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A bike and pedestrian only bridge linking Oregon City to West Linn is many years away as cities wait to see what developers will do

COURTESY GRAPHIC: OREGON CITY COMMISSION  - The two corridors ODOT says would be a good place for a bike and pedestrian-only bridge from Oregon City to West Linn.  The process is slow and complex because of the history of the site and the number of stakeholders.

Portland has a steady pipeline of bike-pedestrian bridges, such as the Flanders Crossing between the Pearl District and Slabtown, the Earl Blumenauer between Lloyd District and the central east side, and the McLoughlin Boulevard Pedestrian Bridge over Hwy 99 East.

However, the number of pedestrian bridges notwithstanding, getting them built is not simple, as planning for a bike-ped bridge over the Willamette River shows.

The proposed bridge would link Oregon City with West Linn. Two bridges already cross the river there — the I-205 freeway and the Oregon City Arch Bridge. But a smaller, more leisurely bridge is facing a lot of challenges.

Sandra Hikari, a major projects planner with the Oregon Department of Transportation, is managing the process. She explained to the Business Tribune the many steps involved in building this bridge.

For a start, after considering 15 places where it might cross the river, the team decided to step back and think in terms of two zones instead, to be narrowed down later to actual crossings or alignments.

The concept plan project concludes at the end of June 2021. The project advisory committee, the project leadership team, and the project management team have done the bulk of the concept work so far.

"What we've been sharing is that there are there were five alignments that we were trying to narrow down to a preferred alignment, and we decided that there were just too many unknowns and too many potential risks at this time," said Hikari.

They just don't have enough information now. Research has shown that a new pedestrian/bicycle crossing will draw more active users to the downtown area. Their model predicts an increase of more than 1,000 new, daily active transportation trips.

However, they need to know much more before they can call in the architects.

"We decided that, based on the technical analysis and all the all the feedback including focus group input and public input, we decided that there are corridors that are strong contenders," said Hikari.

Instead of focusing on a specific alignment, like a line, they're focusing on broader strokes and calling them corridors.

Now they are recommending going forward with the two corridor locations, one on the upstream and one on the downstream of the Willamette River. Which one they eventually build depends mainly on what the developers do around the legacy Willamette Falls and the Riverwalk project, and how many offices and homes they build near the falls.

Adopt me

ODOT recommends that these two corridor concepts get adopted into the West Linn and Oregon City transportation system plan for further consideration. Only then can the local community and the partner agencies apply for grants.

"The goal is that we need further study to do more design, more investigation, more analysis, before we even get to identifying construction funding and all that," said Hikari.

ODOT has feedback from Oregon City and West Linn and heard that they would like to have a joint conversation about their vision for the area.

"How would a ped-bike bridge facility tie into their vision? We have these two broad locations (corridors), but take a step back to see what they're interested in and need."

There are already a lot of pedestrian and bicycle multimodal facilities on either side of the river, either being planned or in construction. Oregon 43 would have to connect to a new bridge, and Oregon City also has plans for additional improvements.

After June, the cities can decide to adopt one, both or neither.

COURTESY GRAPHIC: OREGON CITY COMMISSION  - Any bike and pedestrian-only bridge from Oregon City to West Linn would have to fit into at least two jurisdictions' bike plan.

How long?

If everything went smoothly, when could the bridge be built?

"I don't know, five to 20 years? It depends. If everything still went smoothly, several years of design and analysis and not only doing the work, but getting the funding to do the work, each phase will take time. There are just so many unknowns."

She said the concept plan had gone quite quickly so far.

"This concept plan has been a pretty quick process just to see how many rocks you can turn over and get an understanding at a conceptual level. But once we've done the initial work, we really need to dive deeper and have more conversations with the tribes and with the community. Most people say they support a ped-bike bridge. We've also gotten some feedback from people that say, 'Why do we need that type of bike bridge?'"

It's a visionary project. One part is convincing people it has an economic development benefit to the community.

It's just a small bridge, but Hikari says, "As a project it is highly complex, because of its location, with Oregon City and Willamette falls being one of the most significant cultural locations in the state for many of the tribes: There's the old (Blue Heron) paper mill redevelopment and the historic arch bridge."

One concern is preserving the Arch bridge and the views of it.

"This is a very sensitive area, you know, culturally, historically, you know, there are multiple, no sites, which have had a long history to it. We're navigating many, many, many layers of complexity."

ODOT will also have to study traffic patterns. They were trending upwards but took a dive during the pandemic and may never return to a cyclical rush hour pattern as more people cut back on commuting.

To Hikari, it's all up in the air. One thing they can do is take good notes.

"There's just so many things that we can't predict at this point in time. So it's, 'Hey, we have this vision, we hear there's a need, let's continue to explore this.' We don't want to lose this opportunity to memorialize this in a concept plan, so we can pick this up when we know more about the surrounding area and move forward more easily."

COURTESY GRAPHIC: OREGON CITY - Oregon City may have to update its logo to include a bike ped bridge. In a few years.

A Commissioner speaks

Oregon City ?Commissioner Denyse McGriff told the Business Tribune she favors building the bridge on the north side of the Arch Bridge rather than the south, where it might block the view of the falls and the basalt cliffs. She added that the new bridge could act as a "red carpet" into downtown Oregon City, funneling people into the shopping zone. A new crossing could also slow car traffic down to 30 mph which might also cause people on 99-East to consider stopping to do business there.

"But that's just my opinion, with my background in land use planning and economic development," said McGriff, who has a Master's in Urban and Regional Planning. "I haven't made my mind up, I always want to keep options open."

One issue on the West Linn side is the landing might impact four homes there, but thought the north side proposal still seemed best.

She said it was unlikely that anyone in Oregon's delegation is pursuing federal stimulus or infrastructure funds for this bike-ped bridge. Of more pressing concern is the $2.5 million for a "quiet zone." The railroad wants improvements in return for laying off the horn as it passes through Oregon City. Such quietness is needed before residents will consider living along the railroad.

McGriff added that the bike-ped bridge concept planning has actually moved quite swiftly so far. "But the process for getting it built, I may mot live to see that," she said.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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