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Sellwood Bridge projects community advisors reconvene

by: David F. Ashton The historic Mela Building, through the top of which the current Sellwood Bridge was built.

As this issue of THE BEE was going to press, the Multnomah County Commissioners were mulling a new idea to move the main span of the existing Sellwood Bridge about 40 feet north - to become a detour bridge during construction of the estimated $290 million replacement bridge, thus reviving an idea that seemed to be rejected at the start of the planning process, years ago.

Meantime, and unrelated to that new proposal, the bridge Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which completed its design recommendations for the new future Sellwood Bridge, and saw the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners signed off on them, this month is being reactivated to consider specific design recommendations.

'This is the 'year of the smaller design decisions',' project spokesman Michael Pullen told THE BEE. 'We've made the big decisions. The original CAC members have agreed to continue, and we welcome one new member, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition's Stephanie Routh,'

When the Sellwood Bridge CAC reconvenes at the SMILE Station on Monday April 11th at 5:45 pm, it will be the first of six meetings scheduled this year. The volunteer panel will consider, among other topics:

• Lookouts on the bridge;

• Gateway treatments for coming into Sellwood; and,

• Bridge lighting - including pedestrian, sidewalk, and architectural lighting.

'We'll get to the '60% design phase' by September,' Pullen promised.

Although the CAC recommended - and the County Commissioners accepted - a steel-fabricated bridge design as the preferred alternative, they'll also be taking a second look at building it with concrete. Their final decision will probably be made in June.

'We hope all of the right-of-way purchases will be made this year,' Pullen added. 'It is one of the major tasks this year.'

Multnomah County has just finalized the purchase of the 'Mela Building', Pullen said. 'We now have the 'keys to the building', but are allowing the remaining tenants at least 90 days to relocate.'

Portions of this building, part of the East Side Lumber Mill yard, are historic - long predating the construction of the original Sellwood Bridge.

In the October, 2008 issue of THE BEE, Eileen G. Fitzsimons reported, 'When the Sellwood Bridge opened in December, 1925, the bridge passed over the top of the building, in the vicinity of the cupola. Bridge support columns are still rooted in what remains of the structure.'

In addition to the Mela Building, Multnomah County also owns the spacious parking lot to the north. The parking lot will be used both for contractors and for area residents whose current parking may be affected by construction.

Pullen said he expects the building will come down within a year - before bridge construction begins. 'We're told there is a substantial quantity of old-growth timber beams in the building. We're looking at deconstructing the building, instead of just wrecking it, to recover and save as much material as possible available for re-use.'

There's been no change in project funding since our last report. But, on May 17, Clackamas County residents, who constitute the majority of those commuting on weekdays over the Sellwood Briedge, will vote whether or not to make a $5 per year vehicle registration contribution toward rebuilding the bridge.

The surcharge is less than a third of what Multnomah County car owners will pay, and was authorized by the State and approved by the Clackamas County Board of Supervisors.

'We hope voters will approve the funding,' Pullen commented. 'It's a pretty small amount, but it it's voted down, the project could be delayed.'