On Wednesday, the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon will be officially complete.

On Wednesday, the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon will be officially complete.

A decade in the making, the new Sellwood Bridge is the largest project Multnomah County has ever taken on, estimated at $325 million — much more than the amount of the Sauvie Island bridge, which cost $43 million.TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Crew finish up the final touches on the new Sellwood Bridge, a steel deck arch bridge and the busiest two-lane bridge in the state.

Mike Pullen, communications coordinator with Multnomah County, said this is probably the longest project he’ll ever work on.

“To build a project of this scale, you need a lot of people on the management team to work with contractors, inspect their work, work with the design firm and inspect their work,” Pullen said. “If we had tried to go the traditional route, we’d probably do a lot of on-the-job training, and once the job is done we’d have to let them go: we don’t have another $300 million project lined up after Sellwood.”

The Sellwood Bridge project was the largest construction manager and general contractor (CMGC) project in Multnomah County’s history, requiring the general contractor to join the team early during the design phase to provide input and save money. Pullen said before the Sellwood Bridge, the County’s biggest project was $50 million.

The Sellwood Bridge is the only one (for cars) in the city made to withstand the potential Cascadia Quake, along with Tilikum Crossing.

“All the bridges on the West Coast now, they’re strictly seismic design criteria,” said David Goodyear,

senior vice president at T.Y. Lin

International. “The bridge articulation, that is how the bridge responds to temperature and where it’s free and where it’s fixed, is all governed by the earthquake resistance.”

Everything is anchored to the center span of the bridge so lateral loads from a quake go through the center arch into the foundation, and travel into the ground. As for shaking up and down the river, the bridge deck is built like a diaphragm to carry the lateral load up and down the river, back into the foundation onto land.

“These are pretty simple diagrammatically, it’s a pretty simple system for earthquakes,” Goodyear said.


Goodyear, senior vice president at T.Y. Lin International, is also its chief bridge engineer for North American operations. He’s been working on the Sellwood Bridge for almost eight years, heavily leading during the design phases in 2011-2012 with up to 20 subconsultants on the team organizing specialty activities.

T.Y. Lin built a similar bridge for the State over the Crooked River in eastern oregon — a big arch thrust right into rock canyon walls.

“It’s an ideal site for the foundation because they don’t move,” Goodyear said. “Here, we had to create that environment artificially because the land and the soil in the shores of the Willamette is not rock.”

He said in Sellwood, they installed a lot of drill shafts, boring down and locking into the rock to create the stiffness needed for the foundation to support the deck arch. TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Workers weave metal netting to prevent trash or projectiles from falling onto the railroad below on the east side.

“And that on the West side had to be integrated in with the landslide mitigation holding back the landslide,” Goodyear said. “A lot of interesting engineering went into that.”

The landslide retaining walls at the west end are 40 feet high, and without that purchase they would’ve been closer to 80 feet tall.

Taking the point at the beginning of the project, the lead design firm CH2M became the subconsultant to T.Y. Lin, the lead design consultant, as the project transitioned to the design and construction phases.

The CH2M design team has been working with Multnomah County on the bridge since spring 2006. In the past ten years, CH2M had more than 100 engineers, planners, scientists and support staff working in Portland and from Corvallis.

Steven Katko, project manager with CH2M Transportation, said the most exciting part of the bridge project was the creativity that everyone brought to the table to figure out the puzzle.

“The location of the bridge and interchange is a very complex site with a lot of interdependent elements,” Katko said of the Riverview Cemetery, steep terrain, parkland, landslide, contaminated soil, traffic, bikes, pedestrians, trolley line, Sellwood residents, businesses and the Springwater Trail. “Weaving a project through all that took some considerable finesse and creativity.”

Joint Venture workforce

The contractor is a joint venture between Slayden Construction and Sundt Construction and General Contractor as the construction manager and general contractor (CMGC).

Dustin Murphy, project engineer with Sundt Construction and Sellwood Bridge project manager, moved to Portland to participate on this job from San Antonio, where he lived for a year and a half. He’s originally from Tucson, Arizona. Because of the Sellwood Bridge, Murphy invested in a house in the Corbett neighborhood with his wife, who works at TriMet and is pregnant with their second child now.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dustin Murphy, project engineer with Sundt Construction and project manager on the Sellwood Bridge, moved with his family to Portland to work on the Sellwood Bridge. The joint venture has between 25-30 on its payroll, with a peak of 60 over time. The construction teams have clocked more than 1.2 million hours on the project, including subcontractors.

Murphy said Sundt hired most workers regionally.

“Most of our administrative staff is from outside the Portland area, and the same with the workforce, 75 percent are from outside Portland,” Murphy said. “But, probably out of that, 75 percent or the majority are from within a 50-mile radius. All of our workforce was hired probably in Oregon or Washington.”

Sliding the shoofly

Murphy said shifting the old truss over was a big event for his firm.

“It’s pretty unique for Sundt: we haven’t done anything like that before, it was a pretty cool experience,” Murphy said. “One of the bigger challenges was monitoring the truss, making sure it didn’t deflect over the lift while in translation ... there was a lot of concern about it cracking and it had a bunch of survey equipment on it.”

The old bridge’s truss section weighed 3,400 tons — about 7 million pounds — and was about 1,200 feet long.

“We slid that whole truss over about 65 feet on the west side, and 30 on the east side,” Murphy said. “It was a pretty big event just moving something that large, and served as a detour for the traveling public while construction worked on the new bridge.”

Mike Baker served Multnomah County as the owner’s representative from David Evans Associates architectural design, where he is the vice president and senior project manager.

Baker said sliding the old bridge over and using it a shoofly bridge while the new one was under construction all went smoothly, thanks to seven months of intense planning.

“I got to ride the bridge while it was moving. I told my kids, that was my personal highlight,” Baker said.

“The excitement of it all — getting that sideways launch, the slide of the old bridge — was an engineering feat which was a challenge,” Goodyear said. “The architecture flows from the engineering solution.”

When Slayden-Sundt came on, they recommended moving the bridge out of the way to save time and money. In practice, Goodyear said it was the long, continuous truss that made it a challenge to slide.

“The challenge of maintaining traffic and sliding the bridge over was something that wasn’t originally contemplated, but when we looked at how are we going to maintain traffic with the least impact to the community, it made a lot of sense,” Goodyear said. “At the time, it was one of the larger bridge movements — especially of such an old bridge — that’s been tried anywhere.”

County Challenges

The old bridge, built in 1925 on a budget depleted by the Ross Island and Burnside bridges, actually had support pillars through a building underneath it. That building was still in use as offices for law firms, nonprofits and more over time — the County had to buy 20 businesses.

“It’s not wise to have a bridge over a building that’s occupied,” Pullen said. “When it came time to replace the bridge, we had to buy that building and take it down.”TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Subcontractors place the merging sign eastbound near the west intersection of the bridge.

The whole bridgehead on the east side was very narrow.

“We didn’t own the land around it, and residences were built very close to it on the east side,” Pullen said. “We had to buy six people’s homes ... it was emotionally a difficult part of the project. Very rarely we have to buy people’s homes to build something.”

Five of the condo units were removed because they were under the detour bridge, and the sixth one will be put back on the market.

“We didn’t want anybody to have to live under the detour bridge,” Pullen said.

The owners requested to keep traffic flowing during the build. Overall, the project members kept the bridge open for all but 30 days over nearly five years, but critics wonder why it wasn’t widened to four lanes for cars.

It’s a lot more expensive, and Tacoma Street is only two lanes — and has been for more than 10 years, with no changes in the future Tacoma Main Street Plan. Portland-based landscape architect and subconsultant Alta Planning + Design looked at the pedestrian and bike predictions surrounding the bridge.

“We think when it’s four lanes, it becomes a real safety problem for our community ... schools are very close on both sides,” Pullen said. “To make the Sellwood Bridge a four-lane bridge on the chance that someday, Tacoma Street may become four lanes would’ve been a swing of $70 million extra to the project for something that may never happen.”

The old bridge has one four-foot sidewalk on the south side for pedestrians and bikes. The new one has 12-foot sidewalks and six-foot bike lanes on both sides, large enough to be used as a shoulder if a car breaks down or for maintenance needs.

“It feels great to see such a long-awaited project nearly complete ... it is a reminder of how long it takes and how much work is required to replace a major piece of infrastructure these days,” Pullen said. “The final product is a bridge that is both functional and beautiful. We think it is a great addition to the city’s collection of bridges — one that makes its own statement.”

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Goodfellow Bros. subcontractor

The CMGC set a goal of allocating 20 percent of contract dollars to certified subcontractor firms owned by women, minorities or emerging small businesses.

In the last report, 20.34 percent of contract dollars have been awarded to disadvantaged firms, minority workforce hours were at 28 percent of the project’s total. Women made up 13 percent, and the contractors hope to reach 14 percent with the finalization of the project.

Liam Clark is the senior project engineer with Goodfellow Bros., a fourth-generation heavy civil construction company founded in 1921 in Wenatchee, Washington. It has five locations in Hawaii, two in Washington and one here in Portland. The company holds a Tribal Employment Rights (TERO) Contract certification in Oregon from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation through ODOT.

Clark has been working on the Sellwood Bridge project since 2013 with a crew of up to 10. They did the earthwork surrounding the west Highway 43 interchange, completing 95,000 yards of excavation for the retaining walls and 50,000 yards of embankment.

“We had prepared for asphalt paving, concrete flatwork, we supported all the drillers for shafts and walls,” Clark said. “We also had the blasting subcontractor under our scope of work as well.”

On the bioswales, Goodfellow Bros. excavated and placed the liner, had a subcontractor place the topsoil, then placed the drain rock above that themselves.

Clark enjoyed holding the blasting contract, with subcontractor McCallum Rock Drilling, who used four-to-six-inch diameter roles packed full of explosives.

“It had some hard salt rock our sub had to blast, and I think it was the first time anyone had blasted within the city limits of Portland within the last 30 years,” Clark said. “Organizing that activity on some really late nights and separate blasts in April 2013, that was the most exciting part of it.”

To Clark, the most challenging part of the project was keeping up with design changes along the way and communicating with all the teams.

“Keep the documentation organized and keep working off the latest design and latest drawing set was one of the biggest challenges,” Clark said. “There aren’t that many projects this size within the city limits of Portland, so to be a part of it for the past four years is pretty awesome — it was great to be a part of the project, but also a long time to be on a project, especially for our contract size.”

Most of Goodfellow’s contract last only one or two construction seasons (summertime).

“We’re just helping set up with other miscellaneous closeout items, and hopefully will be out of there within the next month,” Clark said.

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