With 3 new spans, Springwater Trail is one gap away from finish line

Construction crews are more than a month ahead of schedule in building three bridges for the Springwater Corridor Trail. The trail runs 17 miles from Southeast Ivon Street near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, winds over Johnson Creek and through Powell Butte Nature Park, all the way to Boring.

For many Portland-area residents, perhaps the most visible sign of the trial is the orange pedestrian and bicycle bridge now arching over Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard near Ochoco Street. Work crews have been busy in recent days, laboring above lanes of traffic diverted around a temporary center support. Motorists could see them pouring concrete and tightening the steel cables on the flagship tension bridge last week.

The McLoughlin bridge is one of three spans that will close a 3-mile gap in the trail where bicyclists and hikers now must cut through neighborhoods and across busy streets to reach the rest of the trail, along the east bank of the Willamette River. The other two bridges go over Johnson Creek and a Union Pacific Railroad rail yard just east of McLoughlin.

Each of the three bridges was designed differently to fit in with its surroundings. The largest is the McLoughlin bridge, which is made of steel and concrete and painted orange. It is considered the connector between Milwaukie and Portland.

The bridge crossing the rail yard is a prefabricated box truss design, while the Johnson Creek bridge is made of steel and is not enclosed.

'The idea is that you can see the tree canopy and the creek,' city project manager George Lozovoy said of the open design. 'We put a bump-out in the middle so you can get out of the way and take time to look at the creek itself.'

Despite the rainy weather this spring, construction workers have maintained a vigorous schedule.

'I don't want to jinx this project,' said construction manager Dave Gray, 'but it looks like we're going to be done in July.'

Completion of the $4.7 million project originally was scheduled for September. Ninety percent of the funding comes from the federal government, with Portland Parks & Recreation, the Portland Office of Transportation, the city of Milwaukie and TriMet kicking in the remaining 10 percent, approximately $470,000.

The Springwater Corridor Trail follows a former light-rail line, called the Springwater Division Line, which ran from 1903 to 1958. At its peak, it carried 16,000 passengers each year into and out of the city from all the suburbs that sprang up around it.

The city of Portland and Metro regional government acquired 191 acres of the Springwater Corridor in 1990 and promptly began developing the old rail line into a trail. Most of the trail is paved, about 10 to 12 feet wide, with soft shoulders.

The trail is considered a key element in the 40-Mile Loop plan, which was conceived by Frederick and John Olmsted during city planning in 1903. The brothers envisioned a 40-mile trail that connected parks in what was then a much smaller city.

It has been more than 100 years since the Olmsted brothers proposed the 40-mile loop, and now it is nearly 140 miles long and two-thirds complete. With only a few major gaps (including the Springwater Corridor gap), the loop trail connects parks along the Columbia, Sandy, and Willamette rivers and Johnson Creek.

'When we get that piece (Springwater Corridor Trail), people can literally walk and ride their bicycle from downtown Portland to Gresham and beyond,' said Mel Stout, founding member of the 40-Mile Loop Land Trust, which was established in 1983.

When the three bridges project is complete in late summer or early fall, Portland Parks & Recreation will focus on finding funds to close the final gap in the trail from Southeast Ochoco Street to Umatilla Street, under the Sellwood Bridge. The estimated cost for the project is $1.2 million.

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