Construction to replace the bridge begins; Multnomah County wins a $17 million federal grant to help
The Sellwood Bridge replacement project has officially begun.
On Friday, Dec. 16, more than 150 citizens joined Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, Commissioners Deborah Kafoury, Judy Shiprack and Diane McKeel, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader at the celebration. The groundbreaking took place at Sellwood Riverfront Park in Southeast Portland.
Speakers at the event included state Rep. Carolyn Tomei, state Sen. Diane Rosenbaum and Jason Tell, manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“Today we celebrate the start of something that our community has waited nearly 50 years for,” Commissioner Kafoury said. “The new steel deck and arch bridge will be a graceful addition to Portland’s world-class collection of bridges. We’re going to have a bridge that represents our community values and our community ethic.”
Chair Cogen emphasized the partnerships it took to make the bridge project a reality.
“We live in a time of stalemate and often stagnation where critics say it’s impossible to get things done,” Chair Cogen said. “But this project is a clear example when we work together in partnership together as a county, as a city, as a state and as a federal government, we can make things happen. We can make big, important things happen.”
One special guest at the groundbreaking was U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg, who traveled from Washington, D.C. to present Multnomah County with a $17.7 million check and officially announce that the county has received a federal TIGER grant for the Sellwood Bridge project. Multnomah County received the seventh largest grant out of 46 awarded by the federal agency, and competition was fierce, Trottenberg said.
“The application for the Sellwood Bridge knocked it out of the park,” she said, praising the project’s strong state, regional, and local support and enthusiastic public participation.
“The project also fits very well with the transportation priorities of this administration: fixing crucial existing infrastructure in an innovative and cost-effective way,” Trottenberg said.
The federal grant will help pay for the $268 million project. The federal money eliminates most of the $23 million shortfall that county officials faced.
The Sellwood Bridge replacement has been a long time coming.
First built in 1925, the two-lane span replaced the Spokane Street Ferry, which shuttled passengers across the Willamette River between Sellwood and West Portland. The bridge was built 86 years ago using money from a $4.5 million local bond measure.
The original bridge’s design was scaled back in 1925 after public outcry about overspending on the Burnside Bridge. As a result, the bridge to this day is narrow with two lanes, no shoulder, no median and one four-foot sidewalk on the north side shared by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Built without trolley tracks, the bridge was not designed for the additional weight of streetcars. That means it is not as substantial as Portland’s other river crossings.
Over the years, the bridge continued to deteriorate. A landslide in the 1960s damaged the bridge and closed it for several months.
In 2004, cracks were discovered in both the east and west concrete approaches. The cracks were restrained with steel clamps, which lowered the weight restrictions for vehicles traveling across the bridge from 32 tons to 10 tons. An average of 1,400 trucks and buses must find a different river crossing route daily. In 2008, the county injected glue in cracked sections of concrete to seal them against further deterioration caused by air and water.
The bridge scores a two out of 100 on a federal bridge sufficiency rating, which rates spans based on structural problems and how well they serve traffic. Multnomah County inspects the Sellwood Bridge every three months to monitor those cracks and the hillside slope to ensure the bridge is safe to use.
Construction of the largest bridge project Multnomah County has seen in decades will be a boon to the community. The project is expected to create the equivalent of 400 jobs per year during construction. According to the project’s diversity plan, 20 percent of the construction budget will go to businesses owned by women, minorities or emerging, small businesses.
The first step in replacing the bridge is to build a detour bridge, which will shorten the construction schedule by as much as a year and save up to $10 million. Construction of the detour structure begins this month. Late next summer, workers will move the old bridge out of the way onto new piers 40 feet to the north. The detour bridge will allow the new steel deck arch bridge to be constructed in one phase, saving time and money. It will also be safer for the public and workers because there will be greater separation between bridge users and construction.
The entire project is expected to be finished in late 2015. The project is funded by Multnomah County, the city of Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The replacement project received support from key local, state and federal leaders, including: U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, U.S. Congressmen Kurt Schrader and Earl Blumenauer. Blumenauer’s office was instrumental in contacting the Coast Guard, which issued its permit Friday for in-water construction to begin. Other local leaders attending were Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Oregon Rep. Carolyn Tomei and State Senator Diane Rosenbaum.
The Sellwood Bridge replacement is “a project that’s going to help people in this community get to work, and a project that’s going to put people in this community back to work,” Chair Cogen said. “And that’s something to cheer.”
Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Chair: "Replacing this bridge is the largest transportation project Multnomah County has taken on in decades. We have done so much work to solve one of the biggest transportation problems in our region. Now we are at the point where we can focus our energies on putting hundreds of people in our community back to work as we build the bridge."
Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Commissioner: "I've always known that we had to do something about the Sellwood Bridge, given its deteriorating condition. But when I heard my children singing 'London Bridge is Falling Down' and they were using Sellwood instead of London, the urgency really hit home. This partnership of leaders has made it possible for future generations to cross this bridge with a feeling of safety, security and pride."
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden: "You can't have a first class economy with a minor league transportation system. This project will not only make Oregonians safer, it will make our transportation system more efficient."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley: "This project will put construction workers to work now so that thousands of Oregonians have an easier and safer trip to work when it's done. It's the kind of innovative transportation investment that will allow Oregon to show how we create economic opportunities while making our communities easier to get around."
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer: "I am extremely pleased that the Sellwood Bridge is receiving a TIGER grant, and that our regional efforts have paid off. We appreciate and thank the Obama Administration for its commitment."
U.S. Rep Kurt Schrader: "The new Sellwood Bridge will provide a critical transportation link between Multnomah and Clackamas counties, while ensuring the safety of the thousands of drivers that cross the bridge daily. These are the kind of infrastructure investments we should be making right now."
André Baugh is the diversity coordinator for the Sellwood Bridge Project. Baugh will oversee Multnomah County’s diversity plan, which outlines how the project will address diversity and equity in the bridge’s workforce and contracting. The plan was proposed by the general contractor, Slayden/Sundt, and approved by the county.
What are the diversity oversight program goals for the Sellwood Bridge Project?
The first is that 20 percent of the contracted dollars will go to businesses owned by minorities and women or emerging small businesses. The second goal the county has on this project is workforce development. As part of its workforce development, it requires that 20 percent of the workforce will be apprentices on contracts $100,000 and above. It’s a training mechanism for people who want to get into the construction industry. The third is asking, “What does that workforce look like?” The county wants to have a workforce that represents the surrounding area. It has set a 14 percent target for female participation for the overall workforce and 20 percent minority participation. Again, it’s to bring minorities and women into the workforce to give them an opportunity for living and family wages.
Which groups does this program target?
The diversity plan targets four different types of groups: disadvantaged business enterprises, which is a federal designation; and minorities, women and emerging small businesses.
Why is it important to make this effort to reach out to these types of firms and their employees?
The county is looking for an avenue to increase their capability and capacity for them to grow, and, honestly, to hire more people. The county is very interested in promoting small businesses, minority businesses, women businesses and disadvantaged businesses as a way to increase prosperity in the county and surrounding areas. There’s recognition nationally, on a federal government level, that these programs help minority and women communities who have faced obstacles throughout our history. This is a way to help them be more competitive in the market so that they get more experience, more opportunity to work. Multnomah County wants to support local small businesses and workers on this project. The diversity plan is one mechanism to make sure this happens.
How will smaller companies, which may not have as many resources, qualify and compete for contracts?
We are going to look at contracts of different bid package sizes up to $500,000. A sidewalk package that may be $1 million may be broken into smaller packages. It may give a contractor at a smaller company who can do a $75,000 job or one who can do $300,000 a chance to work. There’s going to be a lot of subcontractors. Those are all opportunities to mentor, assist and make those contractors successful, and to provide some knowledge transfer of how they do business.
What opportunities will be available to these small businesses that are hired for the Sellwood Bridge Project?
There is support and technical assistance available. On the workforce side, they can get some help around workforce, business practices and they can potentially also enter into a mentorship program. No matter what, they are supported by the contractor who has the technical assistance and outreach available. It’s an opportunity to get experience on a bridge project. This is a great opportunity to work with a recognized bridge builder in Oregon, Slayden/Sundt, to gain some experience. As part of the Slayden/Sundt plan, it is willing to invest time in personnel and transfer knowledge of how to work on a big project. The county does have other bridges that it has to maintain, and many of the skills will be transferrable to those projects, as well as other local highway projects.
How will the county keep tabs on whether it’s meeting its diversity oversight program goals?
Part of my role will be to review the progress on the goals that we’ve talked about. We’ve created an online database for the community that will detail progress on each of these goals. We’re looking at upcoming bids that may be coming out, and if for some reason there’s a goal that is not being met, we look at what corrective action we’re taking so that we’re compliant.
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