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Portland Transit Bridge Will Be Called 'Tilikum Crossing'

The first new Portland bridge to cross the Willamette River in a generation will be called: Tilikum Crossing, meaning Bridge of the People in Chinook jargon.

Portland native, Donna Bell got to ceremony early and took the front seat, right in front of the new bridge on the banks of the Willamette.

“I’m here to see what the name of the bridge will be,” said Bell.

“And I hope it’s named for the first woman, Abigail Duniway for our first bridge named after a woman. I think that would be cool,” she said before the announcement Wednesday.

It was cold and Bell had to sit through a couple of speeches to find out Duniway wasn’t the choice. But there were some additional moments of  suspense as TriMet gave the order to unfurl a banner announcing the new name.

Tilikum is spelled with a K instead of a C.  It’s a word that Native American tribes have used for thousands of years to convey the idea of people and community.

David Lewis

David Lewis

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Historian David Lewis is with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. He says the name will help re-establish awareness of native peoples in Portland.

“Because we were removed from this place over 160 years ago,” he said.

“In 1856 the tribes were removed to the Grand Ronde reservation and we lived there for 100 years until we were terminated. Some 30 years ago we were restored as a tribe here in Oregon.”

He thinks it’s a good time to bring the name Tilikum back to the area.

“People’s Bridge, the People’s Crossing. Tilikum Crossing is really representative of all the people, not just the tribes, but all the people who are at this place today because it really will be a people’s bridge because people will cross it everyday,” said Lewis.

Thousands of names were submitted for consideration. Some that didn’t make the cut include: The Jean Luc Picard Wonder Crossing, The Lisa Simpson Bridge and the Stephen Colbert Bridge of Destiny.

The criteria used to choose the name included: its meaning; its historical significance; whether it was inspirational; and how would it sound 100 years from now.

But how about Donna Bell? Was she upset it won’t be named after Abigail Scott Duniway?

“I’m one-fourth Native American. My mother was born in Alaska,” said Bell.

“And I like the fact that it means ‘of the people.’ And Tilikum is easy to pronounce. I think it’s a good choice. If it couldn’t be named for a woman, this would have been my second choice.”

The bridge will carry light rail, buses, bikes and pedestrians, but not cars. Building clover-leaf off-ramps at each end would have profoundly affected the local neighborhoods.

TriMet’s DeeAnn Sandberg is happy to share stats for the new bridge. 

“So this is a cable stay bridge, it’s the first cable stay bridge in Portland,  It’s 1720 feet long and it will open to the public when the entire light rail project opens to the public which is September 12th 2015,” Sandberg said.

A cable stay bridge works in this case by having four towers that hold up the bridge decking with thick cables. On Tilikum Crossing, the cables are coated in plastic and the whole thing will be lit up.

“It will be multi-color lights, but it’s not going to be Vegas,” said Sandberg.

“It’s actually going to show the river height and river flow. It will be attached or communicate with a website that actually gives that information that is monitored on another bridge in Portland. And so it’s meant to be a very slow moving, artistic lighting program,” Sandberg said.

TriMet says the $134 million dollar bridge is 76 percent finished and should come in on-time and on-budget.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the cost of the bridge. The error is corrected in this version.

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