Portland Bridges - The City of Bridges

Portland bridges are lovely and romantic. Just like the covered bridges of the Oregon coast, I hold a special place in my heart for these structures.

portland bridge

Each one adds so much to the landscape of the city! I've always looked at a bridge spanning a waterway as something very cool, especially when the design is unique or unusual. The bridges of Portland easily fall into any of those categories. In fact, there is history behind many of our bridges.

hawthorne bridge portland

Our city boasts 11 majestic (and not so much) bridges, five of which connect Portland's east and west ends and 5 of them being draw bridges, allowing river vessels access up and down the waters.

Along with many other Rose City locals and bridge lovers in general, my favorite is the Hawthorne Bridge. It is the oldest bridge in Portland, built in 1910 and is also the oldest vertical lift bridge in the entire country. It's quite majestic looking and is a terrific photo opp for any visitor to my city. 

The Hawthorn Bridge sees huge amounts of commuter traffic, including over 1,500 bicyclists traveling it's expanse each day. 

The Steel Bridge is another of my favorite Portland bridges. It's very unique looking and is, in fact, the only double-decker vertical lift bridge with INDEPENDENT LIFT DECKS in the world. This means that the lower deck can actually retract into the upper deck without the upper deck moving at all. Cool, huh?

This being the case, this particular Portland bridge sees all types of traffic. While cars, our MAX light rail, buses, walking traffic, and bicyclists travel the upper level, Amtrak trains, freight trains, pedestrians, and bicyclists are able to take the lower deck. 

The Steel Bridge was built in 1912, making it the 2nd oldest vertical lift bridge in the United States (see above for the 1st!). It's main span is 211 feet and is considered a through truss double lift bridge.

broadway bridge portland

One Portland bridge that I take frequently is the Broadway Bridge, which is distinguishable by it's red color. Whenever I'm at the Cloud Seven Cafe in downtown Portland, relaxing over a nice cup of coffee and doing some work on my web sites or for my social media clients, it's the Broadway Bridge that I take to the NE side and onto I-5 North, leading me back home.

This bridge opened in 1913 and is known for being the largest Rall Bascule bridge in the world. It is car, bike, and pedestrian-friendly.

If I'm heading into the Peal District from I-5 North, I tend to take the Fremont Bridge, sitting high over the Willamette River. This is the youngest of the bridges in Portland, built in 1973.

fremount bridge portland

As you drive this longest bridge in Oregon, you can either veer right at the end and head into Portland's Industrial District, take one of the downtown area exits onto Burnside or into the Pearl, or stay on the straight and narrow and hit I-405 on it's north end. There are no bikes allowed here. We can thank the hideous Marquam Bridge for the Fremont's swooping arches and lovely design. Let me explain... 

Aside from the fact that the Marquam Bridge is probably the busiest of the Portland bridges, it is most definitely the red-headed stepchild of the city (no offence to Gingers!).

Built it 1966, it was the result of putting money before beauty and Portlanders reacted unfavorably. It just doesn't seem to belong in this City of Bridges at all. It carries automotive traffic only, is cramped and winding (you almost feel like you're on a raceway or fighting to stay on), and is generally the one Portland bridge you're glad to be off of. It carries I-5 traffic to I-405 from the East side and I-84 East from it's West side.

morrison bridge portland

The Rose City's Morrison Bridge is one I frequently take into the downtown area. This bridge was built in 1887 and morphed in 1905 and again in 1958, going from a wooden truss style to an updated swing bridge and finally to a drawbridge, carrying traffic from 1-5 to the downtown area and out again. 

It's most noted feature (aside from the great view of the city it provides!) is the illuminated lighting placed there by the Willamette Light Brigade. The Willamette Light Brigade is a group made up of volunteers with the sole purpose of adding architectural lighting to all the bridges that span the Willamette River. The particular lighting beneath the Morrison Bridge can change colors and is often bathed in an Oregon Beavers orange leading up to the Civil War game (paid for by OSU). Much of the other time it's multicolored, but for a pretty hefty fee, can be changed to whatever colors someone wishes. 

The Burnside Bridge, built in 1926, is another draw bridge that stretches across the Willamette. It's architect is actually a pretty famous guy. Ever hear of the Golden Gate? Yup, Joseph Straus built them both. Aside from that tasty bit of trivia, it also used to shelter the Portland Saturday Market (now relocated to it's gorgeous home along the waterfront) under it's west end and still hovers over one of the most famous skate parks in the world, the Burnside Skate Park. 

Built in 1931, the St John's Bridge is an ominous-looking suspension bridge which carries traffic from the NW Portland area to the community of St Johns. It's high-rising arches are very gothic-looking. Underneath this Portland bridge is Cathedral Park, home to the Portland Pirate Festival. It's pretty awesome staring up at this huge bridge above you, from the park.

sellwood bridge portland

As you may know, I grew up in Milwaukie, OR, so, from the downtown area, I'm very familiar with the Ross Island Bridge. Definitely nothing to look at, it's really just a commuter bridge over the Willamette, carrying traffic on U.S.26 across the river between southwest and southeast Portland. As for stats, it opened in 1926 and is a cantilever truss bridge. `Nuff said about that. ;)

The Sellwood Bridge is probably one of the least popular, seen and noticed bridges in Portland. Opening in 1925, it is only a two-lane truss bridge and spans the Willamette River, connecting OR 43 to the Sellwood neighborhood. 

The weight limit on the Sellwood was lowered because of a couple cracks discovered in it's concrete approaches back in 2004. Although still used by a lot of people, those same people would confess that they don't necessarily feel safe on it.

Finally, there is the newest and shiniest of the lot, the Tilikum Crossing bridge. It is a cable-stayed, suspension bridge, spanning the Willamette River. This special Portland bridge carries the Tri-Met MAX Orange Line (traveling from downtown Portland to the Milwaukie and Clackamas areas), the Portland Streetcar, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Uniquely, there are no cars or trucks allowed, with the exception of emergency vehicles. Tilikum Crossing opened in September, 2015.

What's Your Favorite Portland Bridge?

Tell us what your favorite bridge in Portland is? What is the attraction for you? Share some opinions and memories. We'd love to hear them!

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What Bridges Others Are Loving On....

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The Fremont is a beauty, but... 
If I'm not mistaken, the Glen Jackson bridge is actually the "youngest" in Portland, not the Fremont as written. I think the G. Jackson was built around …

Tillikum Crossing Bridge in Portland, OR Not rated yet
The Tillikum Crossing bridge is one of the most recent bridges in Portland, Oregon. Built in 2015, it is opening on September 10. It's long cables spread …

I love the St. Johns Bridge Not rated yet
The St Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon stands like a beautiful bridge that indeed looks like the Golden Gate bridge. I love the opportunity to drive …

Favorite Portland Bridge: Ross Island Bridge Not rated yet
The Ross Island Bridge is my favroite bridge because I am doing a project on the it. My teacher is telling me that it is the best bridge in Portland. …

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All in all, the many Portland bridges are what gives this area the nickname, "City of Bridges." It's fun being surrounding by such awesome behemoths when I'm traveling around the city. I hope you have a chance to come and see them yourself. ;) 


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