Lair Hill residents will soon decide whether to green-light an elaborate design for a pedestrian bridge or skimp on the span in hopes of saving money to spend on easing traffic woes.

Last August, residents thought there'd be money for both projects. That's when Oregon's congressional delegation secured $5 million for the bridge and another $6 million for added transportation improvements in the Southwest Portland neighborhood that's now home to the infamously overbudget tram.

The low-cost option among three design proposals for the 600-foot bridge could come in close to the original $5 million mark, says Portland Department of Transportation division manager Greg Jones, But the other two bridge design options are expected to be nearer to $9 million, if they include elements such as a seven-story elevator to the bridge and design that matches the tram.

"The grant request was just a ballpark cost estimate," Jones says. "This is not an unusual you update your project, you update your costs and you get better cost information."

Within a month, the neighborhood will be asked to make a design recommendation, with City Council to vote on the project next year. If the bridge does take $9 million when construction begins in 2010, little money will be left for other projects, such as the first stages of the South Portland Circulation Study, a plan to improve access to I-405 and the Ross Island Bridge that has languished, unfunded, since 1977.

"If we lose out on that money," says Lair Hill resident Larry Beck, "we're back another five to 10 years."