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The City of Portland may like 'road diets' -- but that had nothing to do with this county bridge!

DAVID F. ASHTON - On February 27, 2016, the day the new Sellwood Bridge opened with a community party, the old Sellwood Bridge stood empty, at left, awaiting its fate in demolition - as thousands came to celebrate the opening of its sturdy and wider replacement. On the morning of May 14 we received an e-mail from local think tank "Cascade Policy Institute" that proclaimed, "Special Event! Thursday, May 23: 'The New Sellwood Bridge: Promises Unfulfilled' – Please join Cascade Policy Institute for our monthly Policy Picnic on Thursday, May 23, at 12PM, featuring John Charles."

We were surprised, because the main mandate of the new bridge was actually just to replace the old one, which had been rated as a "2" on the federal bridge sufficiency scale of 100, and after 90 years of faithful service was deteriorating badly! And sure enough, it was replaced – with a wider and stronger bridge.

We read on, to find what just promise it was that had not been unfulfilled:

"In 2016 the new Sellwood Bridge opened, at a cost of $328 million. The bridge was more than twice as wide as the original bridge, but most of the space was allocated for cyclists and walkers. Planners believed that by placing a moratorium on road capacity and encouraging alternative ways of traveling, significant numbers of commuters would leave their cars behind.

"Unfortunately, the planners were wrong. Today the traffic congestion near the bridge is worse than ever, and the anticipated jump in walking and cycling never happened. This presentation will discuss the results of a multi-year case study by Cascade of what happens when elected officials refuse to provide transportation facilities needed for population growth."

Well, none of those conclusions about the new Sellwood Bridge are correct. So, in an effort to prevent an embarrassing faux pas by the well-known local think tank, we sent the following response to the Institute. And, in case anybody in Southeast Portland thinks that reducing traffic congestion ever had any role in the replacement of the Sellwood Bridge, we also offer our response here. Here is what we wrote. . .

Your point in this presentation would be plausible if it were about City of Portland policy, but since the City of Portland was not involved in this bridge project, it isn't plausible, and nothing you apparently plan to say about the Sellwood Bridge is correct. Did you actually bother to look into this, or are you just making it up?

The Sellwood Bridge was built by, and is owned by, Multnomah County, and their original intention was to build a four-lane bridge to replace the previous bridge. However, the Sellwood-Westmoreland community strongly objected, since the roads the new bridge would connect to at both ends are still two-lane roads, with enormous additional congestion to result from drivers thus having to funnel bridge traffic each way back down from four lanes to two, at both ends of the bridge. The pressure to build a four-lane bridge and take out a block of the business district in Sellwood to widen Tacoma Street from two lanes to four was coming mostly from Clackamas County and, we personally noticed, from Lake Oswego in particular – entities which refused to consider building a bridge of their own anywhere in Clackamas County between Oregon City and Sellwood to accommodate the demand of their own commuters traveling between Clackamas and Washington Counties daily.

The old Sellwood Bridge was already established as the most heavily-used bridge PER LANE on weekdays in the entire state (even more so than the Interstate Bridge!), with well over 50% of those using it originating in, or traveling to, Clackamas County. Commuter congestion was then nothing new, and the improvement of this congestion was not an impetus for the replacement of the bridge – it was deteriorating, and generally in poor condition, after nearly a century of service, and just needed to be replaced.

You may recall that the Clackamas County Commissioners, as a result of the dependence of their own residents on this bridge, actually proposed a small tax to help Multnomah County replace the deteriorating bridge – but pressure from their own residents resulted in rescinding that idea, and Clackamas County paid nothing to help build the bridge their own residents relied on, and still rely on, so heavily.

The congestion problem you cite remains, because Clackamas County still will not build the bridge they obviously need between Oregon City and Sellwood. The obvious place for it would be at Lake Oswego, where access from McLoughlin on the east bank of the river is already there, and where removal of just one building on the east side of Highway 47 through Lake Oswego would allow a bridge there to provide direct four-lane access westward all the way to Interstate 5 and Highway 217. But Lake Oswego won't hear of it, apparently.

So, Sellwood still experiences the commuter congestion it did before the bridge replacement, to nobody's surprise. The only way to avoid it, without the badly needed new bridge being built in Clackamas County, would be to have NO bridge at Sellwood – which would not enhance auto travel for anybody, including those in Sellwood.

Why not redirect your effort and influence into getting the discussion started in Clackamas County towards getting a new four-lane bridge built over the Willamette River at Lake Oswego?

In the meantime, the new Multnomah County bridge at Sellwood has the distinction of being the only bridge in the State of Oregon that almost certainly will remain standing and usable when our epochal plate boundary earthquake does strike Oregon. (That will certainly cause congestion in Sellwood too, but this bridge will then be the essential lifeline in this river-divided city.)

If you want to trash Portland's quixotic push to get residents, who don't want to, to abandon their cars, why not instead point out the havoc created for residents of the Rose City by the policy of allowing big apartment house developments with little if any on-site parking? You'll find, around these projects, a lot of renters' cars lining the curbs in all directions – and some of these vehicles even sport new-vehicle temporary license stickers in their windows. Clearly this policy isn't effective in responding to the needs of either residents or renters, and is simply reducing Portland's envied quality of life for both.

Eric Norberg

Editor, THE BEE newspaper

Southeast Portland

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TV transition postponed to June 21

A couple of months ago, we warned BEE readers who get their local TV free with an antenna that two local stations would be changing frequencies in early April, and when they disappeared from the TV dial, readers would have to "rescan" their TV's to get them both back. But it didn't happen according to the original deadline. These two stations – KATU, channel 2, and KNMT, channel 24 – found they couldn't complete the technical work in time, and applied to the F.C.C. for an extension to finish the work. The application was granted, and now both stations are supposed to complete their transition by or on the first day of summer – June 21. If and when one or both disappear from your dial, "rescan" your TV tuner, and you'll get them back. Viewers paying for cable or satellite service won't have to do this, since their provider will make the change for them.

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