by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Approaching from the east side, Elected officials draw close to the center span of the new  TriMet Tilikum Crossing bridge. East and west segments of TriMet’s new transit bridge were officially joined late in May. And, on June 6th, government and transit officials celebrated – with a ceremonial first walk from the east and west sides of the bridge, so that project partners could meet in the middle.

The event provided a rare opportunity for THE BEE to snap photos of the new bridge – which will carry the new MAX light rail line down S.E. 17th and McLoughlin Boulevard to Milwaukie – with Portland’s Inner Southeast as the backdrop.

Awaiting the approach of the governmental luminaries, TriMet Resident Engineer Dave Tertadian remarked that work on the bridge, dubbed Tilikum Crossing, is far from complete.

“We are installing the track right now,” Tertadian began. “We also need to finish up the concrete work and install the handrails.”

Also, systems contractors will soon be working to “electrify” the bridge.

“This means putting on the catenary cables, the overhead contacts, and the lighting systems,” Tertadian explained.

“Once it is electrified, then we will bring trains across, and train not only our light rail operators, but also the bus drivers [who will be driving across it]. There's quite a bit of training that needs to go on before we actually open it to the public.”

Led by a TriMet employee holding up a large orange flag – symbolizing that the bridge will carry the new light rail Orange Line – officials met in the center of the 1,720 foot long, four-pier, cable-stayed bridge.

“We’re here, tying our city together with the rest of our region. We should be very proud today,” proclaimed TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane before a helicopter paused overhead to snap photos of the gathering, and a Portland Fire & Rescue fire boat shot celebratory streams of water into the air.

Tilikum Crossing, the “Bridge of the People”, is designed to carry light rail trains, buses, cyclists, pedestrians and streetcars – but not private vehicles.

Two 14-feet-wide bicycle and pedestrian paths – each two feet wider than standard vehicle lanes – will welcome alternative transportation commuters and sports riders, when it opens in September of 2015.