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Metro bond could help fund a replacement for the iconic crossing at the November 2020 election.

ALAN SYLVESTRE/OPB - The Steel Bridge carries TriMet MAX trains, and buses across the Willamette River. 
One of Portland's iconic old bridges could be headed for the scrap heap — eventually. TriMet is wary of spending millions to repair aging tracks on the Steel Bridge, the connection between northeast and downtown, which may be reaching the end of its lifespan.

The existing bidge is 106 years old and unusual for the number of agencies that use it. Its two black lattice towers lift for ships; Union Pacific trains rumble along its lower deck; and its upper deck is used by buses, cars and light-rail trains.

Speaking at the Aug. 8 meeting of TriMet's Board of Directors, general manager Doug Kelsey called it a strategic crossing, especially after an earthquake.

"Part of the options review is, in fact do you replace the bridge? Do you put a bridge further down? Or do you at some point, do you go underground?" Kelsey said. "The challenge is always going to come down to money."

Metro is expected to send a bond to voters in a couple of years to help pay for a new MAX line through southwest Portland and other transportation projects in the region. A new bridge could be included in that bond.

But a statement from TriMet said any decision on the Steel Bridge is a long way off.

"Years/decades down the road, we hope to have more MAX service and the Steel Bridge, which is already more than 100 years old and not up to modern day earthquake standards, may no longer be an option for us," the agency said.

TriMet further explained, "Due to the age of the bridge, the lifts and the fact that 611 MAX trains move across the trackway on the bridge every weekday, our trackway is in need of repairs. We are working to make major improvements in the coming years so our trains and MAX system can continue to run across the bridge. As those plans come together, we will be communicating to riders, the community and the media about those plans."

OPB is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.

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