Ore. Members Build Portland’s 
New ‘Auto-Free’ Bridge


August 8, 2014


Portland, Ore., Local 48 members are working on the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, slated to open next year.

Popular songs and advertisements have inspired generations of Americans to get behind the wheel and step on the gas pedal.


Returning World War II veterans were the first generation to “see the USA in your Chevrolet.” From the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” to Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55,” there’s a theme song for almost anyone to soundtrack their times on the open road.

But in Portland, Ore., car culture often takes a proverbial back seat to alternate modes of transportation – namely, bikes, buses and Birkenstocks.

Now, city infrastructure is catching up to the trend. And IBEW Local 48 is at the forefront.

More than 50 electricians are helping build the new Tilikum Crossing bridge, which will span the yawning gap of the Willamette River and connect the city’s east and west downtown areas.

But don’t think about driving your car across it. The 1,720-foot-long multimodal bridge will instead be the largest carless commuting bridge in the nation, reserved exclusively for public transportation and foot and bicycle traffic. Tilikum Crossing is slated to open in late 2015. By making the bridge available to pedestrians and public transit only, city officials hope to cut down both on traffic and pollution.

The bridge’s main function will be to connect the city’s MAX Light Rail transit line, which runs on electricity – and that means jobs for Local 48 members.

“We’ve been doing light rail from the beginning,” said Business Manager Gary Young, whose membership has worked under project labor agreements to do this and other mass transit jobs in the city. “Because of our experience, as the rail system expands, the city has union contractors do the work.”

Young said city planners are even looking into running some more rail into the south of Portland. The tricky geography of the area, with the Cascade Range to the east and the lower Coast Range to the west, along with the Willamette River bisecting downtown, means that the city is very limited in how it can expand its highway system.

‘A project like this helps highlight who we are and what we do,’ said Local 48 Business Manager Gary Young.

Construction on the bridge began in 2011. When complete next year, Tilikum Crossing will boast 14-foot-wide bike and pedestrian paths, plus travel lanes for buses, streetcars and rail.

The bridge is part of the 7.3-mile rail extension, which has been under construction since last year. Local 48 members are wiring both the rail line and lighting on the bridge.

“This is a nice bridge – I take pride in it,” said Local 48 member Terrelle Tucker. “It’s something that will be here forever that I can look at and say, ‘Hey, I worked on that.’”

Tilikum Crossing will also add a visual bonus to the nighttime cityscape with its IBEW-installed LED system.

“It has very cool lighting design,” said Local 48 member Camilo Marquez, who said the LEDs will change color according to the flow rate, the water level and the direction of the current. Depending on the tides, the Willamette River sometimes flows east, sometimes west.

Construction has garnered widespread TV and newspaper coverage throughout Oregon, bringing added recognition of Local 48 to the public.

“The importance of having a project like this helps highlight who we are and what we do,” Young said. “It’s hard to do that when you’re doing a commercial building or a grain elevator – but when something like this gets so much publicity, and then you can throw ‘IBEW’ across the face of it, it really helps to get our name out there.”

Though no commuter cars are allowed, the bridge is designed to accommodate police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles.

“We used our Code of Excellence to motivate everybody, to get customers and contractors all involved and energized to get the project done,” Young said. “It’s been fabulous.”

The Media Department’s video crew recently traveled to Portland to capture the bridge work in progress. Check out exclusive footage of Local 48 members building Tilikum Crossing at vimeo.com/ibew/portlandbridge.