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FROM THE EDITOR

Sellwood Bridge's top users refuse to help replace it
by: David F. Ashton

The Sellwood Bridge is 85 years old, was built from the remains of the budget for building the Burnside and Ross Island bridges, and incorporated scrimping measures which haunt it still (narrow, no real sidewalk), and some secondhand parts.

It ranks a 2 on the federal sufficiency scale of 100, but with the current 10-ton vehicle weight reduction is in no immediate danger of collapsing. Nonetheless, its greatest problem continues to stress it: The west end access ramp to the bridge was built on an ancient landslide that, it turns out, is still moving. That causes the ramp to accordion and twist, and that is the weakest part of the bridge. That problem was only discovered some twenty years ago.

The Sellwood Bridge probably should be maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation, but it was built and is still maintained by Multnomah County. And it really needs replacement.

It carries more traffic on weekdays, per lane, than ANY other bridge in the State of Oregon. And 70% of that traffic begins or ends its journey in Clackamas County.

In putting together the funding package to pay for its replacement, Multnomah County developed partnerships with the state and federal governments, and obtained from the state legislature the special option of adding a $16 per year vehicle registration surcharge on residents of Multnomah County dedicated to this purpose.

The legislature also allowed Clackamas County, in view of the heavy use of the bridge for commuting by residents of that county, to have a small vehicle registration surcharge for this purpose also. $5 per driver per year was set by the Clackamas County Commissioners.

In what appears to be a variation of the 'IGM-NGL' syndrome, as former Metro President Jon Kvistad once put it - 'I got mine, now get lost' - a crowd in Clackamas County who did not want to pay the $5 annual surcharge got this minor fee on the May ballot, and it was defeated.

This leaves the carefully-assembled bridge replacement fund significantly short of what's needed to complete the project, even after the recent cost-cutting Multnomah County has done to try to close the funding gap. The gap now again looms large.

THE BEE has received mail from Clackamas County voters in support of that $5 fee, but opponents placed at least one campaign sign in Multnomah County, in the median of Macadam Avenue southbound, which we thought was hilarious: 'Good citizens build good bridges in their OWN county'.

This was apparently intended to convince Clackamas County commuters that even if their use dominates the bridge on weekdays, the bridge really is in Multnomah County, and Multnomah County residents should bear all the cost. This argument may have carried some weight, since despite early polls showing voter sentiment in Clackamas County favoring the modest surcharge, it wound up being defeated by close to a two-to-one margin.

But, what made this campaign sign priceless is that it exactly described the problem that led to early deterioration of the bridge due to very heavy traffic, and the reason the bridge is such a lifeline to Clackamas County commuters: Clackamas County residents have been, and still are, completely opposed to building a badly needed bridge in their OWN county.

An effort to extend Highway 224 from its west terminus at S.E. 17th across the Willamette River, on a bridge, to connect with Highway 43 or I-5, was completely quashed by Dunthorpe, an exclusive neighborhood below Lewis and Clark College - which also, by the way, hates the idea of a trolley line to and from Lake Oswego having the nerve to roll through their quiet community on the existing west-side rail alignment near the river.

The obvious place for a new Clackamas County bridge is at Lake Oswego, where it would easily connect to McLoughlin Boulevard in the Oak Lodge area on the east side, and - with the removal of one building - would connect to the four-lane, fully-traffic- signaled Avenue A main street through Lake Oswego up to Kruse Way and I-5. But Lake Oswego says no to that.

Instead, a prominent resident of Lake Oswego lectured us a year or so ago that the Sellwood Bridge should be widened to at least four lanes, and Tacoma Street should be expanded to four lanes, and Johnson Creek Boulevard should expand to a four lane expressway all the way to S.E. 82nd and the I-205 freeway. 'It just makes sense.'

Well, perhaps it makes sense to someone who refuses to consider a similar conduit through his own community where it really is needed, and where the infrastructure to support it already completely exists - but the fact of the matter is that there is no bridge across the Willamette River between the Sellwood Bridge at the south end of Multnomah County, and Oregon City.

And THAT is the real problem.

'Good citizens build good bridges in their OWN county'. Perhaps it IS time for that message finally to come home to residents, commuters, and voters in Clackamas County.

In the meantime, we now have the major problem figuring out how we will raise the rest of the needed funds to replace the worn bridge in our county which Clackamas County drivers still heavily rely upon each and every day.