Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Find the Ross Island Bridge

The Ross Island Bridge seen from the Springwater Corridor - from an earlier outing!

OK, I get it—it’s not difficult at all to find the Ross Island Bridge; after all, it carries US 26, one of the main arteries thru Portland. It’s not difficult at all—assuming you’re in a motor vehicle.

But I wasn’t on Saturday—of course, these days I rarely am in a motor vehicle, not owning one—& my destination was indeed the Ross Island Bridge as part of the ongoing Bridgetown series. I’d decided to make a real adventure of it—after several days of intense heat, the weather was lovely on Saturday, & I made my way across the Willamette by a combination of riding the MAX light rail & walking, including a stroll across the Broadway Bridge.

That way!
No barrier between the walkway & the westbound lane

But once on W. Broadway, I discovered that the next #9 bus at the first stop wasn’t due for 30 minutes, so I walked on, eventually catching a Portland Streetcar to Portland State University, where I could catch the #9 at a more frequented stop. I’d ridden the #9 frequently last year when I was living in the Southeast & I knew that not only did it cross the Ross Island Bridge, but that one of its eastbound stops was named “Ross Island Bridge.” Obviously, this was my destination.

I digress: the Hooker Street overpass

Except, as I found out to my chagrin when I reached that stop, it wasn’t. One of those Old Vermonter joke punch lines: “You can’t get there from here.” As I was aware, the pedestrian walkway is only on the north side of the bridge, & the eastbound Ross Island Bridge bus stop is on the south side. What I didn’t know: there’s no way to cross Powell Boulevard thru four lanes of very busy traffic. No problem, I said: there has to be a way to backtrack around to the north side.

The Ross Island Cement Company, with Springwater Corridor to the right
Panoramic view north from the bridge: construction on the Carruthers light rail bridge, scheduled to open in 2015

& I’m sure there is—but after a long hike straight uphill in the shadow of the Portland Aerial Tram, I decided that my best bet was to head back to SW Hooker & Powell, where I could once again catch the #9 & head back across the Willamette so I could get onto the bridge on the correct side. This involved crossing the strangely forbidding Hooker Street overpass across Naito parkway, but I survived & eventually found myself on the east side, walking up the long slope that Powell follows to the bridge.

The Ross Island Bridge is not one of Portland’s scenic bridges. It’s functional: a commuter bridge, & also a bridge to carry folks west of the city. & while the walkway is ample, I can’t say it’s a fun or relaxing bridge to cross on foot—as Wikipedia notes: “There is a pedestrian walkway on the north side of the bridge, with no barrier between the sidewalk and the westbound right lane.” 

Portland Aerial Tram Cars passing
Portland Streetcar on SW Moody

No barrier indeed, & lots of traffic. Of course, there was no other pedestrian traffic crowding the walkway & I only passed one bicyclist. There are reasons for this, & it doesn’t simply have to do with finding a way on the bridge!

In terms of facts & figures: the Ross Island Bridge is named after the island that’s directly south of the bridge. It’s a cantilever truss bridge, & as such, the only bridge of its kind in the state of Oregon. The Ross Island Bridge originally opened in 1926.

Ross Island Bridge viewed from the west

The Bridgetown series is winding down. There are only two other public Willamette bridges, one of which is closed to pedestrian traffic (tho I will post about it as I did about the Fremont.) But I think you’ll be happy to know that I went on a scouting expedition yesterday & I believe I have the next series already in mind!

Have a nice Wednesday! May you find all your bridges on the first try!


  1. My word, this was an adventure. I love the "strangely forbidding Hooker Street overpass." I think I saw it once in an Indiana Jones movie.

    Funny to see those areal tram cars hanging above the suburban homes.

    Love these explorations.

    1. Hi Jacqueline: I think I was in that movie on Saturday! Yes, it's interesting to ride in the tram over those houses, too, which I do every Friday! Thanks.

  2. I live not so far from the Ross Island Bridge on the east side. The gym I go to is not so far from the Ross Island Bridge on the west side. In theory I could walk or ride my bike, but it is an ugly prospect. I could also take the bus, but it would take a very long time. Yet it seems so ridiculous that I end up driving to exercise. Your post has made it pretty clear why that is.

    1. Hi Christine: I've now walked all the "walkable" bridges except the St John's, & I'd have to say that Ross Island ranks only above Sellwood (& that very well may not be true in a few years when Sellwood's upgrades are complete.) If there were some compelling reason to walk it, it's possible to do so, but it wouldn't be enjoyable, like the Hawthorne or the Broadway or the other downtown bridges.


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