Histories of bridge projects rarely read like crime novels.
Then again, most of those projects don't involve the
of the early 1920s.
The crumbling structure, now set for replacement by 2016, is generally known for two things: It's Oregon's busiest two-lane bridge, and it scrapes along the bottom of the National Bridge Inventory sufficiency rating, scoring 2 out of a possible 100. It's in such bad shape buses aren't allowed on it.
Largely forgotten, though, is that rampant political corruption resulted in a weak bridge, a Czech-born genius was brought in to salvage the span's construction mess, and geological forces unknown at the time ultimately ruined a structure that was built on a dime.
"There are so many important things about the Sellwood Bridge that people simply don't know," said Sharon Wood Wortman, who has studied Portland's bridges for years. "Dismissing it as nothing but a falling-down wreck is just so wrong."
Writers and bridge historians are now documenting those story lines as part of the legally necessary work before a historic structure's demolition. And Multnomah County taxpayers are footing a healthy chunk of the bridge's $299 million replacement.
Scandal precipitated the destruction of the Sellwood Bridge. Time and pressure took care of the rest.
The most intriguing story line in the Sellwood Bridge's construction is the pivotal role it played in one of the biggest political scandals in Multnomah County history.
Charges of graft, kickbacks and corruption riveted county residents in 1924, after the county's three commissioners acted with suspicious speed in awarding a construction contract only hours after unsealing the bids.
"Fittingly enough," said Portland writer Fred Leeson, co-author of a new book on Multnomah County's history, "the bids were opened on April Fools' Day."
Eyebrows raised like drawbridges when commissioners immediately and almost wordlessly accepted the bid from a consortium of local contractors to build the Sellwood, Ross Island and Burnside bridges.
Within days of the bid award, the governor and state attorney general called for criminal investigations.
"The stage is all set for the inquiry," an April 13, 1924, article in The Oregonian read. "It is to be open with the interviewing of persons who may have information throwing suspicion upon acts of public officials."
A grand jury eventually indicted two of the commissioners and a contractor on bribery and malfeasance charges. All were eventually acquitted, but not before the scandal exposed the unsavory way money and power shaped the county's earlier days.
And ultimately, the consortium's questionable planning and design overruns on the Burnside and Ross Island crimped the budget for the Sellwood.
The "bridge god"
Another theme of the bridge's history is the grace and deftness with which the county extricated itself from the scandal. The debacle ended with the record-time recall of the three commissioners.
Their replacements promptly hired Gustav Lindenthal, a renowned but controversial former New York bridge commissioner, to oversee the three-bridge construction package.
George Kramer, an Ashland-based historian who has documented the bridge's history, said Lindenthal brought reassurance to a process so roiled by scandal.
"Lindenthal was sort of a legend, a 'bridge god' if you will, whose expertise and ethics were really beyond question," Kramer said. "It was an inspired choice."
Lindenthal threw out earlier engineering plans, drew up a set of his own and, on an anemic budget, came in ahead of schedule with a Sellwood Bridge that opened Dec. 15, 1925.
It was the first of Portland's "fixed span" bridges, meaning it did not swivel or hoist lift decks to allow passage of taller boats and ships. The bridge replaced a wooden ferry, whose annual operating costs had soared to the then-untenable figure of $25,000 per year, and increased crossing capacity to 1,800 vehicles an hour, up dramatically from the ferry's 84.
Carry that weight
The last theme emerging from its construction story? The geological forces and load-bearing frailties that, unknown to Lindenthal and other experts of the day, doomed the bridge before it ever opened.
The Sellwood's alignment was chosen because it was the narrowest crossing point for several miles in either direction. The reason for that constriction was a then-unknown ancient landslide slowly sloughing steep westside slopes toward the Willamette River.
The Oregonian’s continuing coverage of plans for rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge
It wasn't until the year the bridge opened that Austrian geologist Karl Terzhagi developed the science of soil mechanics, which could detect these sorts of subterranean movements.
Lindenthal, working without benefit of this knowledge, mistakenly thought he had struck bedrock in sinking the bridge's westside foundations. In fact, what he hit was a giant plate of rock, riding along with everything else to the water below.
"The slide didn't seriously hurt the steel truss parts over the river," said Ed Wortman, a part-time county employee and longtime bridge consultant. "But it squished the connections, particularly the western approach, and created a lot of instability."
The Sellwood was also the city's first bridge not designed to carry streetcars. That meant it could be far lighter than its downtown counterparts. Unfortunately, Lindenthal lacked the crystal ball to envision today's big trucks that weigh just as much as a 1925 streetcar.
"The cumulative stress of all that weight," Wortman said, "just killed the Sellwood Bridge."
Not, however, before it left a few intriguing chapters for those left behind.
Join Dana for a live chat about the Sellwood Bridge on Tuesday at noon at oregonlive.com
The Sellwood Bridge is a deck arch bridge that spans the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, in the United States. The current bridge opened in 2016 and replaced a 1925 span that had carried the same name. The original bridge was Portland's first fixed-span bridge and, being the only river crossing for miles in each direction, the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon. The Sellwood Bridge links the Sellwood and Westmoreland neighborhoods of Portland on the east side with Oregon Route 43/Macadam Avenue on the west side. At its east end it leads to Tacoma Street. The bridge is owned and operated by Multnomah County. The original span of 1925 was a steel truss bridge, while its 2016 replacement is a deck-arch-type bridge.
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Designed by Gustav Lindenthal, the first bridge opened on December 15, 1925, at a final cost of $541,000 (equivalent to $6.9 million in 2011). It was 1,971 feet (601 m) long with 75 feet (23 m) of vertical waterway clearance. It had four continuous spans, all of Warren type. The two center spans were 300 feet (91 m) long, and the two outside spans were 246 feet (75 m) each. The girders from the old Burnside Bridge (built in 1894) were reused at each end. The two-lane roadway was 24 feet (7.3 m) wide, and there was a sidewalk along one side.
Deficiencies and replacement
In the 2000s, discussions began to intensify over the bridge's condition, which had been deteriorating since the 1960s. Upon discovery of cracks in both concrete approaches in January 2004, the weight limit on the bridge was lowered from 32 tons to 10 tons. This caused the diversion of about 1,400 daily truck and bus trips, including 94 daily TriMet bus trips. Over the few years that followed, there was debate on whether the bridge should be replaced, repaired, closed altogether, or closed for automotive traffic (but left open for pedestrians and bicycles). In April 2005, Bechtel gave Multnomah County an unsolicited plan to replace the bridge through a public-private partnership.
Discussions over possible replacement of the bridge also considered changes that a new bridge might incorporate in order to make the structure more usable for cyclists and pedestrians than the bridge it would replace. The 1925 bridge included no designated space for bicycle traffic, which had grown in more recent decades, and with only a single traffic lane in each direction, there was also very little room for cars to move over when passing bicycles in the roadway. There was a sidewalk on the north side, but its width was a relatively narrow 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m) and the street light foundations shared space with the sidewalk, making the sidewalk's usable width at those points about 3 feet (36 inches, 91 cm). Allowing for safety clearances, there was less than 2 feet (24 inches, 61 cm) of usable sidewalk. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance listed[when?] the Sellwood Bridge as one of the top ten priorities for improving Portland's bicycling.
In July 2007, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners considered several options for a replacement bridge. At the time, the top option was a 75-foot-wide (23 m) bridge with two car lanes and two transit lanes, running just south of the current bridge, with a projected cost of $302 million. In November 2008, however, the Sellwood Bridge team issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement containing details on five different finalist designs and alignments. In February 2009, the Policy Advisory Group (PAG), based on recommendations provided by a Community Task Force and the public, selected a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The LPA included replacement of the existing bridge with a new bridge, alignment approximately 15 feet south of Tacoma Street, allowing continuous traffic flow at the crossing during construction, a pedestrian-actuated signal at Tacoma Street and SE 6th Avenue, and a signal at the west end interchange. The LPA is 64 feet (or less) wide and consists of two traffic lanes, two bike lanes, and two 12-foot (3.7 m) wide sidewalks. A final Environmental Impact Statement was published in spring 2010, and it was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in July 2010.
After evaluation in 2010 of several different possible designs, a two-lane steel deck arch bridge was chosen for the replacement bridge. This was approved by the Multnomah County Commission on January 27, 2011. The new bridge is strong enough to carry streetcars and the design will include some provisions intended to make the potential installation of a streetcar line across the bridge easier, should city officials later decide to build such a line. Plans to include streetcar tracks were briefly considered in late 2010, but dropped in January 2011 to reduce costs.
In an October 2011 study, the Department of Transportation wrote that the Sellwood Bridge must be replaced 'immediately'. On December 15, 2011, the county received U.S. federal funding sufficient to begin immediate work on a replacement. On July 19, 2012, Multnomah County commissioners approved a $299 million design for a new bridge.
On July 19, 2012, a final design was approved by Multnomah County commissioners. The design is a steel deck arch bridge with pedestrian and bicycle lanes on both sides. Construction was funded with $136 million from the county (raised from a $17 annual vehicle registration fee), $33 million from the federal government, $35 million from the state, and $84.5 million from the city of Portland. Clackamas County was originally to provide some funding due to the bridge’s use by many residents of that county, but that plan was later rejected by voters.
On January 19, 2013, the 6.8-million pound bridge was moved onto temporary steel supports by contractor Omega Morgan. The moved bridge, known as a shoofly bridge, served as a temporary span until the new crossing opened. After more than three years of use on temporary supports, the old bridge closed to traffic permanently on February 25, 2016, and the new bridge opened to traffic on February 29, 2016. In between, on February 27, an opening celebration event took place on the new span with access to pedestrians and cyclists only. Crews began demolishing the original railings and bridge deck once the old span closed, with the process completed in May 2016. The steel trusses were then cut into pieces and lowered onto barges using hydraulic jacks, and the temporary steel supports were dismantled.
The new Sellwood Bridge stretches a total of 1,976 feet (602 m) across the Willamette River. The deck arch design’s longest span is 465 feet (142 m) long and rests on a total of two piers in the water. There are a total of three arches carrying the 64-foot (20 m) wide span. The deck carries two lanes of traffic, bicycle lanes in both directions, and sidewalks on both sides. The architect for the new Sellwood Bridge was Safdie Rabines Architects with T.Y. Lin International serving as Prime Consultant for Final Design. The final design reduced the bridge footprint significantly from early concepts, lowering project costs and minimizing environmental disturbances. The final bridge design is also based on contemporary seismic codes and satisfies both a 475-year return period event for operations and a 975-year return period for safety.
- ^ abcdWood Wortman, Sharon; Wortman, Ed (2006). The Portland Bridge Book (3rd ed.). Urban Adventure Press. pp. 83–88. ISBN .
- ^ abKATU staff (February 29, 2016). "New Sellwood Bridge open for pedestrians and drivers". KATU. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
- ^Wood, Sharon (2001). The Portland Bridge Book. Oregon Historical Society. ISBN .
- ^ abcDylan Rivera (November 26, 2008). "Region weighs options on cracked Sellwood Bridge". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^Hamilton, Don (June 24, 2004). "Sellwood span has new limits". Portland Tribune. Archived from the original on February 11, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- ^Jacklet, Ben (May 13, 2005). "The Sellwood solution?". Portland Tribune. Archived from the original on February 11, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- ^"Sellwood Bridge". Multnomah County. Archived from the original on 2006-10-11. Retrieved 2006-11-06.
- ^Bicycle Transportation Alliance. "Blueprint for Better Biking: Sellwood Bridge"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2006-11-06.
- ^Arthur Gregg Sulzberger; Holly Danks (July 13, 2007). "Portland New, wider Sellwood span favored". The Oregonian.
- ^"Previous phases". Multnomah County. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^"Notice of Final Federal Agency Actions on the Sellwood Bridge Project, SE Tacoma Street and Oregon Highway 43, Multnomah County, OR". Federal Highway Administration via the Federal Register. April 13, 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^Vorenberg, Sue (January 27, 2011). "Sellwood Bridge design approved by county". Daily Journal of Commerce. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^Hannah-Jones, Nikole (January 27, 2011). "Multnomah County board approves Sellwood Bridge design". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^Schmidt, Brad (January 20, 2011). "Sellwood Bridge design won't include $13 million for streetcar tracks or on-ramp". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- ^"Survey deems 80 Portland bridges structurally deficient". KPTV. October 19, 2011. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- ^"The Sellwood Bridge: A New Milestone". Sellwood Bridge Project website. Multnomah County. December 16, 2011. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- ^ abMayer, James (July 19, 2012). "Sellwood Bridge final design approved". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- ^Law, Steve (June 14, 2011). "County pushes ahead on Sellwood Bridge plan". Portland Tribune. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
- ^Tims, Dana (January 19, 2013). "Sellwood Bridge move comes off without a hitch, amazing hundreds of onlookers". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on June 4, 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
- ^"The Sellwood Bridge Project, accessed January 22, 2013
- ^"Sellwood Bridge by Safdie Rabines Architects".
- ^"Sellwood Bridge Engineering Profile". T.Y. Lin International. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
Oregon bridges, by the numbersDid you know there are 44.4 million bridge crossings per day? Watch for more little-known tidbits about Oregon's bridges.
The new Sellwood Bridge features a wide, open span that leaps from each bank of the Willamette River in three graceful arches. It's a welcome change from the old, drab, cracked, narrow two-lane bridge.
The new bridge has two viewing areas on each side, two 12-foot-wide sidewalks, two 6.5-foot-wide bicycle lanes and the structural integrity and seismic soundness befitting a 21st century bridge. It remains two lanes, but flares to four lanes on the west end and three lanes with a center turn lane on the east end to ease congestion.
For the past few months, we've taken you on a weekly tour of our most iconic bridges around Portland and beyond - landmarks built of steel, concrete, wood and brick that have shaped our landscape and contributed to our growth and prosperity. The series is part of "Spanning Oregon," a new coffee-table book produced by staff writers and photographers of The Oregonian/OregonLive. To order copies, go to
When Ian Cannon, Multnomah County's Sellwood Bridge program manager, surveys the bridge from the Willamette River's east bank near Oaks Park, he's happy with what he sees. "It's monumental. It's a really impressive piece of work," Cannon said.
Since engineers discovered gaping cracks in the old bridge in 2004, Cannon and county consultants spent thousands of hours worrying about what came next.
In those years of planning and construction, Cannon, 53, watched both of his children graduate from high school and enroll in Washington State University. He found time to coach his son's recreational soccer team. He lost hair, and some of what remained turned gray.
Once construction started in December 2011, Cannon had a front row seat.
The Sellwood Bridge is the unusual span that connects a busy commercial neighborhood to a regional highway. Oregon Highway 43 is some 1,976 feet away from Sellwood, a secluded Southeast Portland neighborhood.
The bridge is also an important link that connects thousands of Clackamas County residents to jobs in downtown Portland and beyond.
Building the bridge wasn't easy, and the engineers and construction crews plotted a way to keep the vital traffic line open while erecting the new structure. They moved the old bridge to the side, closing traffic for less than a week. "Like having your house remodeled while you're living in it," Cannon said of the logistical challenge.
The Beaverton resident commuted in by bike several days a week to track the bridge's progress. Biking, he said, was one key to reducing stress.
Cannon always thought the old bridge, built in 1925 "on the cheap," looked frail. It was also the busiest two-lane span in the state, carrying 30,000 vehicles per day.
Now he sees a stout, useful and handsome bridge.
The new bridge also offers multiple viewing areas - looking north to the city, or south to a wide, more rural river.
"It's a very visible, tangible, community improvement that will outlast all of us if all goes according to plan," Cannon said.
Year completed: 2016
Construction time: December 2011-2016
Significance: Second new bridge over the Willamette River since 1973
Length: 1,976 feet
Cost: $317.5 million (estimated)
Daily passengers: Not available. Old Sellwood Bridge had 30,000 vehicles a day.
Materials: Steel deck arch bridge, with three sweeping arches.
Designer: TY Lin International
Builders: Slayden Construction Group, Sundt Construction
Notable fact: Construction crews moved the original Sellwood bridge to the side, which allowed traffic to continue during construction.
The Sellwood Bridge project is an ongoing effort by Multnomah County to replace the 87-year old Willamette River crossing with a new structure that offers upgraded facilities for all users.
Deficiencies identified in the old Sellwood Bridge that will be addressed in the permanent, replacement structure include:
- Narrow lanes
- Narrow sidewalk
- No shoulders
- No bike facilities and poor connections to trail system
- Bridge not designed to withstand earthquakes
- Tight turns at west end
- Unstable slope at west end
- Weight restrictions for vehicles
In December of 2011, it was announced that after a rigorous and competitive application process, Multnomah County was awarded $17.7 million in federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help eliminate a majority of the $23 million funding gap needed to complete the project. An additional $5 million was secured from the Oregon Legislature in February 2012 to close the funding shortfall.
The Sellwood Bridge groundbreaking on December 16, 2011 kicked off the project’s construction phase. Citizens and representatives from Multnomah County, the City of Portland, the state of Oregon and the federal government came together to celebrate what can be accomplished through sound partnerships.
On Jan. 19, 2013, contractors successfully lifted and moved the 3,400-ton truss span of the old Sellwood Bridge, putting it on new piers and converting it into a detour bridge. The temporary detour bridge will serve bridge users and minimize the economic impact to local businesses during construction of the replacement bridge. It provides the following advantages over the original plan to build the new bridge in two phases:
- Savings of $5 to $10 million in project costs
- Reduction of construction time by up to one year
- Improved safety by separating traffic from bridge construction
- Reduced environmental impacts (due to less in-water work)
The detour bridge will remain open to traffic until the new Sellwood Bridge opens in the summer of 2015.
For up-to-date information on Sellwood Bridge Project visit: www.sellwoodbridge.org
Sellwood bridge old
Sundt and its joint venture partner used a “shoofly” (detour) approach to complete this project. The team lifted the old bridge deck and truss with hydraulic jacks and moved it to one side, then placed it on a set of temporary piers and connected it to temporary approach spans so traffic could use it while the new bridge was constructed. Using the detour bridge allowed the team to close the bridge for only 20 days, well inside the 30 days provided in the contract.
Time- and cost-savings began before the first components of the old bridge were removed. The team used Building Information Modeling (BIM) and a sophisticated video presentation to develop and propose a faster, safer and less expensive method for reconstructing the bridge than was originally called for in the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. The bridge translation approach shortened the schedule by a year and reduced the cost to the owner by more than $5 million.
In order to place the bridge’s concrete deck, specifications called for less than a 30% chance of rain before, during and after the pour, which required a 12-hour window of good weather. Finding such a window in Portland during the winter was tough, requiring pours to start as early as 3 a.m. The specifications additionally required the concrete to be above 60 degrees, posing a problem when temperatures dropped into the 20s. Much of the concrete had to be covered and heated to remain within specifications. Crews had four bent pours that took more than 30 hours each. The nine concrete deck pours required extensive coordination among the supplier, pump subcontractor, joint venture quality control, Multnomah County quality assurance and Oregon Department of Transportation inspection teams.
Type: Steel Deck Arch
Built: 2013 - 2016
Length: 1976 ft., including main river spans and approaches
Width: 64 ft at narrowest point
Lanes: 2 at narrowest width
Traffic: 30,000 vehicles/day
The Sellwood Bridge is a steel deck arch structure, with three arches supporting the deck of the main river spans. It was built in 2013-2016, replacing the old bridge that stood for over 90 years.
The bridge is 1976 feet in total length, with the three main river spans adding up to 1275 feet. It is 64 feet wide at its narrowest point, with two travel lanes at the east end that widen to four lanes at the west end. The bridge has two 12-foot shared-use sidewalks, and two bike lanes that also serve as emergency shoulders.
The original Sellwood Bridge was intended as a local community connector, replacing the earlier Spokane Street Ferry. It became instead a primary connector for eastside residents to reach Interstate 5, downtown Portland and Washington County.
The new bridge is built to modern seismic standards. It is designed to survive the largest earthquake felt here in the last thousand years, and to need only moderate repairs after a smaller quake.
The bridge restored access for buses, which had been banned from the older bridge due to weight restrictions. The vehicle weight limit is 13 tons (26,000 pounds) for private vehicles and 40 tons (80,000 pounds) for publicly-owned vehicles like buses and fire trucks. The bridge was designed with the ability to carry a streetcar line in the future.
During construction, the main span of the old bridge -- 1100 feet long -- was physically lifted up and moved north. It was connected with temporary ramps and served as a detour bridge while the new one was being built.
The new Sellwood Bridge was designed by T.Y. Lin International. CH2M designed the project’s roads, retaining walls and stormwater facilities. Safdie Rabines was the project architect. The project was built by Slayden/Sundt, a joint venture of Slayden Construction Group and Sundt Construction.
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After some time, sounds incomprehensible to me were heard from the room, and Olga, winking at me, beckoned me to the bedroom door. And, looking into the hole left in the door from the castle, gave way to me. At first, I didn't understand anything. I could see part of the man's ass and legs crossed on his lower back. Then they turned over and I saw how the woman several times inserted the organ jumping out of her, thrusting herself onto.