrians - making the surface a little rougher for the pedestrian section than the bike lanes.

Speaking for himself, CAC bike advocate Richard Marantz suggested perhaps simplest area of all might be best: A white stripe to indicate the lane division.

'These meetings this summer are important,' said Mike Pullen, Multnomah County spokesperson for the Sellwood Bridge Project. 'In November of this year we have to submit a package for this project, and describe how we're going to build, based on the available funding.'

In August, the CAC members will prioritize cost-saving ideas. And, they'll be presented with cost estimates for the amenities to help them clarify the list of features that may be included when the bridge is built.

'In late September the elected leaders sitting on the Sellwood Bridge Public Stakeholder Committee will make key decisions leading up to a Multnomah County Board vote in October,' Pullen said. 'We hope to be doing construction, in the water, in December this year.'

It was announced that Beth St. Amand had elected to leave the CAC as the SMILE neighborhood association representative, and would be replaced by Bob Schmidt, a former SMILE President and an expert on bridge and highway matters.

For project information, go online to: www.sellwoodbridge.org .