The Sellwood Bridge is the only four-span continuous truss highway bridge in Oregon and, possibly, the U.S. It was not designed for the additional weight of streetcars, the structure is not as substantial as the city’s other river crossings. The bridge is extremely narrow: two lanes, no shoulders or median, and one 4-foot-wide sidewalk. The bridge has reached the end of its useful service life, Multnomah County and its partner agencies (Oregon Department of Transportation, City of Portland, and Metro) studied potential solutions through an alternatives development and evaluation process, ending with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Excerpt from Sellwood Bridge Project Submission Form
The Sellwood Bridge was constructed in 1925; today, the Sellwood Bridge is the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon, with an average daily traffic count of 30,000 vehicles. It is also the only four-span continuous truss highway bridge in Oregon and, possibly, the U.S. Because it was not designed for the additional weight of streetcars, the structure is not as substantial as the city’s other river crossings. The bridge is extremely narrow: two lanes, no shoulders or median, and one 4-foot-wide sidewalk.
Because the bridge has reached the end of its useful service life, Multnomah County and its partner agencies (Oregon Department of Transportation, City of Portland, and Metro) studied potential solutions through an alternatives development and evaluation process, ending with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Community relations and public outreach was an important part of each phase of the project and included:
- Newsletters sent to the nearby neighborhoods
- Public open houses and workshops
- Project website (with the Build A Bridge tool)
- Online surveys and comment forms
CSS Qualities: Process
The Sellwood Bridge Project planning effort developed a locally-supported alternative to address the long-term transportation deficiencies posed by deterioration of the bridge. Multnomah County had an ambitious goal for the Sellwood Bridge effort: identify a project to meet transportation needs, has stakeholder support, and can be viewed as a success for the County.
The main objective was to build public and agency consensus around an implementable solution—one that relieves congestion; improves transit, bicycle, disabled, and pedestrian services; is safe and feasible; reflects community values; and is sensitive to the environment.
Several public, community, and government groups and agencies played key roles in developing an implementable solution for the Sellwood Bridge. These groups included:
- Community Task Force (CTF)
- Policy Advisory Group (PAG)
- Participating Agencies
Planned outreach activities provided the public with meaningful opportunities to affect project outcomes throughout the project. A series of newsletters provided updates on project progress. Public open houses and workshops, an interactive project website, online surveys, and a speakers’ bureau also provided opportunities to exchange information. The public was given opportunities to provide input at each of the key decision points.
The CTF was developed to actively consider public input before making recommendations at each decision point. The CTF provided a balanced representation of stakeholder interests, affected communities, and geographic areas. Members included leaders of neighborhoods on both sides of the bridge, as well as representatives of local and regional business groups. Advocates for different bridge user groups also included commuters, freight and transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Members were appointed by the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners.
The PAG included elected officials of local agencies and jurisdictions with regulatory responsibility for, or who have a strong interest, in the project. The PAG set the policy framework for the project, represented the interests of its agencies or jurisdictions in group deliberations, communicated project progress to public officials and constituents, and reviewed recommendations from the CTF and made final decisions at six key decision points.
In accordance with requirements of the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), letters were sent to other local, state, and federal agencies that might be interested in participating in the project. This included emergency service providers, housing agencies, and other agencies suggested by FHWA. Agencies that expressed a desire to participate in the project development process were given the opportunity to comment at each of the decision points.
A key element of the project was creating a decision-making process guided by the CTF, Project Management Team, and the PAG. The aim was to create a logical path with major decision points along the project schedule. The decision process was organized into six decision points:
- Establish decision process and structure
- Define purpose and need
- Establish evaluation framework
- Develop alternatives
- Screen alternatives
- Prepare draft EIS
- Identify preferred alternative
Build A Bridge Tool
The project team needed to gather input from the public to help narrow down 120 potential alternatives. The Build A Bridge Tool was created to turn the four distinct pieces of each alternative (rehabilitation and replacement bridge options, the interchange type, the alignment/location of the bridge, and the cross-section or width of the bridge) into a puzzle, making the complicated terms and ideas easier to understand.
Each alternative was scored against criteria developed by the CTF to represent the goals of the community. The tool helped inform the public of the trade-offs involved with each alternative. It was used in conjunction with an online survey to make it easy for the public to suggest alternatives for further study. More than 3,000 people took the online survey, and more than 6,500 people used the Build A Bridge Tool, which was found on the project’s website.
CSS Qualities: Outcomes
The alternative screenings were completed and detailed data developed for the draft EIS were used to re-evaluate the remaining five alternatives against the evaluation framework. Results were used to support selection of a locally preferred alternative. In January 2009, the CTF recommended an alternative to the PAG. In February 2009, the PAG selected a locally preferred alternative, based on the recommendations of the CTF and the public. After 2.5 years of study and public participation and comment, the selected alternative was unanimously approved.
Additional Details and Supporting Documentation
Our public participation process resulted in a sustainable solution - a community solution. In addition to trying to solve a transportation need, the planning effort successfully incorporated the community’s values. The preferred alternative, selected with broad consensus, reflects the Portland region’s focus on sustainability and green solutions. Capacity will be added to the new bridge largely through improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities and transit, rather than additional lanes for single occupant automobiles. Safety features, such as dedicated bike lanes for faster commuting cyclists, were added without significantly expanding the project’s footprint or cost. Community input also convinced decision makers to select an alternative that will keep the bridge open throughout construction, something that was very important to local businesses and commuters. New alternatives suggested by the community were evaluated by the project team, including one alternative that was carried through the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Likewise, alternatives that elicited strong community opposition were eliminated early in the project.
Our decision-making process brought all interests along together. With the help of the consultant team, a specialized decision-making process and organizational structure was developed to guide the project. The Community Task Force met frequently with the project team and an independent facilitator as the project moved through six technical milestones. Using a consensus-based approach to decision making, over time Task Force members learned to respect each other’s perspectives and work together constructively. Public input was provided to the Task Force before each milestone decision Vocal citizens participated in each meeting. The group considered neighborhood interests and the greater good before providing recommendations to the Policy Advisory Group. This group of elected and appointed leaders represented all the jurisdictions with an interest in the project and was given decision-making authority. In most cases, the Policy Group approved the Task Force recommendations, sometimes making minor adjustments. The Policy Group and Community Task Force held joint meetings before several key decisions, to ensure that their views and priorities were in alignment. All of these meetings were open to the public and well attended.
We solved a common public participation problem by significantly expanding the reach of public input beyond the immediate project area. For example, our mailing list alone grew to over 20,000 addresses. We used new tools and techniques to cast a wide public involvement net that successfully obtained the active participation of thousands of people throughout the Portland metro area. We also made a complicated, technical process easy to understand while encouraging the community to become educated participants in a totally transparent process. In doing so, we brought very different perspectives together to reach a consensus-based, sustainable bridge solution that successfully added transportation capacity while maintaining community livability.
Sellwood Bridge Project Submission Form