Today in Transportation History – 2016: A New Bridge Replaces an Old One in Portland, Oregon

A large-scale celebration was held for the opening of the new Sellwood Bridge spanning the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. The deck arch bridge, connecting  Portland’s Sellwood and Westmoreland neighborhoods on the east side of the river with Oregon Route 43/Macadam Avenue on the west side, replaced a bridge with the same name that had been in service for nine decades. That fixed-span bridge had been designed by renowned civil engineer Gustav Lindenthal and was opened in December 1925.

The original Sellwood Bridge was extensively used, but over time it showed significant signs of deterioration. Ultimately, the decision was made to replace that structure with an improved one. The new bridge was designed by Safdie Rabines Architects in collaboration with TY Lin International. Measuring 1,976 feet (602 meters) in length, it encompasses two lanes for vehicular traffic; bicycle lanes in both directions; and sidewalks on each side for pedestrians. In addition, the new Sellwood Bridge was specially designed to withstand any major earthquakes that might impact the region. The bridge is owned and operated by Multnomah County.

The old bridge was closed to traffic permanently on February 25, 2016, and a candlelight farewell walk across the venerable structure took place that evening. Among those taking part in the walk was Barbara Roberts, a Smallwood resident, and former Oregon governor.  “It’s seen floods,” she said during an interview with KATU ABC 2 News. “It’s seen boat races. It’s seen houseboat construction.” Someone named John Hoffnagle, along with his sister, likewise took time to participate in the walk that evening. “Our mother was here in 1925 on the opening day of the bridge,” he told KATU News. “So we decided to come here for the last day.”

The new Sellwood Bridge was officially opened to traffic on February 29. Halfway between the ceremonial goodbye to the old bridge and the formal start of operations for its replacement, the celebration for the latter of the two occurred. “Heavy (party) traffic greets new Sellwood Bridge,” proclaimed a headline in the Portland Tribune.  The February 27 festivities included a noontime ribbon-cutting; a parade of vintage automobiles across the bridge; and speeches by several public officials in attendance. In addition, those arriving early for the celebration were given lapel pins commemorating the debut of the new bridge.

For more information on the current Sellwood Bridge and its predecessor, please check out and the 27 February 2016 Portland Tribune article “Heavy (party) traffic greets new Sellwood Bridge” at .

Photo: Hwy 43 interchange with bridge, February 2016 (courtesy of the Sellwood Bridge Project)

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