Sellwood Bridge: What Would Abe Do?

Evan Manvel

Sellwood Bridge: What Would Abe Do?

Clackamas County residents are currently voting on the future of the Sellwood Bridge. Will they decide to fund a safer bridge, creating hundreds of construction jobs in the process? Or will the Tea Party win in its petty politics, retaining an unsafe bridge over five bucks?

The Sellwood Bridge is the most structurally unsafe bridge in the region, rated 2 on a scale of zero to 100. Buses and trucks have been banned from the bridge due to weight limits. And for the one in four Oregonians who can’t drive, getting across the bridge is ridiculous.

Sadly, we recall Minnesota’s I-35W highway bridge, which was structurally unsound – it was rated 50 of 100 – when it collapsed. We shouldn’t repeat the same tragic mistake. We shouldn’t take that chance with the safety of our families.

Over 30,000 people drive over the bridge every day. Seventy percent of all traffic on the Sellwood begins or ends in Clackamas County. While the project is a reminder of the compelling case for a regional bridge authority, we don’t yet have one. So we’re piecing together the financing, and the Clackamas contribution is 7% of the total.

If the Sellwood isn’t replaced, engineers project it will need to be shut down four to nine years from now. And there’s no other crossing for miles up and down the Willamette River, in a heavily populated portion of the metro area. That would mean serious increases in commute times for Clackamas residents and businesses.

Not surprisingly, business groups across Clackamas support the measure, including the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce, the Clackamas County Economic Development Commission and the Clackamas County Business Alliance.

The Tea Partiers – and Clackamas County Republican Party – are off on their own, whipping themselves into a frenzy, insisting “it’s not just $5.” That flies in the face of facts.

Ironically, the $5 bill features Abe Lincoln - the oft-lauded symbol of the Republican Party. Tea Partiers, it is worth a fiver to keep our families and community safe? What would Abe do?

Support the campaign here

Watch a tour of the bridge's structural problems with former Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler.

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    A few of my neighbors here in Clackamas County are torn on supporting this measure but not due to the cost of the fee (holding this up over the cost of about a gallon-and-a-third of gasoline per year seems hardly something to dither over).

    Their issue stems from the timeline of the increase - as in does it exhaust after a few years, a decade or not at all?

    My response has remained the same each time I speak with them and like-minded skeptics. If you use the Sellwood, it's best to help maintain it. If you don't, perhaps the new bridge will become a better option for you, but at least people will be safe getting over the Willamette because of your support.

    Most of the time, this wins people over with the fee's practical application. Don't think for a moment though that the fee this measure imposes won't get a strong look in the future if it turns out the cash is getting rerouted into other projects though (even I remain skeptical that it will).

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    Seems to me there's a simple plan B. Toll the bridge electronically. $1 to cross. And then waive the toll for vehicles registered in Multnomah County (say, by electronically reading their license plates), since they've already paid to cross the bridge through a vehicle registration surcharge.

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    Frankly, I think of this measure as an insurance option for myself, my friends, and my family. What happens if it fails ...the measure and the bridge. I couldn't live with myself knowing people drowned if the bridge collapses.

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