Frequently Asked Questions
This page contains answers to questions we often hear about the Sellwood Bridge Project. If you have a question that you don't see addressed here, ask us and we'll get back to you. We may even update this page with your question.
Table of Contents
Is the bridge still open?
Yes, the Shoofly (or detour bridge) is now carrying motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians across the river until the new bridge opens in early 2016. (Learn more about the detour bridge.)
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.
When will all work be finished?
The new bridge is expected to open in early 2016 and construction will be finished in late 2016.
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?
Drivers will be able to turn south from the bridge directly when the new bridge and interchange open to traffic when complete in 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.
Sellwood Bridge Bent & Span Locations
What will the new bridge look like?
The new Sellwood Bridge will be a steel deck arch structure, with three arches supporting the deck of the main river spans. It will be 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. (Learn more about the new bridge.)
What are the advantages of using a shoofly?
Constructing a shoofly saves time and money because staged construction is not required. (Learn more about the detour bridge.)
When was the detour bridge moved into place?
The original truss span was moved on January 19, 2013. The bridge was closed to all forms of traffic from January 17 to January 23 (one day quicker than anticipated). (Learn more about the bridge move.)
What is the vehicle weight limit on the detour bridge?
The weight limit for vehicles using the Sellwood Bridge remains 10 tons (20,000 pounds). This weight limit will remain in effect until the new bridge opens in early 2016.
What is the vehicle length limit on the detour bridge?
Vehicles using the detour bridge can be no longer than 20 feet, due to the sharp curves at each end of the bridge.
What is the speed limit on the detour bridge?
The speed limit on the detour bridge is 25 miles per hour. There are advisory signs suggesting 20 miles per hour for vehicles approaching the S-curves at either end of the 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.
How safe is the detour bridge?
The temporary detour structure is as strong as, if not stronger, than the original Sellwood Bridge (including seismically). The weakest part of the old bridge (the west approach) is not part of the detour bridge.
What are the Sellwood Bridge's main deficiencies?
The bridge has 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 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.
What will happen to the old bridge?
The concrete bridge approaches and river piers will be demolished and their material recycled. After the detour bridge is removed in 2016, the green steel truss spans of the old bridge will likely be recycled into new steel. As a historic structure, the old truss spans could be moved and reused as a bridge. The new owner would need to pay to move the spans and remove old lead paint.
What is the funding plan for a new bridge?
The current cost estimate for the Sellwood Bridge Replacement is $307.5 million (in 2014 dollars, the projected middle year for construction). This is $38.5 million more than the $269 million estimate at the 60% design phase and $22.5 million less than the $330 million estimate at the end of the planning phase. 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 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
What is the latest estimate for the total project cost?
As of December 2014, the total project cost is estimated to be between $307.5 and $317.5 million. The total cost will not be known until all work is completed and all bills are settled and paid. The contract calls for 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.