Fairview council favors bridge plan

by: Jim Clark, The Sellwood Bridge has numerous of these metal braces keeping the concrete intact for the time being.

Multnomah County Commissioners faced a largely supportive Fairview City Council with a proposal to raise local funding to replace the rapidly deteriorating Sellwood Bridge in Southeast Portland.

County Chairman Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Lonnie Roberts presented their proposal during Council's Wednesday, Dec. 19, meeting. The commissioners are seeking support for a ballot measure to authorize a county car registration fee up to $27 per year. The fee would generate revenue to help replace the 1925-vintage Willamette River bridge that carries a safety sufficiency rating of two on a scale of 100.

'We've dropped it to a 10-ton limit on Sellwood,' Roberts said. 'It could come down to a situation where engineers don't like what they see and shut it down. That would force transportation on the remaining five bridges, which are pretty much loaded up.'

With the exception of newest member Rob Maricle, Council members indicated they would support the proposed Intergovernmental Agreement, or IGA - with reservations, but didn't vote on it.

By state law, Wheeler and Roberts need support from 11 jurisdictions, including Fairview, Troutdale, Wood Village and Gresham, to put the IGA before county voters.

At their respective meetings on Tuesday, Dec. 11, Wood Village Council unanimously voted to support the measure, while Troutdale denied the proposal in a four-to-three vote.

Some councilors made good-natured jibes about the Troutdale meeting, where the issue was hashed out in a sometimes-heated three-hour session. The commissioners and councilors conceded many issues raised that night were valuable to shaping the IGA.

'I watched the Troutdale meeting,' Councilor Lisa Barton-Mullins said to Wheeler and Roberts. 'I guarantee we won't go three hours. I think we have a good handle on it.'

She expressed concern about the amount of the car registration fee. Without stating an exact figure, the county IGA calls for a fee of no more than $27, the current amount of the state car registration.

'I am a little concerned about the $27,' Barton-Mullins said. 'That is a lot of money to some people. That said, I fully support putting this out to people and letting them decide.'

Wheeler defended the circuitous Troutdale meeting as working out some of the IGA's weaker points.

'A lot of issues were worked through that had not been worked through,' he said. 'It was a long meeting, but it was a good use of time.'

The commissioners addressed concerns about the IGA continuing in perpetuity and oversight on how the funds are spent.

'We're willing to reevaluate those items,' Wheeler said, noting the possibility of a 20-year moratorium or 'sunset' on the IGA.

There was general agreement that existing laws governing bridge funding - which put a large burden on counties as opposed to the region they serve - could use an overhaul. For example, state law bars counties from placing user tolls on bridges.

'A regional bridge authority? I totally agree with that strategy,' Wheeler said. 'That's how we should support infrastructure.'

Councilor Maricle was more openly critical of the county-centric approach to bridge funding. County voters are disgruntled about how costly projects such as the MAX mass-transit line, he said, and have lost faith in the commission's vision.

'I'm not thrilled about our current tax and spend methodologies,' he said. 'We continue to expand our infrastructure when what we currently have is crumbling before our eyes.

Maricle was among the councilors who were intrigued to learn that 70 percent of Sellwood Bridge users are Clackamas County residents.

'We need to take a step back and see where we're spending the current money,' he said. 'We could always talk turkey with Clackamas County and say we're gonna shut down this bridge until you come up with the money.

'Tough times call for tough measures.'