Questions linger about who is responsible for bridges failure

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF KOIN TV - After showing signs of failure, crews dragged the old trolley bridge truss out of the Clackamas River and broke it up into pieces on land.Everything seems like it’s back to normal, minus the bridge.

After it appeared to be nearing collapse March 7, the old trolley bridge truss was dragged out of the Clackamas River and broken up on land. Then the Oregon State Marine Board lifted a temporary Clackamas River closure March 12 after Union Pacific crews took down and dismantled the steel trusses obstructing boat traffic.

Although other options to link the two trails remain on the table, people working to join the Milwaukie-to-Gladstone Trolley Trail to Oregon City’s waterfront path were disappointed at the demolition of the railroad company’s trolley bridge. Showing up at a recent Gladstone City Council meeting, they wanted to know why no one took action earlier to reinforce the rickety bridge and why it started to fall now, when rising waters weren’t as high as in recent flood years.

County Commissioner Paul Savas was among those who lamented the loss of the bridge when Oregon City officials had indentified the bridge abutment as compromised for more than a decade. A common theory is that Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Project’s installation of a cofferdam for constructing a Clackamas River pump station pushed the water current to the opposite side of the river just downstream, expediting the bridge’s collapse.

“There’s probably some connection between the cofferdam and the demise of the bridge much sooner than anyone expected,” Savas said.

Engineers have been evaluating the situation, but the public may never know for sure, and there were various factors at work.

“It’s not just a coincidence that they put in this dam, realigned the river and all of a sudden the bridge drops,” said Gladstone resident Les Poole. “You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that.”

LOT spokewoman Katie Fulton said, “I know that there have been suggestions about that, but we’re not making any statements about the possible correlation between the cofferdam and the bridge.”

It’s unlikely that Lake Oswego would face a lawsuit anyway.

“I don’t know if the railroad has insurance that would be good enough to cover their costs for dismantling the bridge,” Savas said. “There might be some request for recovery of cost, and then we’ll know more.”

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the railroad doesn’t yet have a cost estimate regarding the removal of the bridge. So it could be some time before the railroad can talk with its insurance company and determine any possible next step for full reimbursement.

“Usually when there is an emergency like this, we do not have the billing in from the contractors for several months,” Davis said.

Next steps

Before the abandoned bridge was pulled down, Gladstone received a $200,000 grant to look into using it to connect a walking and biking path to the Oregon City trail. When the renovated Trolley Trail was opened in 2012, the number of people walking along it increased from 14 per hour to 48.

Trail planner Robert Spurlock said Metro will continue looking at all options to link the two trails: from using the Southeast 82nd Avenue bridge, upriver; to using the bridge downriver that carries Highway 99 East; or maybe even building a new bridge.

“The Gladstone and Oregon City community are still really eager to find a solution now that the bridge has been taken down. And we plan to work with them to continue to carry forward the success of the Trolley Trail,” Spurlock said.

The need for another sewer line across to Oregon City is part of the reason Savas supports “a great opportunity there between downtown Gladstone and the new Cove project in Oregon City.” If the county had to run a pipe across the current pedestrian bridge at High Rocks, then that structure would need a significant upgrade.

Meanwhile, due to high water in the Clackamas River, work to stabilize the cofferdam and clean up the flooded area between the cofferdam interior and exterior of the new intake structure was delayed.

They had to clear out the flooded space before they could start pouring concrete and installing scaffolding.

“With the river being so high, the work that they were hoping do on the stabilization and cleanup they had to put off,” Fulton said.

Crews are continuing to prepare supports and scaffolding for the next stage of forming the pump station floor decking. Once the cofferdam cleanup is complete, a concrete pour will occur for the interior struts of the intake.

— Kristian Foden-Vencil of OPB contributed to this report.

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