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County Commissioners relent; will keep Sellwood Bridge open

Late in March, a majority of the Multnomah County Commissioners publicly indicated that they would vote to close the Sellwood Bridge. That came after the Commissioner serving Inner Southeast Portland, Maria Rojo de Steffey, told the press that she was scared to cross the bridge because of its condition.

However, before considering such a drastic step, the Commissioners met on Thursday, April 3rd, with the County's own engineers, who pointed out that the bridge meets all safety standards for its current use, and its deterioration has stopped with the imposition of the ten-ton-per-vehicle weight limit.

It also developed that the Commissioners misunderstood the 'federal bridge sufficiency' rating system; the ranking of the Sellwood Bridge of 2 on a scale of 100 does not mean the bridge is on the verge of collapse, but simply that it needs replacement and is the most heavily used bridge, per lane, in the entire State of Oregon. Were it not so important, it would rank higher on the sufficiency scale - which is at least partly a system of prioritizing which bridges need work first.

Although the bridge remains open, the Commissioners learned that many overweight vehicles have been seen crossing the bridge, and they called for more enforcement of the weight limit that keeps the bridge in service.

And, despite its remaining open, the bridge clearly does need extensive repair or replacement. The citizen advisory process grinds on, a requirement to obtain federal funding; but the necessary local match for these funds remains elusive.

The latest suggestion for obtaining it came from the Mayor of Fairview, Mike Weatherby, who pointed out that although Multnomah County owns and is responsible for the Sellwood and other bridges, they are essential to drivers throughout the region, and therefore Metro might best coordinate the bridge projects. Metro could coordinate funding from Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties, he said.

Metro is reported interested in the idea, which could include a levy assessed on residents throughout the three-county area Metro serves.