© 2022 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Oregon's Willamette Valley seen from Eugene
NPR for Oregonians
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Portland's Iconic Steel Bridge Could Be Headed For Big Changes — Eventually

<p>The Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.</p>

Alan Sylvestre


The Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

One of Portland’s iconic old bridges could be headed for big changes — eventually. TriMet is wary of spending millions to repair its aging tracks on the Steel Bridge, which may be reaching the end of its lifespan.

The Steel Bridge is 106 years old and unusual for the number of agencies that use it. Its two black lattice towers lift for ships; Union Pacific — which owns the bridge — has trains rumble along its lower deck; and its upper deck is used by buses, cars and light-rail trains.

Speaking at TriMet’s monthly meeting, general manager Doug Kelsey called it a strategic crossing, especially after an earthquake.

“Part of the options review is, in fact do you replace the bridge? Do you put a bridge further down? Or do you at some point, do you go underground?" Kelsey said. "The challenge is always going to come down to money.”

TriMet is expected to send a bond to voters in a couple of years to pay for a new light-rail line through southwest Portland. A new bridge might be included in that bond.

But a statement from TriMet said any decision on its use of the Steel Bridge is a long way off.

"Years/decades down the road, we hope to have more MAX service and the Steel Bridge, which is already more than 100 years old and not up to modern day earthquake standards, may no longer be an option for us," the agency said. 

"Due to the age of the bridge, the lifts and the fact that 611 MAX trains move across the trackway on the bridge every weekday, our trackway is in need of repairs. We are working to make major improvements in the coming years so our trains and MAX system can continue to run across the bridge. As those plans come together, we will be communicating to riders, the community and the media about those plans."

Correction: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect future plans for the aging Steel Bridge, and Union Pacific's ownership of the bridge.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.