The Sellwood Bridge, built in 1925, was the first fixed-span bridge on the lower Willamette River and a pioneer in area bridge technology. The steel and concrete bridge is 1,092 feet long and about 28 feet wide.
Originally intended to be a local community connector, the Sellwood Bridge is now a primary connector for eastside residents headed for I-5 and Washington County, with more than 30,000 vehicles crossing the bridge everyday.
Sellwood's designer was Gustav Lindenthal, renowned late 19th/early 20th century bridge engineer. Lindenthal was New York Commissioner of Bridges, and designer of New York City's Hell Gate and Queensboro bridges, and many other bridges. Sellwood is one of four Portland bridges that Lindenthal worked on in the mid-1920s, the last bridge projects in the master engineer's long career. The bridge was constructed by the Gilpin Construction Co. of Portland. Judson Manufacturing Co. fabricated the steel.
The new Sellwood Bridge
In February 2009 the design for a new Sellwood Bridge was chosen by the Policy Advisory Group after extensive public debate. The existing bridge must be replaced because it is insufficient to meet the community’s needs.
Existing Bridge Deficiencies
- Cannot handle the volume of traffic crossing the river daily
- Cannot be used by modern heavy trucks
- Has a rating of two out of 100 on the efficiency scale
- Buses and trucks are restricted from using the bridge
- Narrow lanes
- Narrow sidewalk
- No shoulders
- No bike facilities and poor connections to trail system
- Bridge not designed to withstand earthquakes
- Tight turns at west end
- Unstable slope at west end.
The bridge is safe to travel on, as ensured by the following steps:
- In June 2004 cracks were discovered in both the east and west approaches to the bridge. They were restrained with steel clamps and the weight limit was reduced from 32 tons to 10 tons to prevent further stress on the bridge. Because of the lowered limit, 94 TriMet buses had to be rerouted
- In 2005 an engineering study recommended short-term safety improvements.
- In 2007 epoxy was injected into cracks to extend the life of the bridge.
The new bridge design has been approved by Multnomah County, Portland City Council, Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and Metro Council.
Next, the proposed plan will be refined and a Final Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared. The Environmental Impact Statement must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration before federal funds can be used for this project.
Federal approval is expected in 2010 and construction could begin in 2012.
Sellwood Bridge statistics
- Year built: 1925
- Overall structure length (main span, approaches and ramps): 1,971 ft
- Width: 28 ft
- Center height above water: 75 ft
- Designed by: Gustav Lindenthal
- Constructed by: Gilpin Construction Co. of Portland, OR.
- Main river span: The main river span is a 1,092 foot, four-span continuous steel Warren Deck truss. The two 300-foot interior spans and two 246-foot end spans support a six and a half inch thick concrete deck.
- East approach: The east approach is made up of 16 spans (one steel girder span and 15 concrete spans) for an overall length of 586 feet.
- West approach: The west approach was originally 269 feet long and consisted of one steel girder span and seven continuous concrete girders. In 1961 an additional concrete girder span was added, making the west approach 294 feet long. Before 1961, the west approach settled and shifted 33 inches towards the river. New concrete columns had to be added at three locations.