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Sellwood Bridge opening delayed until January 2016

Multnomah County has pushed back the tentative opening of the replacement Sellwood Bridge to January 2016.

The bridge was scheduled to open in the fall of 2015.

The county, which owns and operates the bridge, never set an official opening date. The construction contract calls for the project to be completed no later than November 2016. But county officials have talked about a fall 2015 opening until recently, when they began using the 2016 date.

County spokesman Mike Pullen says the county altered its unofficial timeline because several things have slowed the project’s progress, including unexpectedly hard rock that broke several drill bits during construction of the eastside piers. Retaining walls on the west end of the bridge had to be redesigned to hold back the cliff face. And the Vancouver company fabricating steel beams, Thompson Metal Fab, is completing its work later than expected, Pullen says.

The total budget for the project — $307.5 million — has not changed, however. But a contingency fund in the budget is being drawn down, partly because of the additional foundation and retaining wall work, Pullen says. If it is depleted before the project is completed, additional funds may have to be found to pay the final bills.

The bridge connects Highway 43 on the west end to Sellwood on the east. Although both the original and replacement bridge are two-lane structures, it is a major commuter connection between portions of Clackamas and Multnomah counties. The original bridge has long been considered substandard and at risk of failure because of slow moving landslide under the west end. The replacement bridge will have much firmer foundations and feature wider pedestrian and bicycle crossings.

Work on the replacement bridge has been complicated by the country’s decision to keep the span open during construction. Among other things, the upper deck was shifted onto new foundations to continue operation. The bridge closed for three days last week to shift traffic onto the new east approach from Southeast Tacoma Street. The speed limit on the bridge was reduced from 25 to 20 miles per hour when it reopened.

The replacement bridge is being funded in part by an annual $19 motor vehicle registration fee approved by Multnomah County commissioners. Additional revenue is coming from the federal government, the state and the city of Portland. Clackamas County voters rejected an annual $5 motor vehicle fee to fund a portion of the project.

Contact Jim Redden at 503-546-5131 or jimredden@portlandtribune.com.

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