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Clackamas voters veto Sellwood Bridge funding plans

by: David F.  Ashton Sellwood Bridge construction management team members of Slayden/Sundt, Steve Schmitt from Sundt Construction introduces K. C. Cooper with David Evans & Associates, Roger Silbernagel and Larry Gescher, project principal, with Slayden Construction Group.

With the Clackamas County voters' May 17 rejection of a $5 vehicle registration surcharge that would have raised $22 million to help with the replacement of the Sellwood Bridge, Multnomah County is scrambling to find ways to bridge that funding gap.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury expressed disappointment about the situation, and added, 'Now that Clackamas County voters have spoken, we'll 'roll up our sleeves' to try to complete this important project without their help. It's the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon; replacing the Sellwood Bridge must remain our top transportation priority.' Studies show that 70% of the weekday trips over the bridge begin or end in Clackamas County.

At a public meeting on May 23rd at SMILE Station in Sellwood, held to introduce the project's contractors and hear neighbors' construction concerns, project spokesman Mike Pullen outlined the current funding situation for THE BEE.

'The current regional funding solution includes about $127 million from Multnomah County, via an annual $19 registration fee per vehicle on Multnomah County residents. That's nearly 44 percent of the bridge's $290 million replacement cost.'

Additional funding sources include the City of Portland ($80 million), the State of Oregon ($30 million), and the federal government ($11 million in previously-secured funds).

'We're making a request for another $20 million in federal funds,' Pullen confided. 'Clackamas County voters' rejection of the $5 fee more than doubles the current funding shortfall from $20 million to $42 million.'

The County directed staff to research ways to find funding for that shortfall, Pullen told THE BEE at deadline. Expolorations are directed to three areas:

• Potentially reducing the size of the project by postponing fully-building the west side interchange to Highway 43

• Looking for additional cost savings through 'value engineering' ideas proposed by the construction contractors

• 'The third idea is to go get the money from some other source,' Pullen said. 'Some people are suggesting putting a toll on the bridge for those who live outside of Multnomah County.'

Yet another concept being considered is to defer other County bridge projects, such as putting off finishing the repainting work on the Broadway Bridge.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners expects to review these proposals in June.

During the meeting at SMILE Station, attended by about thirty people, Pullen reviewed the funding situation, and gave a brief presentation updating attendees on the bridge's design and construction techniques, including the 'shoo fly' construction option.

The principal managers of the selected building contractor, Slayden/Sundt, a joint venture of Oregon's Slayden Construction Group and Arizona's Sundt Construction, introduced themselves, and talked about their roles in the project.

'We want to hear from neighbors about their concerns, as we move into the construction phase,' said Steve Schmitt, a project manager who comes from Sundt Construction. 'We want to get input about the construction plan - such as work hours, access issues, noise limits, bridge closure dates, and those kinds of issues.'

Schmitt said the County had approved this joint venture approach, operating as a Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC).

'The idea of CMGC is that you really get the best value and price,' pointed out Schmitt. 'We look at how the project will evolve. Right now, we're helping with scheduling, working on some of the details with the designer, and doing cost-modeling for them. For example, we're figuring the cost difference between [rebuilding the bridge] with four rib arches (the side-by-side method) instead of two (using the shoo fly option).'

Larry Gescher, a project principal from Slayden Construction Group, added that his group is compiling plans. 'We're working on a safety plan, and the construction management plan. Tonight we're getting some ideas about things that are important to you, so we address those things in the future.'

Asked if there will be a division of labor between the two main contractors, Schmitt replied, 'No, there's not a line-item job description. We're all melded into one team.'

Condominium owners to the north of the project asked who would make the decision between the two 'shoo fly' construction options presented. 'The County Commissioners will make final decision, but we want to hear from a lot of people who live near close to the construction,' Pullen responded.

Continuing Community Advisory Committee member Heather Koch of Sellwood expressed concern that 'value engineering' might affect the project adversely. 'For example, one of the things the CAC has talked about is how we can create a holistic, integrated design, [including] safety. How can we be assured these items won't be left by the wayside?'

'We're already addressing that,' replied Schmitt. 'We're working with the designers [investigating how] to find better ways to do things. Sometimes people get focused on the mission, and miss the obvious. We spent three days, with everyone in the room, going through a whole long laundry-list of value engineering items looking for ways to save money on the job.'

Dick Springer, a Sellwood resident and former state legislator now with West Multnomah County Soil and Conservation District, asked for assurances that 'value engineering' wouldn't adversely impact the environment.

'If something can go wrong, we'd better be prepared,' Roger Silbernagel of Slaydon Construction Group responded. 'To assure you, it is that Larry [Gescher] and I are local, we're both native Oregonians; we understand the climate. We set standard is very high. We expect our people to work with environmental safety and personal safety.'

For more information on Sellwood Bridge replacement, go online to the County website for the project: www.sellwoodbridge.org .