Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stark Street Bridge

View Larger Map

Today's installment in the ongoing bridge project takes us out to the Sandy River once again, this time to the Stark Street Bridge. Stark was one of the first roads on the east side in Portland, and generally follows the Willamette Baseline for much of its length. It extends all the way from the Willamette River to the Sandy, and originally sported milestones (some of which still exist) at one mile intervals along its entire length. At the Sandy end, the road winds down the hill to the river, and ends when it merges into the Columbia River Highway. Although the historic mile markers along surviving parts of the Columbia River Highway continue with the Stark St. numbering all the way to The Dalles, believe it or not.

This bridge dates to 1914, around the same time as the old highway went in. Apparently there was a ferry at this spot before that, and the original road alignment went more or less straight downhill to the river, and roughly straight back uphill on the other side on present-day Woodard Road. Those steep roads wouldn't have been paved at the time either, so it would have been muddy most of the year in addition to being steep. The newer road alignment along the river on the east bank of the bridge required a bit of blasting and excavation, apparently.

Although I just said "east bank", there's a geographic quirk here that's worth pointing out. The bridge sits on a bend in the Sandy River, so when you cross to the east bank of the river, you're actually heading north and slightly west.

Info from across the interwebs, mostly the usual suspects:
There's one amusing bit of trivia to relate about the bridge. This isn't the first bridge at this location; the first was an extremely flimsy wood truss bridge that collapsed under the weight of traffic. The Oregon Highway Commission's 1914 Biennial Report described the current bridge and its ill-fated predecessor:
Located two miles from Troutdale, Oregon, over Sandy River, near the Portland Automobile Club House. This bridge replaces an old wooden structure which fell on Good Roads' Day, April 25, 1914, dropping a 5ton auto truck into the river.
The report even includes photos of the original bridge, both before and after it collapsed. It's not hard to imagine the cruel mockery that would have ensued had the Internet existed in 1914. I suppose it's not too late if you want to get in on the mirth and mayhem. Just copy one of the report photos and give it a meme-compatible caption, something along the lines of "GOOD ROADS FAIL". Upload it somewhere the cool kids can find it, and shazam, you win +1 internets.

Walking across is about the same situation as the slightly older bridge downstream in Troutdale, although the walkway is less rickety. If anything, it gets even less pedestrian traffic than the Troutdale bridge, since there isn't a public park right at either end of the bridge, and there's no sidewalk once you're on the east bank of the river. I don't really have any helpful safety tips when it comes to the usual "not dying" angle. If you're superstitiously inclined, you might want to avoid the bridge if they hold another Good Roads Day here. Not sure there's much danger of that; the practice seems to have fallen out of favor except for one town in New Hampshire that's kept the tradition alive semi-continuously since 1914. Same time of year and everything. So if New Hampshire falls into the ocean or has a civil war, or all of New England is consumed by an unholy Lovecraftian apocalypse or whatever, and we're colonized by the refugees, and they try to transplant one of their quaint and unironic New England festivals here, and you're of a superstitious bent, and you happened to read this humble blog and know there's something to be superstitious about, there are a lot of nice places you could be on that day that aren't this bridge. Yeah, ok, that's a real stretch, I readily admit that. But the rules say I have to come up with something, because them's the rules.

No comments :