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Sellwood Bridge rebuild details vetted at open house

by: David F. Ashton Former Governor Barbara Roberts examines details of the project with Multnomah County’s Mike Pullen.

The Oaks Park Dance Pavilion is a dark, sometimes damp, walk from the amusement park's parking lot - so Multnomah County's Sellwood Bridge rebuilding team opted to hold the November 16 open house at Llewellyn Elementary School instead.

About 70 people attended, and officials said they were pleased both with the turnout and with the variety of feedback they'd received, regarding a wide array of topics.

Notably, former Governor Barbara Roberts - a Sellwood resident - said she came to 'keep up with what's happening' on the project.

'I've been reading about it in THE BEE,' Roberts said. 'Overall, I'm really pleased. It was a real tragedy, losing Clackamas County's funding; I'm disappointed that they didn't pitch in and help.'

Overall, Roberts said, 'I'm not that worried about the current safety [of the bridge], but I sure want a new bridge.'

Written comments on cards or flip-charts ranged from wanting a 'Smooth, safe bike and pedestrian access to S.E. Spokane Street' to 'There is more space for bicycles and pedestrians than there is for cars and trucks on the new bridge'. One person raved about the beautiful design of the proposed lighting fixtures; another wanted a more traditional design.

Others urged special care in protecting Oaks Pioneer Church. Political wags messaged: 'Leave out the ramps to the south, to save money not voted on by Clackamas', and another suggestion was a plaque listing 'Clackamas County's Contribution: $0.00'.

All who commented praised the idea of designing observation-point 'belvederes' into the bridge.

This comment summed up the feelings of many of the participants: 'Thank you for the beautiful design elements, and for listening to neighbors. I am very pleased!'

C.A.C. holds December meeting

On December 5 at the SMILE Station, the Sellwood Bridge Community Advisory Committee (C.A.C.) met over a dinner of deli sandwiches, and heard about the project's public art component. The committee also participated in a presentation on themes, locations, and designs for interpretive signs planned for the project, among other topics.

Facilitator Vaughn Brown, from JLA Public Involvement, called the meeting to order at a little after 5:30 pm. With no public comment offered, Mike Pullen of Multnomah County's Communications Office presented the findings gleaned from comments left at the November open house.

'The meeting was staffed by members of the consulting team, and staff members from Multnomah County,' Pullen explained. In addition to wide-ranging static and video displays, one that attracted considerable interest was an aerial photo of the bike and pedestrian pathways on the west riverbank near the bridge, and the presentation of the bridge cross-section, he added.

For a PDF document summarizing the comments, go online to this Multnomah County document: CLICK HERE.

C.A.C. members learned that Multnomah County hoped to learn if it's received a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER Grant by the end of December.

With a presentation of public art scheduled for the meeting, THE BEE asked C.A.C. member Heather Koch, who has expressed continued interest in having a 'gateway feature' on the western side of the bridge, about her aspirations for this part of the project.

'I know there is some funding with the '2% for Art' requirement; so, my hope is that funding will help support a gateway feature,' Koch responded. 'We really want to create a gateway that is going to not only indicate the character of the neighborhood, and the scale - but also to communicate that people are 'entering a neighborhood'. We want to encourage people to be safe, and be respectful of the neighborhood.'

Speaking to the C.A.C. about public art was Peggy Kendellen, Public Art Manager with the Regional Arts and Culture Council (R.A.C.C.).

'We're gathering information on about 30 artists - some local, and some national,' Kendellen said. All of them have experience working with budgets of this size - which is about $500,000: The '2% for Art' that's required by the City of Portland.'

Artists will be selected, explained Kendellen, by honing down a group of about 10. 'We will ask these artists if they're interested in this project. From those who express interest, the committee will select some finalists to bring to the site for a tour, be with the project team, and to understand 'where they are at'.'

After she answered committee members' questions, Kendellen told THE BEE, 'We are looking for site-specific artwork. It could be outdoor sculpture, it could be lighting. Listening to what the community wants - which includes some kind of 'gateway' - is a big part of this process.'

Next, Judy Yates, Portland Department of Transportation traffic engineer, took up the topic of plans for a traffic signal on S.E. Tacoma Street and S.E. 6th Avenue. The committee discussed the possibilities of placing the signal mid-block between S.E. 6th and 7th Avenues, or at S.E. 7th Avenue.

In a non-binding straw poll vote, a majority of C.A.C. members favored a full signalized intersection at S.E. 6th Avenue and Tacoma Street.

The final - and substantial - matter remaining before the C.A.C. was a discussion about interpretive signs, led by Susan Jurasz of Sea Reach Ltd., of Sheridan, Oregon.

County Spokesman Pullen explained, 'The consultants were hired to produce interpretive signs on the bridge, and both sides of the river presented potential locations and topics for eleven different signs.'

Some of these signs, the committee learned, are required by State rules, such as marking the site of former historic resources. There was some consensus that the signs should include more information about views from the north and south - pointing out features visible from the viewpoint 'belvederes'.

December 16 groundbreaking

Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, Mayor Sam Adams, ODOT's Jason Tell and other dignitaries were expected to attend the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Sellwood Bridge rebuilding on Friday, December 16, at 10 am, at Sellwood Riverfront Park.

However, on December 13, Pullen told THE BEE, 'We've heard from our congressional delegation that we have been awarded a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER III Program grant of $17.7 million. With this, the shortfall has been reduced to $5 million, or about 2% the cost of the project.'

Pullen added that, because a major expense of the project is the west side interchange, the County has entered a competitive process to seek additional fiscal support from the State's small pool of 'remainder funds' originally set aside for 2011 projects but not used.

'And, we're at the beginning of a five-year project,' Pullen added, 'and the total price will go up and down. In May of 2012, we'll agree on the guaranteed price for rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge.'