Trib Town - Old Sauvie span would carry pedestrians, bikes over Interstate 405
by: Rick Swart, The 58-year-old Sauvie Island Bridge soon will make way for its replacement and will be moved to Northwest Portland.

The soon-to-be-replaced Sauvie Island Bridge seems to be destined for a rebirth - again - on an overpass in Northwest Portland.

City of Portland and Portland Development Commission officials are making progress in solidifying an idea first floated a few years ago - that the 58-year-old bridge, when it was no longer needed to get vehicles to and from Sauvie Island, could be recycled as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Interstate 405 in Northwest Portland.

The bridge would connect Flanders Street from Northwest 15th Avenue across I-405 to 16th Avenue.

There has been, and remains, the issue of money: about $5.5 million to move and install the bridge over I-405. And there is the issue of time: The contractor working for Multnomah County to replace the bridge needs to know what to do with it - or needs to demolish it and sell part of it as scrap metal - when it is officially replaced with the new Sauvie Island Bridge in June.

But a joint City Council and PDC budget committee has decided to spend $2 million in urban renewal funds to help with the bridge, assuming the city transportation office can find the remaining $3.5 million. City transportation officials will use another $2 million in special transportation funds that had been earmarked for the project.

'This can be an iconic structure'

That leaves the need to find another $1.5 million for the project, about $1 million of which advocates hope will come from federal transportation funds allocated by the state of Oregon.

The remaining $500,000 would come from private fundraising or from other public money, people involved in the project say.

While that gap remains, city officials and others now say they believe the project will happen - unlike several months ago, when most thought the idea was dead.

'I think it's fantastic,' said Jonathan Maus, editor of and a Portland bicyclist. 'This can be an iconic structure. And because it will be bicycles and pedestrians only, that makes it even more of an icon.'

Proponents of the idea have had to defend the cost of the project, however.

Estimates for a new, but narrower, bike and pedestrian bridge at the same location are about $3.5 million.

But proponents for reusing the Sauvie Island Bridge say that it will provide much wider access for users - about 30 feet, compared to the 10-foot to 15-foot width that would be likely in a new bridge.

That will mean more room for pedestrians and bicyclists, and a more comfortable feel on the bridge, proponents say.

Maus said people also need to consider where much of the money would be coming from - urban renewal funds intended for the Pearl District, which is at the east end of the bridge, and from private fundraising.

'It has value beyond just being a structure,' he said. 'This isn't just about counting beans and getting the cheapest structure we can. Portland is a different kind of city. We go to bat for things like this.'

Creating connections

A pedestrian and bike bridge connecting Flanders in the Pearl District to Flanders on the other side of I-405 has been a part of larger discussions about Northwest Portland for years.

As the city has considered changes to Burnside and Couch streets - making each of them a one-way street in part of Northwest Portland - neighborhood leaders and residents and bicyclists citywide have advocated making Flanders a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly street.

A pedestrian and bike bridge overpass on I-405 at Flanders not only allows that, but also creates an easy way for bicyclists to move from the river, through the Pearl District and west, bridge advocates say.

'It's creating a place that had been divided by a freeway for a long time,' said Patricia Gardner, vice president of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association and a longtime supporter of the bridge.

'It becomes this great east-west connection we've been missing for a long time. It's not just good for the neighborhood. It's actually great for the city,' she said.

Bill Hoffman, manager of the project for the city's transportation office, said if all of the money can be found for the project, the current Sauvie Island Bridge would be kept in dry dock for a few months, where the lead paint would be stripped from the bridge, bridge railings added and the bridge repainted - possibly a color other than the medium green that the state transportation department uses for its bridges.

The bridge overpass could be in place by late fall, Hoffman said.

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