Sunday, June 10, 2018

SW Capitol Hwy./Bertha Blvd. Viaduct

This humble blog's ongoing bridge project isn't just about Columbia Gorge bridges, though I've been doing a lot of those lately. I started out with Portland-area bridges; I think the Morrison Bridge was the first of the bunch, and I did all the (Portland-area) Willamette bridges after that, and then the Columbia ones, and then some on the Sandy, Clackamas & Tualatin Rivers, and things just sort of got more and more esoteric from there. In general this humble blog doesn't aspire to be a new-Portlandy hipster website, but I think I'm rather good at finding things You Probably Haven't Heard Of. For bridges, this is often guided by ODOT's 2013 Historic Bridge Field Guide, in which the agency listed a bunch of bridges it felt were historically significant, often for technical reasons only a bridge engineer would care about. This is nice if you're looking for blog material, because you can just point at the guide and shrug and say the experts think this bridge is important, and who am I to argue? This policy has led to visiting some really obscure stuff, like the Ochoco St. Bridge, the Denver Ave. - Columbia Blvd. bridge, and the half-viaduct at NW Melinda & Maywood. A couple of those posts turned out to be interesting to work on, even when the subject matter wasn't particularly photogenic. In my defense, I didn't make the trip just to look for this bridge; I was in the area to track down the nearby Sasquatch Brewing pub (which I hadn't been to before), & then realized there was an item on my big TODO list nearby, and it seemed like a good idea after a couple of beers, so here we are. (This isn't a beer blog, for the most part, but I do recommend the pub; good food, good beer.)

So on that note, here we are in the Hillsdale neighborhood to look at an old overpass at the messy intersection of Capitol Highway, Bertha Blvd., Bertha Ct., Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., & SW 18th Ave. I had sort of assumed it dated to 1950s car mania, back when freeway-style intersections were supposed to be the bright future of getting around town as fast as possible. Turns out it's quite a bit older than that. Here's the blurb from part 4 of the historic bridge guide (which is organized alphabetically by county & split into 5 pdfs):

Description: Seven reinforced concrete girder spans with small curved haunches
Significance: This bridge is one of the few remaining segments of the original route of the Capitol Hwy, later superseded by the West Side Highway. The bridge originally crossed over the Oregon Electric Railway. Widened with two additional girders in 1929, the bridge retains its early feel though the use of a replica of the original decorative railing. A short staircase provides pedestrian access to the underside of the bridge.
Character Defining Features: Decorative railing, Location
Alterations: A 2011 rehab project included repairs to the concrete and replaced the remaining 1915 railing with a replica.

I realize "small curved haunches" is a technical engineering term, but I still kind of giggle at it. I bet bridge engineers giggle too, at least while they're undergrads.

Anyway, the passenger rail line was ripped out & replaced by Bertha Blvd. in the 1930s, and when that happened they just kept the existing bridge over the railroad, like what happened at SW Barbur & Multnomah. Note that ODOT goofed & got the railroad wrong; the trains that ran through Hillsdale were the Southern Pacific's Red Electric service, and the Oregon Electric was a competing company that crossed the West Hills further south.

A few historical items from around the interwebs:

  • The Multnomah Historical Association has a 1920 photo from Capitol Highway looking toward the bridge.
  • A circa-1932 photo showing the old rail line.
  • A SWTrails page about walking the Red Electric Trail, which slowly being pieced together from parts of the old interurban right-of-way.
  • A SW Connection article about present-day remnants of the city's passenger rail history. It mentions in passing that the Bertha stop (and thus the present-day boulevard) was named for the wife of a railroad executive. The stop wasn't called "Hillsdale" like the neighborhood because it sounded too much like Hillsboro, the line's ultimate destination. Inattentive riders have an uncanny way of getting off at the wrong stop; I know this is true, having done so on MAX a few times.
  • A page with facts about the old rail line, and photos showing what a few parts of the old right-of-way look like today.

And then there's a 2015 OregonLive story about the 1920 Red Electric train collision on the old interurban line, in which eight people died and over a hundred were injured; nearly a century later it's still the worst public transit accident in Portland history. The article begins with people waiting at the Bertha stop, but the collision happened further south along the line, somewhere near present-day Stephens Creek Nature Park. The Multnomah Historical Association page has a page all about the wreck, with (fortunately non-gory) photos.

The old Bertha rail station was located around where the Watershed at Hillsdale senior housing complex is now. Before that was built circa 2007, the land sat empty for several decades; it seems it was a contaminated brownfield site, and an Oregon DEQ filing from the construction approval detailed the various uses the site had gone through over the years. First a rural dairy farm, then an interurban rail stop, then a gas station/garage/junkyard, which is where the contamination came from. The study found additional contamination that turned out to be goop from an old dry cleaning operation seeping downhill and ending up here. Yuck.

I don't have any photos from under the bridge because the Capitol/Bertha/Bertha/Beaverton-Hillsdale intersection is not really a fun place to walk around; the streets are busy and congested, and the crosswalks (and sidewalks) are few. But there's at least one improvement in the works nearby. The aforementioned Red Electric Trail project will soon have a new segment through here, detouring west around the busy intersection, partly on the unused right-of-way for a SW Dakota Street that only exists on paper. The planned trail segment isn't that long, but it needs to cross a deep gully next to Beaverton-Hillsdale, so a shiny new footbridge is in the works. They're aiming to make it at least reasonably photogenic, so if I'm in the area again once it's done I might need to stop and take a few photos.

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