(PORTLAND TRIBUNE) -- Portland's Thurman Street Bridge, the city's oldest span, is about to get a makeover, and Northwest Portland residents who depend on the 108-year-old structure expect to "grin and bear it" as work sends them on a several-block detour.
Bureau of Transportation officials will seek bids this month for the estimated $3.78 million restoration work. The several-month project could begin next spring.
Work includes replacing the 400-foot-long timber-and-steel bridge deck with modern steel sections and restoring the 1905 railing that was replaced 58 years ago with a chain link fence.
Originally known as the Balch Gulch Bridge, the span was constructed in 1905 by J.C.B. Lockwood as a pin-connected Pratt deck truss bridge for about $33,000. Balch Gulch now includes Macleay Park under the bridge, which was acquired by the city in 1897 at Northwest 29th Avenue and Upshur Street.
Replacing the pipe and chain link fence railing that was installed in 1955 is expected to be compatible with the bridge's original design. It's the one aesthetic aspect of the project.
The current bridge replaced a timber trestle bridge built in the 1890s. The steel truss bridge was built to extend electric trolley service to Willamette Heights. Its construction coincided with the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in the nearby Guilds Lake area.
The bridge's steel truss system is the portion of the structure eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Diane Dulken, a Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman. The rehabilitation project is not expected to affect that part of the structure, expect for painting to cover some corrosion.
Dulken says there's no schedule to nominate the bridge to the National Register of Historic Places.
The city is putting up $388,309 of the rehabilitation project's $3.78 million cost, with the federal government paying the remaining amount. A study this year by Oregon's Department of Transportation found that it would cost about $8 million to replace the bridge.
For the past several decades, weight limits have restricted the bridge's use. The restoration project is expected to provide more strength so some large vehicles could again use it.
Neighbors support plans
Phil Selinger, president of the Northwest District Association, says the bridge over Macleay Park is an "urban life-line." A detour around the work, which will require neighbors to travel from Northwest Thurman Street and 28th Avenue using Wilson Street to 32nd Avenue, will be inconvenient, but most everyone agrees the rebuilt bridge will be better for the area, he says.
"The project poses a tough challenge for maintaining access, since there are only a couple of other routes (other than the Wildwood Trail) into the neighborhood," Selinger says.
During several months of public outreach by city transportation officials, led by PBOT Supervising Engineer David O'Longaigh, Northwest Portland neighbors have expressed concerns about emergency access to the Willamette Heights neighborhood and access by TriMet buses. TriMet plans to use smaller buses for its Line 15 Belmont/NW 23rd bus into the neighborhood.
"The neighborhood is very supportive and certainly understands the need for the bridge deck rehabilitation," Selinger says. "The neighbors also seem to appreciate the effort to improve the authenticity and aesthetics of the bridge railing."
Val Aitcheson, who manages an email list service for Willamette Heights residents, echoed Selinger's comments. "We're basically seeing a ‘grin and bear it' attitude, understanding that we'll get another 100 years out of the bridge when the project is done," Aitcheson says.
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