Commissioner Kafoury describes what's next
by: David F.Ashton The Mela Building, under the east end of the bridge, will be demolished this month. From a window of the now-vacant building, the bridge and some of the condominiums that have been built right up to it in recent years are visible. Learn more about the historic, doomed building, elsewhere in this issue of <i>THE BEE</i>.

At the regular meeting of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on June 16th, the latest cost-saving measure for rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge was on the agenda - the 'shoo-fly' detour option.

Ian Cannon, Sellwood Bridge Program Manager for Multnomah County, described how - as previously reported in THE BEE - building temporary piers just north of the existing bridge, and sliding the main deck over onto them while they construct the new bridge, will reduce construction time by as much as a year, with a cost savings of up to $10 million.

'We've reached out to a number of groups in the community - including probably the most impacted group, residents of the River Park Condominiums,' Cannon told the commissioners. 'We've met with them several times. We've also met with the Sellwood Harbor Condominiums, SMILE, and our project partners in the City of Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.'

Commissioner Loretta Smith asked what response his team received.

'Depending on the group, some people were confused about the shortening of the duration of construction,' Cannon replied. 'Some people had concern about safely moving the bridge over. And, particularly the owners of the condominium units closest to the structure are concerned about the impacts to their community of noise. We did some studies for them, and found that the additonal noise impact would be very small.'

The first to give public testimony - retired architect, and transit planner for TriMet and an urban planner, Jim Howell - presented a new bridge building plan that took the Commissioners a little off guard.

Howell advocated, rather than constructing a temporary 'shoo-fly' bridge, constructing the new bridge starting at the same east side location - but ending with the western approach on the former Staff Jennings property. He listed numerous advantages to the proposal, including construction time and money savings.

Sellwood Moreland Improvement League President Mat Millenbach presented a board resolution which (in part):

• Supports cost savings that prioritize safety of all transportation modes on the bridge and on S.E. Tacoma Street;

• Supports strategic investments in design to promote and maximize safety for all modes;

• Supports cost savings that do not create impacts on residents for which there is not a reasonable remedy or compensation.

Sellwood Community Advisory Committee member Heather Koch advocated that County staff continue to work with the CAC, 'ensuring that safety is a priority, no matter what the level of funding or the design,'

Before the vote was taken, Commissioner Judy Shiprack asked, 'Is there is any room to accommodate Mr. Howells concept?'

Cannon replied, 'We're 99% certain … Mr. Howell's proposal would require supplemental environmental impact work. The net result would be probably not getting things done a whole lot quicker.'

Board Chair Jeff Cogen responded, 'My request is to make the phone call [to appropriate regulatory agencies] and be 100% sure if this would have a result.'

Commissioner Deborah Kafoury called for the vote, adding, 'While we will further this proposal, I don't want to have it prevent us making this vote today. There's still a lot of work that has to be done on this detour bridge concept. The reason we're having this vote today is that we need to have things in place. The vote doesn't mean that the construction starts tomorrow, it just means that we're getting permissions from the city of Portland and the federal government these are all pieces need to be in place.'

The Board of Commissioners at that point unanimously adopted the resolution. They also voted to approve 'Authorization #5 - To begin negotiations up to acquire real property interests the purpose of constructing a new Sellwood Bridge and removing the existing bridge'.

After the meeting, Howell told THE BEE, he thought the Commissioners' response was positive. 'I've done this over many years. Usually get a polite 'thank you'; at least this time I got some questions and some genuine interest from the Commissioners.'

Mike Pullen, the County's spokesman for the project, later pointed out what he called a 'major flaw' in changing where the bridge would land on the west side. 'If we don't have enough money to build the whole project, you could have a new bridge, and make most of the changes to the existing interchanges still work. If you move the location of the west side landing to the north, you need to do the entire interchange all at one time.'

Pullen said Cannon and his team were following through on Cogen's request, and have requested information from the Federal Highway Administration - but even preliminary feedback could take weeks.

County still seeking funds - but Sellwood Bridge project starts this year


Although not all the needed funds to build it have yet been found, enough money is guaranteed to let Multnomah County start the replacement of the Sellwood Bridge late this year.

So said Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner serving Inner Southeast, in a speaking appearance at the Southeast Portland Rotary Club, at the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Hall in Woodstock, on June 20th.

The first step will be placing new piers in the Willamette River 40 feet north of the current bridge location, with the timing being dictated by rules protecting fish. New approaches for the bridge will be constructed to align with the new piers, and the means by which the current span can be slid northward onto the new piers will be added. That sliding will be done next Spring.

This is the 'shoo fly' detour bridge option, which was formally adopted by the county the week before Ms. Kafoury's talk. It is expected to shave up to ten million dollars from the cost of the project, and to shorten construction time by up to a year. It will also make the old span safer and more stable, since it is the current west-end approach which is the most worrisome part of the current bridge.

With the current bridge moved north out of the way, providing a traffic detour during the construction of the new bridge, that project is expected to run between 2012 and 2015.

Kafoury added that a major part of the cost of the new bridge is the west-end exchange connecting it to Highway 43 (Macadam Avenue), and one way the project may fit the available budget may be to postpone some costly elements of that exchange until there is money to pay for them.

Other funding possibilities are to seek a U.S. Government 'Tiger' grant, continue to seek previously applied-for federal money, seek unallocated state and federal transportation funds, and delay painting the Broadway Bridge, shifting that money ($10 million) to the Sellwood Bridge project. The county also owns the Broadway Bridge.

Kafoury interacted with the members of the Southeast Portland Rotary Club and their guests during and after the talk. One guest, referred to in a previous BEE editorial, who is a civic figure residing at Lake Oswego, continued to advocate a four-lane bridge and widening S.E. Tacoma Street in Sellwood to four lanes to accommodate more traffic.

Kafoury informed him the bridge will remain two lanes, but will have extra room for pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles.

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