WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the Thursday night passage of the national Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, the Sellwood Bridge is $650,000 closer to being replaced.
The nearly three-quarters of a million dollars, secured by Congressman David Wu, D-1, adds onto the $1,266,000 that Wu brought in last year to help “reduce the hazard of head-on collisions between vehicles on the narrow lanes.”
“We cannot afford to sit back and let the Sellwood Bridge remain in a state of despair that threatens the safety of all of us,” said Wu in a media release sent out Friday morning. “A new Sellwood Bridge will once again be an economic driver that can carry busses and freight for local businesses.”
Immediacy, however, is not key to the project according to Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen who says that construction isn’t set to begin until 2012. He stressed the fact that the weight of cars is not the problem with the bridge. Instead, the condition of the bridge itself is the biggest problem.
As it stands, the bridge is closed to vehicles weighing more than 10 tons, meaning that busses and semi-trucks are barred from using it, due to cracks in the infrastructure discovered in 2004. Pullen said that the project is still seeking $40 million in federal funding to round out its $330 million tab.
The bridge, which connects the Sellwood neighborhood of southeast Portland with Highway 43 in Oregon City on the west side of the Willamette River, was built in 1925 and is the lower Willamette River’s oldest “non-moveable bridge,” according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.
State transportation legislation was passed during the 2009 session that provided $30 million for the Sellwood Bridge project and allowed the involved counties, Multnomah and Clackamas, to pass a surcharge on their local vehicle registrations to create additional funding.
Director of the Center for Real Estate at Portland State University, Gerard Mildner, suggested tolling on the bridge might be a better way to pay for the project. He noted that the surcharge on vehicle registration in Clackamas and Multnomah counties gets closer to his desire in terms of geographic equity and presents the option for a section of the state with “acute” needs to not have to wait for the rest of the state to pitch in.
He argued that the idea of a flat surcharge did nothing, however, to address the fact of those not using the bridge but still having to pay for it.
“To me it’s the second or third best option, but it is certainly better than the statewide or federal funding source,” said Mildner.