Saturday, November 03, 2012

Union Street Bridge

A slideshow on Salem's Union Street Bridge over the Willamette River. It was built as a railroad bridge in 1913, but the railroad abandoned it in the 1990s. The city of Salem later purchased it and converted it into a bike and pedestrian bridge. Which, as you can see in my earlier posts about the nearby Center Street and Marion Street bridges, is something that was sorely needed here. I visited on a cool, drizzly day with intermittent downpours, and even then there was a steady stream of people walking and biking across.

[View Larger Map]

If the design of the bridge looks familiar, it could be because it was designed by the Waddell & Harrington engineering firm, the same company behind the Hawthorne, Interstate, and Steel bridges in Portland. Unlike the bridges in Portland, the lift span on the Union St. Bridge no longer functions. In fact it hasn't been operational since at least 1980, when the railroad was still using the bridge.

There was a brief time in the late 1990s or early 2000s when it looked as if the lift span would have to be repaired, to accomodate the Willamette Queen river cruise ship during high river levels. I can't find a definitive link about the story, but as I recall under federal law the railroad would have had to put the lift span back into operation if any commercial user demanded it. However it turned out to be much cheaper to modify the riverboat, the only vessel that would have needed the lift span. Its smokestacks were the real obstacle, and they were actually purely decorative, so they were given hinges to fold down so the ship could fit under the bridge. As I said, I wish I had a link to pass along as I might have some of the details of the story wrong, but that's how the story played out as best as I can recall. Anyway, the lift span is another interesting relic of the brief era when commercial shipping was a dominant form of transportation across Oregon, before railroads and eventually cars and trucks assumed that role.

Since it's strictly a pedestrian and bike bridge, walking across is pretty pleasant, and there's a nice view of the river and the other bridges. You see a bit of the city too, but Salem has a fairly low-rise and unphotogenic skyline, apart from the state capitol, and the city just isn't oriented around the river to the same degree that Portland is. In addition to the bridge itself, on the West Salem side of the river you also cross a long elevated train trestle over land; I was coming from the downtown Salem side and turned around before walking the whole trestle (due to the whole intermittent downpours thing I mentioned), so I haven't personally seen where it ends up. The video I linked to above starts from the West Salem side, though, so you can see it that way, if you're curious.

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