Back when the new Sellwood Bridge was under construction – paid for entirely by Multnomah County residents, although over half of the drivers using it are from, or bound for, Clackamas County – we had a conversation with an acquaintance, a community leader, who lives in Lake Oswego. He was angry that the new Sellwood Bridge was not being built with at least two lanes of traffic in both directions.
When we pointed out that Tacoma Street, to which it connects, has only one lane in each direction, he suggested that it would be easy to take out half a block of businesses, either on the north or south side of the street, to widen it into a highway. Further, he said, Johnson Creek Boulevard should be at least four lanes wide all the way to S.E. 82nd – from which point eastward it already has multiple lanes east to I-205.
He seemed entirely unsympathetic about Sellwood residents not wanting a four-lane highway running through the middle of their community. "It's the obvious solution to getting people across the river and to I-205."
We pointed out that if there were a highway bridge across the Willamette River at Lake Oswego, obviously not only could Lake Oswego residents cross into the eastern part of their own county, avoiding a detour of miles and also avoiding the Sellwood Bridge, but the communities on the east side of the river would at last have a clear and direct route west to I-5 and Highway 217 with relatively little additional construction – since, if it connected at "A Street" and proceeded west on Country Club Road, it would already be a signalized four-lane highway all the way west to the I-5 freeway. And only one building would have to be removed to make way for the west end of the new bridge at "A Street"!
This was an option he immediately ruled out, and would not even discuss. In our own interpretation, then, he would much rather tear apart multiple neighborhoods in Multnomah County for his driving convenience than improve access to his own community. Others we have spoken to about this, however, think perhaps our interpretation is a bit harsh. Maybe.
However, the City of Lake Oswego's new position on a related matter – the push by residents of Clackamas County to have a pedestrian and bicycle bridge connect Lake Oswego to the east side of the river at Oak Grove, between Milwaukie and Jennings Lodge; an idea supported by over 60% of Clackamas County residents as well as by Metro – certainly seems to point to such "NIMBY" intransigence.
In the interest of not unintentionally imposing our own conclusions about the situation in reporting on what is happening in this case, we are going to report the current situation by reprinting a news story published in the January 29 issue of the Clackamas Review, our sister Pamplin Media newspaper to the south, written by its editor, Raymond Rendleman:
Recognizing new "political realities", Clackamas County officials are looking outside of Lake Oswego to potentially construct a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
Currently, there's no way for people to get to the west side of the Willamette River along a 9-mile stretch between Sellwood and Oregon City.
The remaining members of the committee to advise local jurisdictions on the potential bridge – which include Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, and Metro Councilor Christine Lewis – concluded that a wider study area was needed, during their January 28 meeting to accept a report on the bridge study between Lake Oswego and Oak Grove. Lake Oswego was not represented at the meeting – because its City Council voted in November to withdraw from the process, and remove Lake Oswego City Councilor Jackie Manz from the committee.
Engineers have identified feasible bridge alignments between Oak Grove and Lake Oswego that could also accommodate lightweight emergency vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances, in addition to people walking and biking across the river. But a change in Lake Oswego's elected leadership would be necessary to support either of these other potential bridge locations – from Oak Grove's Courtney Avenue to Terwilliger Boulevard or Foothills Park.
At the January 28 meeting, the three remaining committee members agreed to take no further action on the proposed bridge alignments, given Lake Oswego's recent withdrawal from the process. The three recognized that the "current landing points are not supported by the communities at this time".
A scientific survey in September showed 63% support for the bridge project, with especially strong support in Oak Grove and Milwaukie, but no additional scientific survey was conducted to confirm public support at the end of the project.
Metro has committed $500,000 to fund the bridge feasibility study, but county officials will have to contact Metro staff to determine whether it would be possible to extend the scope of the public process outside of Lake Oswego. So far, the feasibility study determined that the bridge could be constructed on a total budget between $28.1 and $51.5 million for Lake Oswego bridge locations to Oak Grove that are between 2,440 feet and 3,775 feet long.
On October 15, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners decided against a transit lane on the proposed Oak Grove-Lake Oswego Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge. The transit option proposed by Metro would have significantly increased the cost of the project by requiring a larger bridge and adequate road space on the bridge's landing points.
Thank you, Raymond, for that interesting update. There is no way to cross the Willamette River in anything but a boat between the Sellwood Bridge and Oregon City, and it seems pretty clear that the City of Lake Oswego (or at least its current leadership) likes it that way.
Consequently, the Sellwood Bridge remains, as it has been for many years, the busiest bridge in the whole State of Oregon PER LANE (including the Interstate Bridge!) on weekdays; and over half the drivers crossing it are coming from, and/or going to, Clackamas County.
Until an actual vehicle bridge is built somewhere in the middle between Sellwood and Oregon City for cars and trucks as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, you can expect the extreme congestion that Sellwood experiences on and around the Sellwood Bridge in weekday commute hours to continue – and now you know why, and who to thank for it.
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