Officials ponder bridge for bikes, pedestrians in Lake Oswego
Clackamas County officials are supporting a proposed $306,000 study that would evaluate the feasibility of a bike and pedestrian bridge that would cross the Willamette River from the east end of Lake Oswego to the Oak Grove neighborhood just south of Milwaukie.
"It's an exciting project, long desired by the community," says Lake Oswego City Councilor Jeff Gudman, "and it's probably the most significant active transportation project in the Metro region."
As discussed so far, the bridge, the bridge would differ from the French Prairie Bridge proposed for Wilsonville, because that one includes capacity to accept emergency response vehicles needing to bypass the choke point of the Boone Bridge, although there is discussion that the feasibility study will include this element.
County planners say the Lake Oswego project would connect two high-density residential areas on either side of the river and would expand access to transit — the Oak Grove end of the bridge would likely be within two miles of the Park Avenue station on the MAX Orange line.
County Commissioner Paul Savas estimates that there are about 70,000 people on both sides of the river who would benefit from the bridge.
"If you can take 10 miles off a trip to get across the river, that's a worthy investment," Savas said. "It just seems a natural fit."
The feasability study was one of two projects under consideration at a Feb 14 meeting of the Metro Subcommittee of the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4).
The bridge idea dates back years, Savas said. Lake Oswego and Oak Grove sit roughly in the middle of a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River between Sellwood and Oregon City in which there are no bridges or crossings, save for a 108-year-old railroad bridge that is off-limits to the public.
According to county staff, it was originally hoped that the railroad bridge could be modified for bike and pedestrian traffic. But a 2009 study led by Metro concluded that Union Pacific, the bridge's owner, would not support the idea.
That left only one other option: build a new bridge. The idea has simmered on the back burner since then, but it began to regain momentum in 2014 when it was added to both the Lake Oswego and Clackamas County transportation system plans (TSP).
Public feedback has been supportive. Savas says he remembers discussions about a bridge during the development of the regional Trolley Trail on the east side of the river. And during an online TSP Open House in 2013, the county received 66 comments about the project, nearly all of which called for it to be listed as Tier 1, the highest priority.
The study will be forwarded to Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT). If JPACT and Metro also sign off, Clackamas County staff would then hire a consultant and begin the study.
County staff said they hoped to be able to begin the study in the fall of this year, and that the process would likely take 6-9 months.
The study would evaluate the overall feasibility of the project and identify possible sources of funding, which would likely include the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District, local governments, a regional bond measure and possibly federal funds through Metro or ODOT.
Of the study's proposed $306,000 budget, $40,000 would be devoted to outreach efforts to keep residents informed and collect public feedback.
"It'll get into the mechanics," Savas says. "The landing, where it goes, what it connects to, some level of politics, public acceptance, and also what will it cost?"
According to county planners, the largest task for the study would be to identify and evaluate a set of possible alignments for the bridge, looking at an area between Milwaukie and Marylhurst University. A preferred alignment would not be chosen until the end of the environmental review process — if the project were to advance to that stage.
Savas said he did raise the possibility at the C4 subcommittee meeting of the bridge being used for emergency vehicles, and county staff say the study will look into the idea.
"Let's just say there's a landslide on (Highway) 43 or something like that," Savas says. "We'd want to have the ability to cross."
County planners' preliminary figures estimate that a bike/pedestrian-only bridge would cost roughly $21.5 million to build. For comparison, Savas said the planned expansion of the I-205 bridge in Oregon City is expected to cost around $250 million.