The Willamette River Room on the second floor of Wilsonville City Hall was packed Jan. 31 for the first French Prairie Bridge task force meeting. Intended to work out the plausibility of a bicycle, pedestrian and emergency vehicle bridge that crosses the Willamette River from the City of Wilsonville to the French Prairie area, the task force began laying the foundation for a plan while also taking community input.
Of the 21 members from Wilsonville and neighboring communities, each got involved for a variety of reasons, including being cyclists, having experienced traffic frustrations on the Boone Bridge and being in a neighboring area that the bridge would potentially affect. Although the Jan. 31 meeting was the first task force meeting, the project has a lengthy history.
In 1993, the need for a new, safer crossing was identified. But it wasn't until 15 years ago as citizen input during the Wilsonville Master Plan — which was redone in 2001 — started coming in that the city realized what a priority the bridge project was for many residents.
"It was one of the most requested things to our board 15 years ago," said Wilsonville resident Michelle Ripple, who worked on the city's master plan as a task force member and is currently on the bridge task force.
Yet after that initial ask, the project entered a phase of starting and stopping momentum. In 2006 when the city updated its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the city evaluated all Willamette River crossing options. Several concepts were considered but a stand-alone bridge was chosen as the best option. The unfavorable possible landing locations of an attached bridge to an existing structure while maintaining a peaceful ambiance on the proposed bridge played a large role in choosing a freestanding bridge, as well as steering clear of the existing heavy flow on the Boone Bridge, Councilor Charlotte Lehan said.
From there, city staff began working to apply for a $1.25 million federal grant to develop the project, which was granted in 2009. The last burst of project energy occurred during the city's tourism promotion plan in 2014.
"One of the top priorities in that (tourism) plan was to get this (bridge) project studied and planned," city civil engineer and project lead Zach Weigel said.
Which bring us to 2017.
Nearly a dozen city staff and consulting agencies members were on hand to answer questions and bring the task force up to speed on their new roles and duties. The goal of the task force is to hammer out the preliminary project design phase, including location, type of bridge, impacts and costs.
To give the task force an idea about what kind of design city staff and engineering consultants have in mind, consultant Bob Goodrich showed a selection of bridges, from suspension bridges to concrete girder bridges, locally and internationally, as design inspiration.
"It may be more detail than you're looking for but I just want to give everyone a sense of the flavor that we're going for," Goodrich said.
"I'd really like to see a balance between cost and aesthetics," task force member Peter Ihrig said. "We don't want a butt-ugly bridge."
After the project briefing, chair of the task force, Clackamas County Commission Chair Jim Bernard, along with City Councilors Charlotte Lehan and Susie Stevens as co-chairs, guided the conversation. The discussion meandered between what task force members hoped the project would accomplish, look like and the benefits that it could facilitate.
The main points task force members seemed to be looking for included accessibility and safety to all users regardless of ability, increased biking access, forward thinking about tourism, safe access to the trail systems on both sides of the river and concerns regarding impacts to nearby neighborhoods and road safety on both sides of the river.
The city of Donald — south of Wilsonville — City Manager Heidi Bell was particularly concerned about the bridge connecting to Butteville Road.
"Butteville Road and McKay Road are very dangerous," Bell said. "And adding cyclists, I'm concerned about that."
Bell went on to address her confusion over the intended use and function of the bridge.
"What's its purpose?" Bell asked. "Who's it for?"
A small group of Wilsonville Old Town residents clapped quietly and said to one another, "Yes, finally" when Bell mentioned her concerns.
Old Town residents expressed concern over possible negative impacts from increased traffic and visitors to their neighborhood but declined to make official comments on the record at the meeting, deferring the task force member and resident of Old Town Douglas Muench.
"People move to Old Town because it's a dead-end neighborhood and we like that," Muench said.
By the end of the three-hour meeting, most task members made it clear that they intend to move forward while trying to be respectful of both sides of the river and their inhabitants.
At this point, the only givens for the bridge are a need for seismic safety and sufficient height to accommodate the U.S. Coast Guard navigational clearance.
"I think that we need to pay attention to the seismic resiliency of the bridge," Wilsonville Community Development Director and City Engineer Nancy Kraushaar said. "It is really very, very important and will be designed with the big event in mind."