Multnomah County will shut the Sellwood Bridge down for work crews during six upcoming nights
The Sellwood Bridge will close for repairs as Multnomah County officials try to find a way to repair or replace the span.

Are you planning to travel over the Sellwood Bridge in coming nights to get from Lake Oswego to the east side of the Willamette River?

You may have to reconsider as the bridge will be closed for repairs on six upcoming nights.

The repairs are not intended to significantly extend the service life or increase the weight capacity of the aging bridge, which is owned by Multnomah County.

Instead, the work is meant to reduce future weather-related deterioration on portions of the bridge, which connects Sellwood on the east side of the Willamette River to Highway 43 on the west side of the river.

The $100,000 project involves cleaning 450 lineal feet of concrete cracks and sealing them with a weather-proof material. The sealing will prevent water from further corroding the steel rebar in the concrete and slow the growth of the cracks.

'The sealing will not restore the strength of the bridge that has already been lost because of the cracks,' said Michael Eaton, an engineer with the county's bridge section. 'It will slow down the future deterioration.'

Field work began on Monday and is expected to last two weeks. It will require the bridge to be closed to traffic from 6:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. on six nights - Friday, Aug. 15, and Monday, Aug. 18, through Friday, Aug. 22.

The bridge will remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists during the closures.

Shifting land, cracked girders

The Sellwood Bridge faces numerous problems that require substantial repairs or a complete replacement to resolve. Among other things, the land supporting the west end of the bridge is shifting, causing cracks in the concrete girders that hold it up.

After the cracks were found, the vehicle weight limit on the bridge was reduced in 2004 to 10 tons, effectively banning TriMet buses and large trucks from crossing it. Numerous inspections have confirmed the bridge is still safe for cars and small trucks, however, county officials say.

The Multnomah County Commission is in the middle of a lengthy process to determine the future of the bridge. The commission could choose a single option to pursue within six months, Eaton said.

According to Eaton, repairing the bridge could cost up to $75 million, including shoring up the shifting land under the west end and painting it.

Even if all that work was done, however, Eaton said the bridge lanes and sidewalks would not be any wider, and it would not meet current earthquake standards.

No funding identified

After working with area residents and regional transportation officials, the commission identified four other options for further repairs. They ranged from rebuilding the bridge in its current location to three new alignments that would allow a wider bridge with a light-rail line. Preliminary cost estimates range from $280 million to $400 million, including a new interchange on Highway 43 and new intersections in Sellwood.

The Federal Highway Administration is reviewing those options in a federally mandated study that will produce a draft environmental impact statement on the options. Eaton said it could be released in November, after which the public will have 45 days to review the report and comment.

The commission could choose a single option for an in-depth study by January 2009. That could result in a final environmental impact statement within a year. It will include a final bridge design and detailed information on its potential effects on the environment.

Funding for a replacement bridge has not yet been identified. Earlier in the year, Commission Chairman Ted Wheeler proposed asking voters to approve a county motor vehicle registration fee to help pay for it. Wheeler withdrew his proposal, however, after a number of city councils in the county refused to waive claims to their share of the funds.

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