by: TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JON HOUSE - The two sides of the bridge are scheduled to be connected next May, with the new MAX line opening in September 2015.For the first time, Portland-area residents will have the opportunity to name a bridge over the Willamette River. TriMet will solicit names for the transit bridge being built between South Waterfront and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry starting Oct. 17. The name will be chosen and announced by spring.

And to all you cynics out there, don’t even think of suggesting Boondoggle Bridge or Portland Creep Crossing. The name will be chosen by a nine-member panel of upstanding citizens who take their job seriously and won’t put up with any shenanigans.

The committee is chaired by Chet Orloff, a 22-year member of the Oregon Geographic Names Board and director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society.

“How we name our landscape helps define us and where we live. It’s something people take very seriously,” Orloff says.

Bridge will unite region

According to Orloff, because TriMet is a regional agency, everyone in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties is encouraged to submit names. Orloff says the regional nature of the bridge also might serve as an inspiration.

“The bridge is about connecting two sides of the Willamette River and tying the region together. The naming process is also a way of getting better acquainted with the river that is so important to who we are,” Orloff says.

Orloff also is aware that names can be controversial, however. The Portland City Council asked him to propose a formal policy for involving the public in renaming streets following the dispute over changing 39th Avenue to Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard in 2009. Twenty years earlier, a petition drive was launched to prevent the council from renaming Union Avenue after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The measure appeared headed to the ballot when a judge declared it illegal.

The bridge is part of the $1.49 billion Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project. The 7.3-mile line will connect Portland State University in downtown Portland with inner Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and northern Clackamas County. It will include 10 new MAX stations and is projected to carry up to an average of 25,500 weekday riders.

The line is scheduled to open Sept. 12, 2015. TriMet projects the bridge will carry 22,765 weekday riders by 2030. It will be the first new bridge over the Willamette River in 40 years.

The new bridge will be the first cable-stayed bridge in the region, extending 1,720 feet over the Willamette River. It is a unique multimodal bridge that will carry transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, but no private vehicles. Emergency vehicles will be able to access the bridge if necessary. The west end will connect to a new Southwest Porter Street that runs next to the OHSU/OSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building that is currently under construction. The east end leads to Southeast Sherman Street near OMSI and the Portland Opera headquarters.

Bridge taking shape

Construction on the bridge is far along. Tall towers for the suspension cables rise along the west and east bank of the rivers. The concrete deck is being poured in balanced sections, each suspended by the cables above the water. Workers scramble up the towers and hang on platforms below the newly poured sections every day to connect the cables. The center section is scheduled to be completed in May 2014.

The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge Naming Committee held its introductory meeting on Sept. 5. It will be accepting suggested names from Oct. 17 through Dec. 1. Special consideration will be given to individuals and organizations who have made meaningful contributions to the history of the community, attributes and elements that are representative of the area, virtues that have broad appeal, historical significance and geographic relevance.

The committee will announce the first selection of possible names in winter 2014, followed by a public comment period from Jan. 16 through March 1, 2014. The committee will recommend the final names to TriMet in spring. The agency will make the final decision.

Other members of the committee include: Betty Dominguez, East County Director, Home Forward; Matthew French, Managing Partner, Zidell Corp.; Sue Keil, member Willamette River Bridge Advisory Committee; David Lewis, cultural historian, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; Brenda Martin, PSU graduate student in urban and regional planning and regular transit rider; Alice Norris, former Oregon City mayor; Pat Reser, arts and historical advocate, Beaverton business owner; Travis Stovall, consultant and TriMet board of directors member; and Krystyna Wolniakowski, director of Western Partnership Office, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Portland-Milwaukie line is a little more than 50 percent complete. It is a partnership of the Federal Transit Administration, Metro, TriMet, the city of Portland, the city of Milwaukie, the city of Oregon City, Clackamas County, Multnomah County, and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Orloff says the naming process is an opportunity to break from a local tradition of largely uninspiring bridge names. Most other bridges across the Willamette River are named after connecting streets or geographic locations. Two exceptions are the equally drab Steel Bridge and and the Marquam Bridge, which is named after former civic leader Philip Marquam, who owned much of the hill where OHSU and the Veterans Affair Medical Center now stand.

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