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I don't see any relation to the elegance of the St. Johns Bridge.

It is more akin to football goal posts.

Bob R.

I attended a Milwaukie Light Rail open house yesterday... I didn't spend much time looking at the bridge presentations, but I found it odd that they didn't have large color renderings of the wave design, but did of the cable-stayed design. They did show the wave design in a profile drawing among about a dozen bridge styles.

I wondered last night if that meant TriMet was downplaying the wave design during the public presentations because it was going to be doomed in the committee process.

I personally much preferred the wave design, even though I want to see a cable-stayed design somewhere in the metro area.


Gotta say that I'm disappointed with the choice. That said, I've been on the East bound portion of the Marquam Bridge( an abomination nearly unparalleled in bridge making history) and found myself enjoying the views of downtown and the eastside.


Dreary generic expedient cable-stay.


well the choice they have made is no Fremont Bridge.

public enemy

"I worry that design is taking a back door to other more pragmatic concerns, be it the number of car lanes or budget constraints or, most of all, the system we have for making these selections and decisions."

leave design to designers - all the pragmatic, budget, inspiration and beauty issues you rant over are ALL part of the solution. I too have seen a thread, and the many proclaim they have an expert viewpoint on design. maybe we are bored of our own existence that we feel compelled to give opionions as though we are the experts.

If you want change - study, and become a steward of what you preach. talk is cheap.

Brian Libby

Public enemy, art and architecture criticism has about as long a tradition--thousands of years--as the mediums themselves. I'm sure you're not dumb enough to question my right to write about design with an informed opinion. It's one thing to disagree with my opinion, but another to be naive enough to attack the whole system of western society.

It seems like you're trying to say that I'm being too idealistic, and that design itself has always been comprised of pragmatic solutions. If that's indeed what you're saying, it's a fair point.

david g

Why are we discussing the cable-stayed design as the only option? Why can't the designer be asked to produce options for a cable-stayed design now that the basic decision has been made to use that model?

The work that Rosales did for the city of Boston was a real disappointment. A clumsy obelisk that poorly referrenced the nearby bunker hill monument.

This design could be better and we should ask that it be made better.

public enemy

No - you are actually entitled to whatever opinion you have, history gave us critics that studied art, studied design, or were designers themselves. Your Blog gives you an outlet to voice Your freedom of speech and You certainly give exposure to things that might not be discussed openly otherwise.
Maybe I was not clear. What I was saying is that GOOD design has “always been comprised of pragmatic solutions”. You cannot separate the two - in the end you have to rely on the talent and expertise of designers, not opinion, to make the correct solution. The thread I feel is intertwined with your examples has more to do with opinions than qualified critical insight into art, architecture, design or beauty.

Brian Libby

Public enemy,

Again, your points about design and pragmatic solutions are valid. I'm trying to be a nice guy here. Yet I'm disappointed that you'd continue to say that I'm not giving you "critical insight into art, architecture, design or beauty."

My point in the post, which I made because I thought it was the most relevant part of the issue, had to do with the process by which TriMet and other decision makers arrived at their selection. Although it's indeed true that pragmatism is a requisite part of design/construction, and we can't pave every street or bridge with gold, I believe the inherent balance we needed for this project between budget and design quality may have been tipped too far towards budget.

If you want to bring in the insights of art, architecture, design or beauty, as you say, that's fine. Should we discuss the scale and proportions that ancient Greek and Roman architecture taught us, or the soulful aspects of Renaissance era beatification?

It's true that a bridge must first be a connector from one side of the river to the next, within a responsible budget. However, you don't have to be some elitist art snob to believe there is immeasurable value in creating architecture , landscapes and infrastructure in our communities that has beauty and inspires people. There is also an at least indirect economic value to places of with positive aesthetics where people want to be and spend their time.

Again, I don't even quite grasp why we're having to argue about this. I made a frickin' point about standing up for design excellence. You reminded me and us that there is a proper place for pragmatism. Each point, yours and mine, is valid in that respect.

But unless I'm just woefully misunderstanding you, our otherwise reasonable conversation is being pushed off course by your saying I don't have the adequate background or perspective to communicate the importance of design or beauty. Is that really what you're saying, public enemy?


As a practicing designer, (first degree Aeronautical Engineering, second Degree in Design from the Royal College of Art) I share Brian's POV.

Sure pragmatics can't be ignored, but please, some unique gesture- structural, architectural or stylistic could lift this from the bleak anonymous structure that it is, to a regional landmark that's efficient and loved.


A disappointing choice.

The wave form bridge was an inspiration and the sort of work that would have brought more people to Portland and could have inspired new bridge forms for a generation.

With this selection we'll all be listening for the collective ho-hum once its finished.

(And I'm guessing that Schnitzer Steel was not the 'only place they could have bought the steel' right?)


If you look at the high end of bridge design like Santiago Calatrava (bridge as sculpture), it really requires a large amount of space for the work to "breathe". The image you show and used by the original article is deceiving. In the aerial view, this bridge is really sandwiched between two others. From the river view they are each in succession, so this is definately not a stand alone piece. Considering the context, the wave form bridge is a better neighbor because it has a lower profile, besides the fact that it doesn't hail entry into downtown. (But who hires Rosales to do a low profile bridge.) The waveform isn't much better though in that it is very unrefined with the steel angles sticking out. They should use steel pipe and make it something more heilical about an axis or as if it was spindled by a spider.

All that said, it looks like just another pork project to me...


Wow. Yeah. This was a real disappointment. I have no doubt that budget issues are real (hell, we're down to four days a week of court!) and that this bridge is much cheaper, but the design is painfully generic. It honestly looks like it could be anywhere, America. That's unfortunate given the great amount of civic pride I feel for the stylistic elements of Portland. While I would have been for more of a Chords Bridge myself, I thought the wave bridge was legimately novel and aesthetically compelling. Even the cable-stayed bridge I certainly could have lived with; it would have been a good update to the city. I appreciate the decision makers putting their best face on to present this compromise, but I'm hoping that a strong enough public backlash can turn the tide toward a more enduring public monument.


I also feel very pragmatic these days, but to support Brian’s point, experts may design and build the bridge, but we all have to live with and pay for the bridge.

For a city known for higher than average participation in civic forums, I am often disappointed by the mamby pamby, Pollyannaish tone of some discourse. So bring on the public opinion, bring on the criticism. Defending your opinion and having your assumptions challenged should strengthen your position, if it is a defendable position.

It will be interesting to see the result of Sellwood Bridge Project and its very public process. Though the Sellwood site is not as heavily traveled as the “Willamette River crossing” area, the Sellwood site is beautiful and is somewhat reminiscent of the St. Johns site, set-off by a forested hill. Like so many bridges in Oregon, the natural elements of the Sellwood site could really harmonize or contrast with a dramatic bridge designed. By contrast, the “Willamette River crossing” site is really compromised by the looming Marquam Bridge.

carless in pdx

This is not the final design of the bridge! Developing new designs over the course of the process shows that the guy is actually actively working and not just pointing to off-the-shelf designs. I didn't even know you can combine a cable-stayed with a suspension bridge. Very interesting.

It has been known for awhile now that the wave-form bridge would have been more expensive - by ~20+% - than any of the other bridge types.

Bridges do not grow on trees.

I think this design will come out well.


As I've said before, we are a design illiterate society.


I'm glad you mentioned the siting issue. Here is a crazy thought. Replace the Steel Bridge with this bridge (yes, I know you need to make room for the freight trains) and have all of the lines run across this new bridge. The Milwaukie line can then run south on Grand or some other route near the river. The streetcar already serves South Waterfront. I like the Steel Bridge design but it has outlived its usefulness. Trains just crawl across the bridge. To the untrained eye, it seems like that bridge has outlived its useful life.


careless in pdx, the calatrava bridge in Redding, California was well above 20% more - but more than worth the extra money.

How many of us spend 20% more for a better car? 20% more for a better kitchen or bathroom? 20% more for that outfit for an important occasion.

We need to start thinking about public works like we think about ourselves. We're leaving a legacy for the futre - it's important that we leave something better than we are, rather than 'just enough'

David Benson

I agree with Brian. The first words that come to mind upon viewing the chosen design: ordinary, bland, safe, utilitarian. These are not the words that come to mind when standing on the bank of the Seine and looking at a Paris bridge. Or one in Florence. A great bridge has yet to be built in central Portland and this one appears little better than average. Brian asked the right question. To put it another way: when this bridge is old will people feel it is worthy of preservation? Will they care?

Public beauty lends grace to our lives and helps bind our affections to a place. It distinguishes one place from another. The merely practical tends to be indistinguishable one place to another.

Lance Lindahl

Dylan Rivera's article misses the key point. The wave frame design is both too expensive and too risky.

The wave frame design would have cost at additional $80 million to build. Due to the higher maintenance needs of the special type of steel required, maintenance costs would have been an additional $1 million a year.

A wave frame bridge of this size and complexity has never been built. In fact, a bridge of this type, but at half the size, has never been built. The largest bridge of this type ever built carries a single set of tracks over a river much smaller and narrower than the Willamette.

So we are not talking about a bridge design that would have cost 20% more. Factoring in both construction and operational costs, it would have been much higher than that. Given that a bridge of this type has never been built at this scale, and that the only factory that makes the steel required is on the east coast, and that there are zero welders in Oregon certified to work on this type of steel, the final cost of the wave frame bridge was almost certain to go even higher.

This is why my fellow Citizen's Advisory Board members voted 13-0 in favor of the cable stayed design. For a project that is already having to cut costs, the wave frame design is not the right bridge for this project.

However, everyone on the committee does think that the wave frame is pretty.


Lance , thanks for clearing that up , tthe decision makes sense now.
Why can't we dig out the blueprints for the St Johns Bridge and build that.


Design isn't even a consideration at this point. Money needs to be, and is, the biggest concern. We don't have the luxury of favoring design over budget constraints. If the bridge needs built now, and in this economic environment, then this is the bridge we get now ... and for years to come. If we want a "design first" bridge, let's wait until we have the money. Sorry to come off like Lars Larson but c'mon, Mr. Libby, we have to START thinking sensibly here.


I basically like this bridge design. The roadway deck has a pleasing arc and the cables do it a service by not detracting from that. I don't feel like the cable pylons are anywhere close to as attractive as they could or should be. Except for the fact that they're slim and therefore not obtrusive, they lack any sense of elegance.

At least as represented in the pic above, I notice the pylons don't have any crossmembers above the roadway. Even if it were purely cosmetic, adding some form of crossmember would be one of the first things I'd look at. I'd do that because I think that when people approach and begin to cross a bridge with that kind of configuration, it helps give them a sense that they're passing through a gate to something special.

Beyond that, something might be done to the basic shape of the pylons to give them some sense of dimension and gracefulness. As is, they're just kind of boring, and look like no imagination whatsoever went into their creation.


Brent, I think the point of this post is to question about what happens years from now when we have forgotten the cost of the bridge and all that is left is the design.

How much did the Marquam Bridge cost? or the Fremont Bidge? or the Morrison Bridge?

There will come a point when the cost of this will not matter, but what was built will matter. How often do you hear the Marquam Bridge is ugly compared to it was the right bridge because of the costs at the time?

I have no problem with money restraints becoming a driving force in the design, but this image that Brian posted is horrible. Seriously, how hard would it of been for them to choose instead of combining two bridges together? Personally when I thought they were heading towards the cable stay bridge with the two A frame towers, I was happy with that...while not original, it would of been a nice addition to our collection of bridges. This design makes me want to see if I can kick a football between the goal posts.


Jeez, y'all are acting like they're trying to string a piece of dog sh*t across the river. While this is clearly not the most WOW design to ever come rolling down the pipe, it's hardly an eyesore. "First do no harm...." I think that this design will do no harm. Check. Now quit your griping and realize how lucky you are that in this country, with this economy, you live in a city that is prioritizing non-car transportation!!! That's HUGE! Who's gonna be the jerk turning up his nose at "the design" on the day the bridge is first open for crossing? Especially if it comes in on or under budget? Please. Did the designers of the Hawthorne or Broadway Bridges, or any Portlanders at the time, think they were being blessed with bridges for the ages? Highly unlikely. And yet, they maintain a certain charm...

As for the bridge being better placed north of the Marquam Bridge, that's probably true, but doesn't any bridge that far north have to make way for water transport? Putting a drawbridge on the project would present major drawbacks...

carless in pdx

keith.d said:

careless in pdx, the calatrava bridge in Redding, California was well above 20% more - but more than worth the extra money.

Thats nice, but we actually can't afford to spend more on this project. Milwaukie MAX already is predicted to cost $190 million/mile, OVER 3X more per mile than any other MAX line! If we don't keep costs controlled, then we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot once we lose political support for such projects.

Besides, infrastructure projects usually end up defining beauty as a kind of industrial aesthetic. The devils are in the detail of a project like this.

carless in pdx

If you have trouble justifying taking the "safe" path, then perhaps instead of viewing Portland as the Copenhagen or Amsterdam of America, maybe we're just the Sweden or Switzerland. You know, safe, responsible, and reliable. ;)


Thanks for your comments, Dennis. I do understand the long-term design implications. I also figured I'd be in the minority on this topic, which is why I thought I'd weigh in. I just simply do not agree.

Double J

Really glad Brian has posted this. I think this needs to be picked apart to improve.

Ive been struggling with this combo suspension/cable stay bridge since Rosales sent me this new design several weeks ago. I'm interested in seeing how it develops but I'm glad people seem to have the same gut reaction... right now this bridge doesnt seem to embody our aspirations as a city. This is a bridge city and hopefully the final design will live up to that fact. It needs to be picked apart like its been here.

Ill have something (hopefully interesting) on PORT on Monday.


carless in pdx, I wouldnt sweat the cost of the green line too much, the higher costs have to do more with elevation changes than anything else.

If you remember the extension of the streetcar down to the waterfront cost a fortune because of the steep grade that needed to be corrected for the train.

Then of course if the cost of crossing water is added into the cost, then that is going to make it much higher...as well as any severe grade change on the eastside.

Oh and no worries Brent, we are all entitled to our own opinions, I just wanted to state what most of us are looking at this...personally I was happy with the simple cable stay bridge and thought that was a good design for the cost.


Hey, lets put some of them shiny tri-met windmills up there....


The wave bridge cost almost 50% more than either of the other two options, with far less certainty on cost. Also, there has only been one other wave form bridge built in the us, so the expertise on building it would be hard to find. I think it is fair to say that cost won out, but that we still end up with a reasonably attractive bridge. Sitting next to the abomination that is the Marquam bridge, it will look like an architectural masterpiece.


I'd rather have this bridge:


I bet the guy who did the CGI for the Suspension/Cable Stayed design feels pretty miffed by now! The design process is not complete.

Philipp Wenger

Dear Lance Lindahl,

I get the urge to give you some deeper insight.

High-performance steel has been selected for the tension chord (the 'wave'-chord) due to its significantly higher toughness and tensile strength. As the tension chord is fully under tension, the use of HP-steel leads to considerable savings on material. Higher tensile strength is directly, reciprocally linear with the amount of steel for pure tension members.

Approximately 20% of the steel of the chord (only the chord! - compared to the total amount of steel this is < 10%) has been designed (as a result of the conceptual design) with plate thicknesses of 3.6". It was stated that only a few mills have the capacity to roll 3.6" plates. You are kindly invited to contact your local steel mills to learn more about their capabilities… .

I wonder why maintenance cost should be $1 million/year. Kindly share your sources with me. If you are interested in modern corrosion protection technology, I'd be glad to provide you some sources. Durability of >25 years (of the first coating) is average standard of the most available systems. A typical maintenance interval is 3-5 yrs, an average of 10…20% of the coated surfaces have to be refurbished. The cost for coating the wave steel members were conservatively assumed to be in a range of $ 2million.

In general, maintenance cost is depending on 2 major issues: on the accessibility of steel members as the efforts for temporary works, scaffoldings are usually much higher compared to the paint, and the structural details in terms of the detailing of nodes or joints, their exposure to sun, water, dirt, … . A structure without areas where water can remain has significantly reduced refurbishment. A structure where members can be inspected and accessed easily has significantly reduced maintenance.

Both are the case with the wave bridge. Structural details have been resolved pretty well so far (since the structure does not have very complex details/nodes) and the whole (!) steel structure is visible and accessible from the deck-level. So again, where do you want to spend a million every year? Be reasonable.

Are you really sure with your statement that there are zero welders in whole Oregon State, certified for the welding works of the wave-bridge? I would have assumed, for a welder it is a kind of a truss bridge, just the trusses are not diagonal, as usually. Actually I think you may have to reconsider your Corporate Identity with your local steel fabricators. And you live in a city with nearly a dozen steel bridges…. .

Up to now, I haven’t found an explanation why steel is so, how do you say, ‘demonized’ in the North-West. That’s really astonishing.

In fact, a bridge of this type has not yet been built. Is this a reason to keep our hands off it? I am working and have been working with companies which are designing innovative and outstanding bridge structures since app. 70 years. One of them for example was the Pasco-Kennewick Bridge over the Columbia River, the very first cable-stayed bridge in the United States. If you go into depth and investigate reasons for cost-overruns (what is usually meant with ‘risk’) you will come to the conclusion that the biggest risk has been and will always be the ‘human factor’. Clients who force engineers to carry out a design in half the time, politicians making technical decisions, contractors and consultants focused on profit, save material... , there are many possibilities. In contrast, my experience is, an innovative design usually effects a much higher sensibility and care, for every little detail.

The unfortunate thing for the wave bridge was that the innovative design released a series of worst assumptions in every matter, just to be ‘on the safe side’. This ‘pool of safety’ certainly resulted in a tremendous cost estimate.

The Happy Pontist

>I didn't even know you can combine a cable-stayed with a suspension bridge.

You haven't seen the Brooklyn bridge then? Many of the oldest suspension bridges were of this type, it's nothing new.

There's more on this debate at The Happy Pontist blog.

Nick S.

I encourage you all to read "The Tower and the Bridge" by David Billington if you have not already: http://www.amazon.com/Tower-Bridge-David-P-Billington/dp/069102393X . His central idea is that great engineering designs must be economical which will also tend to make them aesthetically pleasing. I sent the renderings of the wave and cable-stayed options to my friend who is a bridge designer. His comment was that the fact that the wave bridge costs significantly more for a shorter main span is proof that it is not a great design.

Brian Libby

Nick, thanks for your comment. However, I have to say that the wave bridge's much greater cost is a misconception. I've spoken with the wave bridge designer and plan to write a post about this soon. He believes the costs of the wave have been substantially exaggerated and there is a triumph of misinformation going on.

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