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County pushes ahead on Sellwood Bridge plan

Commissioners see defeat of Clackamas County fee as a detour, not a road block
by: File photo The west end of the Sellwood bridge has four places where cracking beams are held together with metal plates sandwiched above and below the bridge and held in place with long bolts.

Multnomah County won't let a $42 million funding gap slow construction of a new Sellwood Bridge.

If anything, commissioners are poised to OK a new 'shoo-fly' detour bridge on Thursday - moving the current bridge onto new pilings to use as a temporary detour during construction. That could mean work starts sooner than planned, with crews starting the pilings in December, and work on the new bridge starting by mid-2012.

'We're not going to sit around and mope; we've gotta build a bridge,' said Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, after a one-hour work session Tuesday on how to proceed with the project.

Commissioners have commitments for $248 million toward a project estimated to cost $290 million.

About $20 million expected from the federal government hasn't come through, and then Clackamas County voters last month overturned a $5-a-year vehicle registration fee, which would have raised $22 million as that county's share of the project.

A survey found that the bridge is heavily used by Clackamas County residents and businesses, and the vehicle fee was part of a pooled effort to fund the project, including money from the city of Portland.

Multnomah County commissioners likely will delay some aspects of the Highway 43/Macadam Avenue interchange at the western foot of the bridge, rather than change the design or wait until the funding gap closes, Cogen said.

'That doesn't mean it won't get done,' he said of the interchange project, which is slated to cost $90 million of the total $290 million project. He stressed that the current interchange is safe, unlike the current bridge, which has weight restrictions due to safety concerns.

County commissioners were enthusiastic Tuesday about plans to move the bridge during construction and use it as a detour. The initial plan had been to construct the southern half of the new bridge while retaining use of the current bridge, then building the northern half.

'Basically, you're building the whole bridge twice' under that scenario, said Ian Cannon, the county's Sellwood Bridge project manager.

Instead, the county appears likely to erect temporary steel pilings in the Willamette River, then relocate the current bridge onto those pilings during a four-day period.

Shoo-fly cuts cost

Roger Silbernagel, part of the contractor team hired to manage construction for the county, said his firm, Slayden Construction of Stayton, recently completed a similar bridge relocation on Highway 38, south of Eugene.

'The state of Colorado does many of these bridges,' he told commissioners Tuesday.

The shoo-fly bridge could cut the construction timetable as much as a year and reduce costs by $5 million to $10 million. In addition, using the detour bridge will improve safety of construction workers and motorists, and minimize environmental disruption in the river.

'We've got a long list of detour bridge benefits that are impressive,' Cogen said. 'What are the down sides?'

Cannon said the main risk was that the city and federal authorities would take too long to issue permits for the detour project. That could delay work on the pilings this winter, when there is a two-month window to work in the river.

Cogen said the shoo-fly bridge still seems the best choice, though money savings wouldn't be as great if work can't start this winter.

County officials still hope to secure a Tiger 3 federal grant of $15 million or more, but that award won't be issued before this fall, when county commissioners expect to give the go-ahead to begin construction.

The county has already approved acquisition of rights of way to clear the construction site, though the shoo-fly means one additional condo must be purchased on the east side of the river.

The county also may ask federal authorities for permission to shift use of about $9.5 million tentatively awarded to paint the Broadway Bridge, and use it instead on the Sellwood replacement. The county would hope to get the Broadway Bridge money replaced, but delay that project, Cogen said.