Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Marquam Bridge from a Distance

The Marquam Bridge in a zoom shot from the OHSU observation deck
It’s Wednesday, so it must be Rose City time! I’m here today with the penultimate installment in the Bridgetown series.

The bridge under consideration today is the Marquam, & it’s the bridge Portlanders love to hate.  Since we’re on foot (either literally or imaginatively) we can’t cross over the bridge: the Marquam carries Interstate 5, & so is closed to pedestrians.

But that’s not why Portlanders generally dislike the bridge; after all, the Fremont Bridge also carries an interstate highway & so also can’t accommodate pedestrians; & the Fremont Bridge is one of the city’s most beloved & iconic structures. The Fremont Bridge, however, is a striking & beautiful piece of architecture—while the Marquam is mostly a generic bridge that you might find along any interstate highway. In fact, dislike of the Marquam, which opened in 1966, had a direct effect on the design of the Fremont Bridge; the Fremont’s glorious, classic architecture was a direct & explicit response to the Marquam.

The Marquam as seen from the Willamette Greenway

Facts & figures (thanks, Wikipedia): the Marquam is Oregon’s busiest bridge. In design it’s a double-decker steel-truss cantilever bridge; northbound traffic (headed almost due east across the river, then veering north after the crossing) travels on the upper level, while southbound traffic travels on the lower deck.  Again according to Wikipedia, the Marquam bridge carried 139,000 cars daily as of 2008.

There is some talk of doing away with the Marquam Bridge, tho given its importance as a transportation corridor, any replacement would need to be done very judiciously. Oregon House Bill 2032 from 2011 proposed that the Oregon Department of Transportation study how to replace the Marquam Bridge. One idea would be to construct a tunnel beneath the Willamette River, & route I-5 thru that.  This particular proposal is backed by Oregon State Representative Jules Bailey (D-Portland), tho apparently the idea has been kicked around for some time.

The Marquam Bridge from OMSI

The poor Marquam Bridge! It really gets no respect. Mayor Vera Katz in her 2001 State of the City address said, "It’s like having the Berlin Wall dividing east and west, with all the subtle charm of the Daytona 500 smack dab in the middle of our city."

Hope you enjoy the views of the bridge—the shots from the Willamette Greenway were taken during a very pleasant walk along the river this Tuesday—so I can’t say the Marquam has been all bad for me! I also learned from a display at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, that the Marquam affords a nesting place for peregrine falcons, which is cool—tho it turns out that the peregrines much prefer the Fremont Bridge & nest there in much greater numbers.


Panoramic view of the Marquam & I-5 from OHSU


  1. It's a wonderful structure, serpent-like, almost alive. Great photos.

  2. Ugly thing. And you did a great job of summing up the history/utility and general sentiments about the bridge. I particularly like Vera Kat's comment. What a lady!

    I had a chance to run on the Marquam though, which was a beautiful experience. The view of the city and the river from there is great. It was closed off to cars for a 15-k race. Races and the Bridge Pedal are really the best bet for gaining access to car-free bridges. Unfortunately, I don't run anymore.

  3. A hatred shared by many is a form of social glue. When the thing hated is an inanimate object, the end result is almost positive - it plays a part in defining the culture of the community that surrounds it.

    Oh dear, that sounds pretentious - but it says what I mean and it's late here! :)


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