01 April 2024

The Center Street Bridge, Salem


Salem's Bridges, like Salem itself, are contradictory.

They're essential, but unremarkable. They're crucial, but you don't think about 'em much. There's nothing preposessing about them, but you'd miss 'em if they were gone.

Salem, depending on the year, is either the Oregon's Second City or Oregon's Third City: after Eugene holding a slim lead for the greater part of my life, they've been one or two thousand apart and swap the position once every couple of years. Right now, I think Salem's number two. And for a city as big as it is now, with only two bridges linking the two halves ... well, that's just kind of absurd.

If you want to go from the eastern half of Salem to the western half, you have to go through downtown. And if you're going to the west side, you're just as likely to be bypassing west Salem as you are likely to be destined there. It comes from the two sides' shared history, of course: founded in 1913, West Salem, Oregon was city of its own until it merged with Salem to form the kernel of the present-day town.

They needed infrastructure work and didn't have the money, is the story I always heard.

So, West Salem, before it was merely west Salem, was a suburban destination. 

And to this day, there's only one way into West Salem, and one way out. The bridge pictured is the way out. West of here, State Hwy 22 forms a very brief riverfront expressway bypassing the West Salem business district, Edgewater Street NW, before dividing, in a manner shared by Albany and Corvallis, into two main city center streets. This bridge feeds Center Street NE. 

It's a muscular bridge, as is its older sister, the Marion Street Bridge, immedately north. Has to be: it's not only the only way across the river for miles in either direction, but it's the main highway west out of Salem in toto. And, unlike our Portland bridges, it just does its job without calling attention to itself.

Pretty much like Salem itself. State capital, political power center of the state, but outside of the Capitol Mall ... it's just this Oregon town. 

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