French Prairie Bridge hits roadblocks
Since January, City of Wilsonville staff, a citizen task force and project consultants have been working to determine the most appropriate location for the proposed French Prairie Bridge for bike, pedestrian and emergency access.
With proposals narrowed to three preferred landing alignments — identified as W1, W2 and W3 — for the bridge over the Willamette River, a wrench was thrown into the project's progress by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
In 1993, a community desire for a new, safer way to cross the Willamette River was expressed to the City Council. But it wasn't until 2001, when the Wilsonville Master Plan was redone and citizens started requesting a new crossing again, that the City realized a bridge project was a priority for many residents.
The project stalled until 2009 when the City was awarded a $1.25 million federal grant to conduct the preliminary planning and design for the proposed bridge.
Fast forward to February 2017 and processes for alignment selection and bridge design were finally underway. The three alignment options for the bridge's landing were identified as: W1, landing on an undeveloped section of land bordered by the train tracks and Boones Ferry Road; W2, landing in Boones Ferry Park; and W3, landing on an undeveloped section of land between Boones Ferry Park and Interstate 5.
When the City compiled community input and citizen task force feedback, many Old Town residents preferred the W3 alignment, hoping to reduce any additional traffic in their neighborhood that would be added by implementing the bridge.
However, alignment W3 lands within a 650-foot wide property owned by the State of Oregon that includes the Boone Bridge. On April 6, ODOT informed the City, in no uncertain terms, that it intends to use all of the state-owned property for future seismic upgrades and widening of the Boone Bridge and recommended alignment W3 no longer be considered.
At the Sept. 13 Planning Commission meeting, Wilsonville Planning Director Chris Neamtzu gave the commission an update on where that leaves the bridge planning.
"Since there's been so much keen interest, I asked Zach Weigel, project manager, to prepare a comprehensive update on where the project is," Neamtzu said.
He said that although the message from ODOT was "pretty significant," alignment W3 had yet been taken off of the table as a possible alignment.
"We're working through a variety of issues," he said. "It hasn't been taken off of the table because neither project has funding, so there's a lot of uncertainty around both the expansion of the Boone Bridge and this French Prairie Bridge, so I think that we want to keep our options open... and not removing any options prematurely."
A second snag also occurred in the spring during the project's environmental permitting process. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde revealed that it has historical records indicating that a large section of the riverfront location under consideration
may have been a native crossing, particularly for the Kalapuya tribe. Due to this, the group has requested a fairly thorough archaeological
survey be conducted on at least two alignment sites prior to the final alignment being chosen.
"(The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) request to do multiple sites changes the time and sequence and the level of effort needed, so we're proceeding with that work that's going to mess up the schedule a little bit," Neamtuz said, adding that the archaeological inquiries won't cause a dramatic setback since the archaeological field work was already a required component of the environmental impact process for whatever the preferred bridge alignment will be.
Once the archaeological survey is finished, a final bridge alignment recommendation will be made to the City Council with the next steps in design and planning set to take place throughout spring and summer 2018.
"We're trying to work through these things thoughtfully and taking the appropriate steps," Neamtzu said.