What do we make of the Sellwood Bridge vote?

By Ben DuPree and Chris Edmonds. Ben and Chris are experienced campaign staffers and conservation advocates who were involved in the Sellwood Bridge campaign. They are speaking only for themselves. Ben lives in Northeast Portland and Chris lives in West Linn.

It’s been asked before: am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my sister’s keeper?

It’s also been said that no man is an island, that we all are pieces of a larger whole.

Then what do we make of the fact that the Sellwood Bridge remains in imminent danger of collapse after Clackamas County voters said “no” to a $5 fee to fund the bridge’s badly-needed repairs?

The statistics are startling. The Sellwood Bridge would not be able to withstand even any sort of serious earthquake, and it currently receives a safety rating of two on a scale of zero to 100. And tens of thousands of us drive across this bridge every day. We all remember what happened in Minnesota to a bridge deemed safer than our own Sellwood.

We all rely on this bridge. It’s something we, as neighbors, share. After all, 70 percent of the Sellwood Bridge traffic either begins or ends in Clackamas County.  It’s a community asset that neighbors, both Multnomah and Clackamas County, share.

And don’t we Oregonians have a history of being good neighbors? We opened up our public beaches so they could be shared by all. We passed a landmark Bottle Bill to fight trash and litter in our public places.

When Oregonians identify a community problem, we do what neighbors do: we come together regardless of party affiliation or creed and make things right.

Times are tough, absolutely. Families are struggling to put food on the table. Parents are forced to make choices no one should have to make. But that’s when we’ve historically come together as Oregonians, as Americans, to make things right.

But in tough times we can’t give in to the temptation to wall ourselves off from each other. We can’t give in to petty, partisan bickering on the most basic of issues. And we can’t let radical fringe groups that have forgotten what it means to be good neighbors become the loudest voices in critical conversations.

Meanwhile the Sellwood Bridge is still in danger. And as long as it remains unrepaired, our families and fellow Oregonians are at risk.

So, as neighbors, what comes next? Where do we go from here?

We have to keep working together as we already are and we cannot let an extreme, vocal minority speak for us. Our actions must continue to speak louder than anything else if Oregon is going to remain a great state for families to live, work, and play.

As neighbors, we must indeed be each other’s keepers. Because we aren’t islands. And because words alone can’t bring us together and repair the Sellwood Bridge.

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    I totally supported 3-372, and I'm furious and ashamed with my county for being so shortsighted and selfish. As if the two counties don't ALREADY cooperate with each other, to a far greater tune than $22mil. What if Portland Fire stopped giving mutual aid when Clackamas Fire is otherwise engaged?

    But there are two points in this piece that are a little head scratching. The MN bridge collapsed due to a design failure, not disrepair or neglect. And I think rather than a vocal minority, 63% seems quiet but awfully majoritarian. It will be interesting to see the locality breakouts when available.

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    $5 says that these same anti-tax crowd will whine and cry when this bridge collapses. Not if. WHEN.

    And personally? I think that a lawsuit on behalf of those who are injured, killed, and financially disadvantaged by the collapse of the bridge directed at the people who gathered money to stop this project. If I physically blocked repair crews from getting at the bridge and thus caused an accident, I would be liable. Why should they not be?

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      It won't be the people who gathered the money and opposed the project who will be sued. It will be the governmental entities that allowed the bridge to continue in use when it was clearly a danger to the users... and I'm pretty sure that they WILL pay.

      I stopped using it a couple of years ago when I was stranded mid-span by traffic. If it's going to remain in use there should be large "DANGER - Use at Your Own Risk" signs.

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      So everyone in Clackamas County is a "fool"? I for one live in Milwaukie and supported the measure.

      Ergo, I'm a fool and I should pay even more to use a new Sellwood bridge - which is my household's primary route to work.

      I understand the desire to lay blame, but your statement paints so broadly a stroke that it blotches the frame as well.

      I'm fine with a toll, so long as a method to tag vehicles that are regular users can proceed to use the new bridge efficiently.

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      I think that's part of the issue. The other part: Clackamas voters see many transportation initiatives happening in Portland: new bike lanes; streetcar to LO; MAX bridges...

      Rightly or wrongly, it appeared to many that Portland/Multnomah simply had not prioritized the Sellwood bridge. If this issue was SOOOO important, wouldn't they have kicked it to the top of the list?

      Being in very southern Clackamas County, I've never actually used the Sellwood, but am not opposed to the county helping. But the optics for many here simply didn't compute.

      One can quibble with my argument about what pots of money can be used, etc.; not really the issue. This was about how things appeared to Clackamas voters. And to them, it appeared that PDX had allowed their infrastructure to deteriorate, then expected others to help pay for it, even while they went on a spending spree for fun new stuff.

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        That's exactly why I was glad the measure was defeated. Don't have money to fix the bridge that's in Portland's borders and is owned by Multnomah county, but have plenty of money to build bike paths and more lightrail. Let the bridge deteriorate to the condition it's in now. And then complain because people in Clackamas county aren't ponying up $22 million for you?

        Cry me a river. How much money are the Multnomah county voters willing to pony up to help pay for bridge mainentance, repair or replacement in Clackamas county? I don't hear anyone in Multnomah county offering to levy a $5 fee on those residents' vehicles.

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          You mean besides what MultCo residents are already paying?

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            In addition to what Clackamas county residents are already probably paying for Multnomah county transportation improvements. Yah.

            What I have a problem with is additional taxes. That's why I say if Multnomah wants an additional tax from us to pay for their bridge, then they can pony up with additional taxes on their residents to pay for one of our projects. Clackamas county already is short on funds that we need to maintain our transportation infrastructure and our county commissioners wanted us to pay additional money to replace the Sellwood bridge. Had the $5 fee been to repair our own infrastructure it would have had a better chance of passing, but when I see the roads out here falling apart and Clackamas county comes asking for money to give to Multnomah county, I'm not surprised that the measure failed.

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              "In addition to what Clackamas county residents are already probably paying for Multnomah county transportation improvements."

              How about the $2 million that ODOT have given to Oregon City for transportation improvements? Multnomah County residents have contributed a big share of that, since they're the county with the largest population.


              As a Clackamas County resident, I have no problem with an additional $5 per year in order to replace an unsafe bridge.

              As others have noted, perhaps the way to get this to pass is to just close the Sellwood Bridge, which probably makes sense, anyway.

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                How about all the fuels taxes that Clackamas county residents pay to the state of Oregon and the Federal government that go for Light Rail? How about the fuels taxes that Clackamas county residents pay that go for bike paths in Portland?

                If you're talking about the improvements on 99E in Oregon City, that's a state highway and the whole state's responsibility, just as the new bridge that's being build in Mulino over Milk Creek. 213 is a state highway and the responsibility of all of us who are in the state (especially those of us who pay state fuels taxes). If the Sellwood bridge were a state owned bridge I wouldn't have a problem with it. If it was a Clackamas county bridge I wouldn't have a problem with it. But it's not. It's a Multnomah county owned bridge that Multnomah county has allowed to deteriorate to the point that it's a 2 on a scale of 100. Personally, while I appreciate that the city of Portland is contributing, it's not even Portland's responsibility. It's Multnomah County's. Just as 99E and 213 are Oregon's ODOT's responsibility to maintain.

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    What comes next? Scale down the project. There's an overly expensive interchange planned for the west side, and the bridge itself is far too wide -- 12 foot sidewalks on each side. Probably a stealth way to push through a four-lane bridge while pretending it's only two lanes.

    Redesign it for a narrower bridge and a simpler interchange and see how much it costs.

    Or, keep the existing overbuilt plan and toll $1 per car to cross. And exempt vehicles registered in Multnomah County from the toll (probably using some kind of electronic license plate reader) because they're already paying $19 a year for their share of the bridge.

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    I would like to find a way to go to work on the slogan the no vote used, which even my very moderate-to-uninvolved son thought was a terrible slogan: "Good neighbors build their own bridges."

    I don't know what fantasy world this comes from, if the world had actually relied on that slogan there wouldn't be a bridge existing in the world. And even in the tea partier's fantasy world, the good neighbors would build their own bridge -- and then not let you use it.

    Good neighbors talk to you about the problem, and try to make a deal that serves both of your interests -- i.e. you both need to get across the river sometimes. And that's what Multnomah did with us in Clackamas, and gave us a pretty favorable deal.

    The vote to me is pretty clear, Clackamas is 49-51% Republican at the best of times, and it's so spread out that people in Mollala and Canby and Beavercreek can think they have no connection with the bridge, so we lost some poverty-fearing otherwise progressive and moderate votes in those areas. And then the accidents of geography, both ends of the bridge are in a southern extension of M. County, but that's actually south of parts of C. County in a northward extension that are tied to the bridge -- my own area, Johnson Creek & 82nd. So that accident of geography lost us a couple of percent of people like Ms. Rigutto.

    Again, the good news is that 37% of Clackamas County does understand how and why to vote in more progressive direction.

    I wish I could be doing more to organize in C. County than honking and waving when find myself passing the peace vigil near Oak Grove Fred Meyer Saturdays at noon ... we busy people need to ask ourselves to get the job done.

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      This article says the bridge would not survive an even moderate earthquake. If it's to be closed for safety reasons, should we really permit bicyclists and pedestrians to use the bridge?

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        I gotta think that in a moderate earthquake, it would matter whether there's a couple hundred tons of steel on it or not.

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      Doubt that will work. 63% opposed paying $5 for the bridge -- and I imagine many, perhaps most, did so because they don't use it. Closing a bridge a particular voter never uses won't persuade that voter to change his mind.

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      A guy in my office, who uses that bridge every day to commute from Happy Valley, says he voted against the bill for this reason. However, I trust my conservative friend to come up with another reason to vote against the funding measure if this provision was changed.

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    I want to thank everyone that participated in this conversation. There is a lot to talk about on this important issue, and I'm glad we could start the discussion right here. I also appreciate that people have volunteered potential solutions instead of just railing against those who voted one way or another.

    I'm not a transportation expert and I'm not sure what's the next best step, but I think it may indeed come from the list of options here. I'll take a long look and do some thinking on the matter. I do know, however, that the bridge is not safe and that needs to be at the forefront of our minds as we consider timetables, etc.

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    Clackamas Co. voters are idiots and irrational! That's the meaning we can draw from this. And that irrationality is represented in some of the viewpoints here. Personally I like Carla's suggestion. It's a teaching moment for the irrational talking points. Don't like the bridge, don't want to pay for it? Don't use it!

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    ...Why is anybody shocked, Emerson over at @OregonEconomics called it with the free rider problem diagnosis. That paired with the simple fact that Clackamas county wouldn't mind, personally not professionally, if the Columbia were to suddenly claim the whole of Multnomah county.... They don't like you, and they never will, deal with it.

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    I voted to support the registration fee. I had a lawnsign in support - until it was ripped off, not an unusual event here. Why did it lose big time?

    • People do not like taxes and fees. People in Clackamas County like taxes and fees less than the average amount for Oregon.

    • Tea party flavored anti-government fervor is fairly high in Clackamas County. Ignorant, selfish, uninformed, somewhat racist - yes. Unwilling to get politically active - no.

    • There has always been a strong "not Portland" attitude in Clackamas County. We have less money, less power, less sophistication, less education, and more connection to the pioneering spirit.

    • There is strong dislike in Clackamas County for spending on non-auto transportation infrastructure. Bicyles and light rail are as popular as colonoscopy. Multnomah County and Portand put much emphasis on non-auto infrastructure. Clackamas County residents notice that and do not want to support it.

    • A new fee for a project outside Clackamas County, one so unprecedented that it requires new authorizing state legislation, will DEFINITELY arouse opposition. If there was some other way that Clackamas County could have contributed to the Sellwood Bridge project, then the county commissioners screwed up royally.

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    The timing of the measure was foolish. People did not move to Clackamas because they're looking for more taxes, and a bigger bridge to encourage Clackamas to export its dollars to Multnomah County and Portland faster, instead of keeping money closer at home and supporting local businesses is a bad idea at any time.

    With Lake Oswego and Portland developers plundering the pockets of the Multnomah County taxpayers to build the Trolly To Nowhere, Clackamas voters looked at the bridge From Portland, To Portland, and said what anyone with any sense would say.

    Give Sellwood to Clackamas and it would pass. But, since 90% of the bridge trips start or end in Multnomah County, it is unquestionably a Multnomah County responsibility, as enshrined in Oregon law.

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    I have an overly simplistic opinion about the vote. Good public policy and doing things for the common good which are we concepts have been replaced by "how does it benefit me?" and the quasi-anarchist concept of "government is the problem" which are me concepts.

    We made the United States the greatest country on Earth. Me has begun to reverse the process.

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