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End dispute over Sellwood Bridge

Our Opinion

A dispute between Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen over financing the replacement of the dilapidated, unsafe Sellwood Bridge should end this week.

Adams and Cogen are engaged in a public tug of war over what the city should pay for the $479 million project and what Portland wants in return. This dispute has grown ugly and threatens to involve state legislators who may move to reallocate $30 million in state funds to other Oregon highway projects.

Worse yet, we fear this dispute reinforces the public's impression that elected officials can't be trusted regardless of what they may initially promise, because they later will change their minds or require new conditions.

Money is at the heart of this argument. How much money should the city pay? And who should determine where highway funds are spent? Cogen says Adams is threatening the Sellwood project by not signing an agreement that commits Portland to $160 million in city funding that was made possible by new state gas tax funding. Cogen also says Adams is imposing new conditions on the agreement by requiring that the county dedicate its new state highway funds to maintain the Willamette River bridges that the county owns and operates. And it appears Adams is questioning the amount the city should pay for the overall Sellwood project.

We understand that Adams' responsibility is to the citizens of Portland. But he fulfills that responsibility as a fair, full and consistent partner with Multnomah County, the other counties surrounding Portland and other agencies, including the state of Oregon. In the case of the Sellwood Bridge, Adams should be true to his original commitment to the county and sign the project's intergovernmental agreement. Separately, he and Cogen should agree that by a date certain, the city and county will settle the longstanding issue of how to best maintain and operate the Willamette River bridges.

Such an agreement is honest. It fulfills promises made. It best serves the public. And it relies on trust and accountability that the public can observe and hold Adams, Cogen and the city and county responsible to achieve.

To do otherwise would set off a series of additional consequences that would threaten the Sellwood project, endanger public trust and prompt a legislative backlash.