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Overview Before the Bridge Bridge Fever! The Great Bridge Scandal Gustav Lindenthal Construction and Dedication Need for Replacement River View Cemetery

Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains answers to questions we often heard about the Sellwood Bridge Project.

Traffic Impacts and Closures

Is the bridge still open?

Yes, the new Sellwood Bridge opened on February 29, 2016 to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. 

Traffic congestion on the east side of the new bridge is a problem during commute hours. Is there a plan to improve traffic flow?

Yes. The streets on the east side of the bridge, including SE Tacoma Street, are under the jurisdiction of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). After construction of the new bridge is complete, PBOT will work with the Sellwood neighborhood association (SMILE) on the traffic congestion issue, including cut-through traffic on side streets. Neighbors will have an opportunity to provide input on possible solutions. The agency wants to determine what the traffic patterns are after construction is no longer a factor.

Why is the road through River View Cemetery to the Sellwood Bridge closed after 4 pm on weekdays?

The cemetery is private property. Due to safety concerns from an increase in cut-through traffic and speeding, the cemetery closes the road leading to the Sellwood Bridge at 4 pm on weekdays. The road remains open to bicyclists until 11 pm.

When will all work be finished?

Major construction work will be completed in late 2016. Minor clean up work is likely to continue for several months after that. Read the latest newsletter for details on remaining work.

When will the bridge be closed during construction?

The project's goal is to have no more than 30 days (total) of bridge closures during the entire period of construction. All closures will be announced well in advance. During the project, OR 43 (SW Macadam Avenue) will remain open, except for brief closures.

Why is there work during rush hour?

Construction crews are working to finish the new bridge as quickly and inexpensively as possible. If work was stopped during rush hour, it could cost millions of dollars more and could add months to the project schedule. Construction hours are usually from 7 am to 4 pm, so morning traffic is typically impacted more than afternoon traffic. There are limits to what the contractor can do during both morning and afternoon rush hours and the contractor’s traffic manager is constantly making adjustments in order to improve traffic flow.

When will drivers be able to turn south directly from the bridge to southbound Highway 43?

The left turn from the bridge to southbound Highway 43 reopened in August 2016. (Updated 9/12/2016.)

How do I get regular updates about construction?

You can sign up for our interested parties list to receive infrequent information about major closures and project milestones, and/or you can sign up for weekly field work updates that provide more detailed information about what is going on at the project site.

The New Sellwood Bridge

Sellwood Bridge Bent & Span Locations

Sellwood Bridge Bent & Span Locations
(click to enlarge)

What will the new bridge look like?

The new Sellwood Bridge is a steel deck arch structure, with three arches supporting the deck of the main river spans. It is 1,976 feet long. The bridge length is the distance between the two abutments where the bridge structure transitions to a road built on fill. The bridge includes 10 spans that link 11 bents.  A bent is a set of columns or other structures that support one end of a bridge span. The bridge is 64 feet wide at its narrowest point (to the east) and 88 1/2 feet wide at its widest point (at the west), where it widens from two to four lanes. The new bridge provides 75 feet of vertical clearance at low water for river traffic, the same as the old bridge. (Learn more about the new bridge.)

What is the speed limit on the new bridge?

30 miles per hour.

What are the vehicle weight and length limits for the new Sellwood Bridge?

During construction of the new Sellwood Bridge, a vehicle weight limit of 10 tons (20,000 pounds) and a vehicle length limit of 30 feet were in effect. The vehicle length limit is no longer in effect. In 2017, signs with the new weight limit will be installed.  The new weight limit is 13 tons (or 26,000 pounds) for privately owned vehicles and 40 tons (80,000 pounds) for publicly-owned vehicles. ORS 805.040 restricted use of the new bridge to motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds or less (unless they are government-owned) because privately-owned vehicles above that weight do not pay the vehicle registration fee that funded the bridge. 

What makes this particular river crossing so important?

The Sellwood Bridge is very important to the Portland metro region because of its location. The bridge provides the only crossing for a 12-mile stretch of the Willamette River between Oregon City and Portland, and it connects several state highways, including Oregon 99E, 43, and 224. It is the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon, with an average daily traffic count of 30,000 vehicles. It is also located in a heavily populated area that is experiencing high density development. 

Who uses the Sellwood Bridge?

Due to the lack of other river crossings in the southern metro region, and its close proximity to the Multnomah/Clackamas County line, the Sellwood Bridge serves a diverse group of users. The bridge is a primary east-west connection for residents and businesses in west Portland/Washington County and those in Sellwood, Milwaukie, and Clackamas counties. Many bridge users are commuters who live in Clackamas County. In fact, eighty-three percent of Sellwood Bridge trips begin or end outside the Portland city limits. Prior to the reduction of weight limits in 2004, the bridge was an important secondary freight route, especially for local deliveries. Weight limits prevent many delivery trucks from using the bridge, forcing out-of-direction travel that adds to congestion on other routes and increases costs to businesses and consumers.

The Shoofly (Detour Bridge)

What was the Shoofly and why was it used?

Multnomah County used a detour bridge in order to save time and money during the construction of the new Sellwood Bridge. Referred to as a "Shoofly" in the construction trade, this approach was suggested to the county by the firms bidding on the design and construction contracts in early 2011. (Learn more about the detour bridge.)

When was the detour bridge moved into place?

The original bridge truss was shifted on January 19, 2013 and the Shoofly opened to traffic on January 23. Visit The Big Move page for more information on the moving process and a time-lapse video of the move itself. The Shoofly remained in use until February 25, 2016. 

The Original Sellwood Bridge

How safe was the original bridge?

The problems with the Sellwood Bridge were well known: foundation problems, general deterioration, and a narrow, lightweight design that poorly serves all traffic modes. Multnomah County maintained a rigorous safety program that included visual inspections every three months to ensure that the bridge continued to be safe to use. The weight limits imposed in 2004 helped preserve the structure. In 2008 the County injected glue in cracked sections of concrete to seal them against corrosive water and air. The County also monitored slope movement on the west side that could endanger the bridge. If Multnomah County ever determined the bridge was not safe to use, the bridge would have been closed.

What were the old Sellwood Bridge's main deficiencies?

The bridge had numerous deficiencies, including:

  • Poor structural condition, with a limited service life
  • Vehicle weight restrictions, which have forced an average of 1,400 trucks and buses each day to find a different river crossing route
  • Geologic instability on the west end that has damaged the bridge (not applicable to the new detour bridge)
  • Narrow travel lanes with no shoulders or median
  • Short stopping distances and lines of sight for motorists
  • One narrow sidewalk insufficient for bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Poor connections to established trails at each end of the bridge
  • Tight ramps at west end that cannot easily accommodate large vehicles
  • High risk of structural failure in an earthquake
  • A National Bridge Inventory sufficiency rating of 2 out of a possible score of 100 (see next question)

What happened to the old bridge?

The concrete bridge approaches and river piers were demolished and their material recycled. The green steel truss spans of the old bridge were removed and will be recycled into new steel. As a historic structure, the old truss spans were offered up for reuse but no party requested them. 


How is the project being funded?

The project cost estimate when new bridge construction began in 2012 was $307.5 million. The current estimate for the total cost is $324 million (about 5.3% more than the 2012 estimate).  The cost includes the new bridge, an interchange where the bridge connects with Highway 43, right-of-way, design, and mitigating impacts to protected resources. The original funding plan includes the following sources:

  • $141.7 million - Multnomah County VRF ($19 per year vehicle registration fee)
  • $22.7 million – Multnomah County VRF (collected)
  • $74.7 million - City of Portland (new revenues from the Oregon Jobs and Transportation Act)
  • $35 million - State of Oregon (Jobs and Transportation Act) for Highway 43 interchange
  • $17.7 million - Federal TIGER grant
  • $15.7 million - Previously secured federal funds

The increased cost will be covered by Multnomah County VRF and City of Portland funds.

What is the latest estimate for the total project cost?

As of fall 2016, total project cost is estimated to be in the $324 million range. The total cost will not be known until all work is completed and all bills are settled and paid. The contract calls for major work to be completed by the end of November 2016.

Why has the project cost increased?

It is normal for cost estimates to change on large construction projects as the design progresses, and costs are confirmed. Early cost estimates can increase as a contractor gets actual bids and more information is learned about the construction site. Some reasons for the increased cost include:

  • Unstable rock along the Highway 43 hillside will require retaining walls instead of an open face rock cut;
  • Higher costs to stabilize the landslide at the bridge’s west end;
  • Higher market prices for steel, fuel and other materials; and
  • More contaminated soil under Highway 43 and the railroad that is more expensive to remove and dispose of
  • More complex design due to site conditions and other constraints
  • Real bid pricing (not estimates) based on more detailed design

The cost increase can be covered without raising the county’s vehicle registration fee because bond interest rates are near historic lows. Low rates allow the county to bond more money using the same revenue. 

What about the Multnomah County vehicle registration fee? How much is it?

In 2009, Multnomah County's Board of Commissioners adopted a $19 per year county vehicle registration fee to help fund a new Sellwood Bridge. As required by state law, revenue from this fee can only be used to replace the Sellwood Bridge.