In case you haven't been following the current dust-up about rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge, here's the lay of the land: In one corner, it's Mayor Sam Adam's office. The city is bankrolling $100 million of the bridge project but wants to hold off on inking its contribution until the county agrees to turn over control of the Willamette bridges to the city. In the other corner, it's County Chair Jeff Cogen, who called on the mayor to stop making "unreasonable demands" that will delay the process.
Both sides, however, are 100% optimistic that the bickering partners will hash out a deal very soon. That's because both sides think they're in the right. And, to a certain extent, they both are. Both agree that turning over the bridges to the city makes sense, but Cogen is on a tight timeline (the county has to start selling bonds for the Sellwood Bridge in December) and doesn't want to roll the complicated turnover process in the Sellwood Bridge debate.
"I’d say, let’s sign this deal and say we’re setting up a new group to study the transfer of the bridges," says Cogen. "I don’t think it’s a bad idea and I’m not a turf-y guy, we just can’t afford to spend a year and a half or whatever it will take to get that done."
But the mayor's office says "agreeing to start a committee" to look into transfer is not enough. Tom Miller, the mayor's chief of staff, want the bridge deal to “reflect intent to transfer the bridges” before the city signs on. Why is this such a sticking point? Because the mayor's office thinks the bridge funding plan gouges Portlanders in a serious way. According to Miller's math, Portland residents are picking up 60 percent of the tab for replacing the county bridge.
"Gouging" details below the cut.
Here's the breakdown: The new Multnomah County vehicle registration fee is kicking in $127 million to the bridge and 80 percent of county residents are Portlanders. But Portland to Portland trips make up about 17 percent of the traffic across the bridge. "If we were being fair, we’d be giving about 17 percent of the project cost," says Miller. Instead, the $102 million Portlanders are giving to the project via the registration fee plus the $100 million the city has promised to contribute add up to a third of the $330 million project cost.
"We think that’s an extraordinary. Let’s try to sweeten this deal a little bit for the people we are gouging," says Miller.
So what would really be fair? If the commuter counties that use the bridge kicked in an equal share. Clackamas County is looking to pass a vehicle registration fee of it's own... but it's only $5 compared to Multnomah's $19.
Miller is pretty clear that the project is getting as much money as it can from the people who would back it—Portlanders. "We’re just not going to get that kind of money from Clackamas County, we know as a political matter, we’re just not going to get it. Portlanders are more tolerant of government and more willing to open up their pocket books to fund this project."
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!