Park district plans for bridge over Highway 26
A new bridge crossing Highway 26?
That could one day be a possibility.
The Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District had a virtual community meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to discuss the Westside Trail Bridge project. The project explores options for the development of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge crossing over Highway 26 to connect the Westside Trail from Southwest Greenbrier Parkway to the north side of the highway.
According to THPRD's website, the bridge would create a link connecting 25 miles of trail for walkers, runners and bicyclists to reach popular destinations, including schools, parks and recreation complexes, shopping, jobs, housing, parks, natural areas, and transit stations.
The virtual meeting covered a project overview and timeline, next steps in the process, and a question-and-answer portion for participants.
"This isn't just a project for me," said project manager Jeannine Rustad. "As a runner, a biker, someone who likes to avoid the car as much as possible … this is going to be a trail I use, and a trail that hopefully (and) eventually will be near my backyard."
Rustad added that the Westside Trail, once completed, will run from the Tualatin River to the south, up through to Bethany, and then east to Portland and the Willamette River. She expects 10 miles of the trail to fall within the district.
THPRD applied for funding to come up with design concepts so staff could get a cost estimate for the bridge.
"These cost estimates are important, especially if we get federal dollars," explained Rustad, "because we need to have that certainty to know how much we have to come up with for a match. This project isn't intended to get us through engineering and design but inform us of what will be needed for future permitting."
THPRD is also working with Washington County on an alternative analysis to look at getting the trail from Southwest 158th Avenue and Walker Road to the bridge landing.
"We are also starting to investigate funding options for this northern segment of the trail," said Rustad.
So, why the bridge?
"Our hope is to get both the bridge and the southern leg of the trail under construction at the same time," explained Rustad, "hopefully three to five years from completion of this project."
Even without the southern or northern trail segments having been built yet, the bridge would still provide important connections to transit, she pointed out.
Over the course of the two-year project, which started this year, THPRD will study the practicality of constructing the bridge. Outcomes of the study will include identifying any barriers to bridge development, identifying the bridge size, type and location, establishing a construction budget, and engaging with community members throughout the process.
Moving forward, THPRD needs support from the federal government, including some federal funding. This would be through the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
"We're developing design concepts within right of way owned by Bonneville Power Administration, which is a federal agency," explained Scott Richmond, a consultant project manager for THPRD. "We are coordinating with them in terms of what their approval process would need to be."
As part of the background work, Richmond's team analyzed the potential uses of the trail, including the bridge, by using data from Metro. The data included information such as population, age, income, and who owns vehicles.
"One of the key bits of information that we discovered is that people traveling in this general area tend to have lower incomes than those of Washington County overall," said Richmond.
He added that they also used a service called StreetLight. The company deals with "big data," and synthesizes that into information that can "give clarity about the types of modes that people are using and where they're traveling to and from."
Richmond says the services basically uses information from our smartphones, but it is anonymized, so they don't have private information. StreetLight can then share that information and then agencies can correlate some of the zone information about the general characteristics of the people making trips within a specific area.
The consultant was then able to get information such as the total number of trips by people driving or riding bicycles, trip origin and destinations, including travel time and distance.
"A lot of trips are made by walking and biking," he added. "So, people are using active transportation, but Highway 26 is very much a barrier to people feeling comfortable and actually traveling across the highway north or south by walking or bicycling."
Using data from Metro and StreetLight, Richmond concluded that a lot of the trips were less than three miles, so "that provides a lot of opportunity for trips that are now made by vehicle to be shifted to bicycle or potentially walking."
He says the bridge would particularly benefit people of lower incomes and communities of color.
The project also faces limitations such as major transit electrical transmission lines and a little over an acre of wetlands on the north side of Highway 26.
"There's a relatively small stream that that cuts across the project area, and it flows through a pipe under highway 26," said Richmond. "It backs up and causes some flooding, so there's debris that gets in there frequently. Part of our challenge is to try to minimize impacts to that area."
A botanical survey also discovered that there are no plant species protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
In terms of width, the trail would include 12 feet for a walking and biking surface with one-foot shoulders — a total of 14 feet wide. The bridge deck would then be 14 feet wide with structural support handrails and fencing.
The district will be working with the Oregon Department of Transportation to develop and refine the concepts.
THPRD plans to engage with community members as the bridge design process continues.
For more information, visit thprd.org/parks-in-progress/westside-trail-bridge.
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