Portland has been undergoing a great transformation over the last few years. Our borders are expanding in every direction and the city’s distinctive profile is changing right along with it. Only the rivers remain unchanged—although, there’s been a recent addition that proves “Bridgetown” is looking toward the future as it redefines itself as a 21st century city.
Recently, I sailed up the Willamette River, passing through the shadows of those twelve bridges and marveled at the great ingenuity and beauty built into each one, but there are two that I feel really tell the story of Portland, Oregon’s past, present and future.
Portland’s second oldest, still-standing bridge opened in 1912 with the intent of carrying the city’s traffic, whether it be by car, carriage, or rail, between the commercial district of Old Town and the industrial and residential districts of Northeast Portland. It is the world’s most multimodal enabled and only double-deck bridge with independent lifts and its through truss design is, as the name implies, made entirely of steel—a innovative building material at a time when most bridges were being built with wrought iron.
Today, 106 years later, you can still see the wealth of Oregon passing over the Steel Bridge, on its sidewalks, its roadways, its MAX Light Rail and the Union Pacific Railroad that runs along its lower deck. It’s an example of our nation’s manufacturing strength at the beginning of the Industrial Age and the vision industrialists had to modernize America’s cities.
Portland’s newest bridge (opened September 12, 2015) has a slick, modern design and a specialized purpose that reflects Portland’s turn to the 21st century.
Tilikum means people in the language of the local Native American Chinook tribe, a very appropriate choice for the cable-stayed bridge that connects the popular Southeast district with the Southwest’s Waterfront area. It was designed by TriMet, Portland’s mass transit system, and is designated solely for the use of its MAX Orange Line light rail, emergency vehicles, and bicycles and pedestrian traffic. It’s the first of its kind in the United States and underscores Portland’s commitment to the environment. It’s also a great way to enjoy a stroll across the river that gave our city the moniker, “Bridgetown.”
Just as the Steel Bridge illustrates the strength of America’s past, the Tillicum Bridge is a grand example of Portland’s potential, offering a path to new opportunities as it holds true to the values of its citizens.
And, it’s a beautiful addition to the cityscape of America’s “Bridgetown.”