August 2009

TriMet to build first multi-use transit bridge in U.S.

by METRO Staff

TriMet, in conjunction with the City of Portland, is constructing a bridge that will accommodate buses, light rail and a potential future streetcar extension; and will have bike and 14-feet wide pedestrian paths on both sides across the Willamette River. No cars will be allowed on the structure.                                    

The bridge will be the first to be built across the Willamette River in 35 years, and will likely be the only bridge of its kind in the U.S. when completed, according to the TriMet Website.

TriMet worked with a citizens' committee, led by former Portland mayor Vera Katz, for approximately one-and-a-half years with different stakeholders and partners from both sides of the Willamette River, including designers, architects and engineers.

The committee hired Rosales + Partners and HNTB for phase one, to help select a bridge type, and reviewed nearly a dozen different designs, from concrete to segmented, said Mary Fetsch, communications director, TriMet. They eventually decided on the cable-stayed bridge type. "We were looking for something that was functional, affordable, and aesthetically appropriate to the site and its uses," she added.  

The committee is currently moving into a more advanced and detailed design phase, with HNTB and San Francisco Bay Area-based MacDonald Architects, which has worked on signature bridges worldwide, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.

As the design phase moves forward, the committee is working with water users to determine the height from the top of the water to the base of the bridge, since the bridge will not have lifting capability. The tower height will be 180 feet.

The design phase will be complete in approximately 10 months, Fetsch estimated. The projected budget at press time was $110 million.

TriMet and the City of Portland decided to construct a transit bridge because the street network and infrastructure on either side of the Willamette River cannot handle the influx of cars. To prevent cars from using the bridge, there will be a dedicated lane for trains only as they approach the bridge.

Since the bridge will have its own right-of-way, Fetsch said, it will promote ridership, because the transit provided will offer more efficient travel times.

A quick trip on the transit bridge will put the heart of downtown just minutes away, she added. The Green light rail line at the south end of downtown, which will open in September, has Portland State University (PSU), the busiest destination in the entire transit district, as its southern terminus. That line will take riders to the Portland-Milwaukie line, which will start at PSU, cross the bridge and go to the South Waterfront area. The two lines are key to providing more access to bustling areas with lots of growth potential.

On the west side of the river, in the South Waterfront area, Fetsch said that significant job growth is expected - with more than 9,900 residents and 13,600 jobs in that corridor alone - by the year 2030.

On the east side, there are approximately 900,000 visitors each year to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). "They expect about 1.5 million annually, as this area develops," Fetsch noted. In addition, the bridge will be near the Portland Streetcar and within a half a mile of the Portland Aerial Tram, which stops at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), where education and healthcare facilities are located.

Fetsch predicts that because the bridge will be in such close proximity to downtown, it will be a destination in and of itself.

"It's just a great opportunity to take in our beautiful city. ...this bridge will be one of those places that, [when] people come into town, [they] will want to bike across, walk across and just see the skyline."

 


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