Spanning Oregon: Exploring the Connection to our Treasured Bridges features stunning photography, both historic and contemporary, of Oregon's most beloved bridges. It also features rich and compelling stories, like the following story by Joseph Rose on Tilikum Crossing.
Long before Portland’s newest bridge had a name, electrical foreman Camilo Marquez was unrolling piles of rough schematics and mapping out the structure’s complex circuitry.
More than any Portland span, the 1,720-foot-long Tilikum Crossing relies on electricity. A powerful, steady current splits off into a hundred directions, feeding overhead light-rail catenary systems, bike path lamps, timed signals, high-tech safety devices and a pulsating LED light show that reflects river conditions at night.
Marquez, the 29-year-old son of Mexican immigrants who quickly worked his way up the ranks of bridge contractor O’Neill Electric, was charged with designing and building Tilikum’s central nerve system.
The bridge is the city’s twelfth Willamette River crossing and the first since the massive Fremont Bridge opened in 1973. But as the cornerstone of TriMet’s $1.5 billion MAX Orange Line extending to Milwaukie, it is car-free. It was designed to improve the flow of public transit across an increasingly congested city, serving only trains, buses, streetcars, pedestrians and bicycle commuters. Emergency vehicles are also allowed.
The handsome design, with a spray of cables evocative of Mount Hood, was instantly celebrated as a classic.
However, the bridge’s September 2015 opening wasn’t without drama. Critics questioned its necessity and $134 million price tag. The local maritime community may never be satisfied by the mid-span’s height. And although Tilikum is the Chinook Wawa word for "people," a TriMet naming committee ignored the public’s overwhelming choice to name it for Kirk Reeves, a beloved Portland street performer.
With the city watching from the shores, a small army of bridge builders balanced tools and heavy machinery over the river, assembling the span in 16-foot sections that slowly moved toward meeting in the middle.
At age 9, Marquez started working in Hood River’s orchards with his dad, picking apples and changing irrigation pipes. He always wanted to work with his hands outside, building something.
And he was with the bridge in the very beginning, touching its first piece of steel. After crews drove Tilikum’s leading support beam 150 feet into the earth in 2011, they lowered him into a cofferdam. Standing on the Willamette’s muddy river bottom, Marquez soldered the first grounding wires into place.
Over four years, he wrestled 10 miles of wiring through rebar and along girders, testing every connection before it was encased in concrete.
The work could be harrowing. In 2014, Marquez found himself stuck in a brutal spring storm at the very top of a funnel of steel rebar that would eventually support one of Tilikum’s west towers.
A shock wave of wind and hail hit Marquez like a sledgehammer. Trapped 180 feet above the river, Marquez braced himself against the sky-high rebar. He pulled up his hood and rode out the storm with the bridge. Months later, he climbed to the top of the finished pillar to install an aviation light. He wasn’t going to climb down without letting the world know he and the bridge had weathered the tempest together.
“I left my initials up there,” he said.
Enjoy this and countless more photos and stories of Oregon Bridges in the hardcover book, Spanning Oregon, presented by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Read more on OregonLive.