New pedestrian and bike bridge takes shape over bustling railroad tracks in Southeast Portland

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The bridge begins visibly rising above railroad tracks that will be easier and safer to cross when the project completes this fall

An overpass safety project in Southeast Portland is reaching a significant series of milestones. The new pedestrian and bike bridge, near the Clinton/SE 12th MAX station, is getting its bones in the form of two towers and a span. They will bring form to a bridge that promises to add an important north-south connection for cyclists and pedestrians over MAX and Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Crews successfully completed raising two of the bridge’s towers that reside on Southeast 14th Avenue. on Wednesday, Jan. 22. With those structures in place, crews placed a third tower on Southeast Gideon Street on Monday, Jan. 27. It will be followed by the bridge’s main span on Feb. 13. Crews will place the remaining tower on Southeast Gideon Street on Feb. 14.

Crews lift a bridge support tower on Jan. 22.

A joint project between TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), the bridge will extend over railroad tracks belonging to both the Union Pacific Railroad and TriMet’s MAX Orange Line. As one of the last features of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, the bridge will fulfill TriMet and the City of Portland’s vision of providing a north-south link connecting the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood to the Willamette River. Once completed in fall 2020, the bridge will link Southeast Gideon at 13th Place to Southeast 14th Avenue.

Support for improved access

“This bridge will be a godsend,” said Eric Wheeler, a community resident and member of the Brooklyn Land Use and Transportation Committee.

Wheeler lives a block from the SE 17th Ave & Rhine St MAX Station and uses his bike or the MAX for most of his daily trips. When UP trains block the tracks, he rides his bike farther east or west to find a safe crossing. But he says has seen many people simply walk their bikes across the active freight railroad tracks to reach the other side.

“There have been safety concerns because … people were trying to climb over the couplings on the freight cars,” Wheeler said. “I know this bridge will be heavily used.”

The work will require some heavy lifting, culminating in moving the main span into place. On Feb. 13, during the overnight hours when the MAX Orange Line isn’t running, crews will use a 155-foot boom crane to lift the span. They will then secure it to the two bridge support towers on the north and south sides of the tracks.

Once the towers and bridge span are firmly in place, crews will move ahead on the remainder of the project: installing the stairways, elevators and electrical system, as well as building out the bridge’s canopy and decking. 

A community bridge for everyone

In 2013, crews demolished the old concrete bridge above the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Southeast 16th Avenue to make room for the MAX Orange Line. The old bridge was made of two stairways rising up to meet a concrete span. But the aging structure had fallen into disrepair over the years and, without ramps or elevators, didn’t meet ADA requirements.

When construction of the MAX Orange Line finished under budget in 2015, TriMet sought approval from the Federal Transit Administration to use the remaining money from the project to construct the pedestrian and bike bridge. With strong support from the surrounding community, the backing of the City of Portland and help from Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the project in 2017. 

The bridge will bear some similarities and a resemblance to the Rhine-Lafayette pedestrian and bicycle bridge, which TriMet completed in 2015. Like with that structure, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to choose between using a glass-enclosed elevator or stairway at both ends of the bridge. People using wheelchairs, other mobility devices and with strollers will also find plenty of room inside the lifts. They will include two entrances that will allow bicyclists to pass through without having to turn around.

Construction will last through the summer, with the overall cost expected to be $7.5 million. We anticipate the bridge will be open to the public by October 2020. The City of Portland will own and operate the bridge when it’s completed.