Update session indicates a January meeting to discuss ferry, bridge and other alternatives

The Canby Ferry Feasibility Study is being extended. Its directors met in early October to bring Clackamas County Commissioners up to date and get directions on how to receive public input for their final report. Initially they hoped to provide the commissioners with a completed study in early to mid-December.

While no decision was actually made, it appeared the commissioners want the study staff to seek public comments in January. Then the staff would hold a separate final meeting to present those comments and discuss alternatives with the commissioners. The study is intended for analysis. The commissioners are not required to adopt or approve the study.

The study notes the issues concerning the ferry. For example, it doesn't run when the river level is above 70 feet or during inclement weather or when it's dark resulting in only about 225 days of operation. It can only carry six vehicles at a time—less if one is really larger than the others—serving about 200 cars per day.

The costs to run the ferry, including materials, mechanics and maintenance, run $400,000 to $500,000 annually, but users only pay $5 for a one-way trip, $1 for bicycles. And, it's 15 to 20 years from the end of its useful life at a cost of at least $2.5 million. But putting a decision off would cost more money in 2025 dollars. Or decisions could be made and carried out prior to the need for a new ferry.

On the other side it does serve an average of 200 cars per day. Its history goes back 100 years and is part of Canby's identity. It's also a tourist mecca for visitors.

The discussions began in June 2017, when the county commissioners first directed the Department of Transportation and Development to study alternatives for crossing the Willamette River, including a toll bridge.

By March 2018, the DTD began the feasibility study, which is looking into a decision of no crossing at the current point; continuing to operate the ferry including a new ferry purchase in 15-20 years; a bridge constructed and maintained using public funds with the option of continued ferry service; and a bridge constructed and maintained using toll revenues with the possibility of continuing ferry service.

The staff currently is studying the effects around Canby for each alternative, said Mike Bezner, assistant director of transportation. "We're also looking into the feasibility and costs of building a bridge and where the bridge would be located. It might span the bluffs above the current ferry eliminating the rural roads getting to and from that point."

Still up for study are the costs and revenue if the county funds a toll bridge? Is the annual cost and revenue financially feasible for each alternative? What steps are necessary and what issues will need to be addressed if the board moves forward with a bridge or tolls?

Right now, the tolling and financial portion of the study is on-going, Bezner added. Once those are complete, they will be complied into a final report and presented at a public meeting in January in Canby.

But the study staff wants the direction the board would like to receive the public input. While there's no need for a public hearing, staff and the commissioners think it's appropriate to provide the board public input on these alternatives.

By Sept. 26, staff had received 377 comments online along with the 125 comment forms from the June open house and 20 comment letters. Those concerns brought up issues about traffic impacts, the financial feasibility of a bridge and right-of-way impacts. A number expressed support for continuing the Canby Ferry, despite its annual subsidy.

The feasibility study cost is set at $75,000, and Bezner does not expect it to go any higher.

Study offers interesting 'takes' on ferry

The Department of Transportation and Development passed out frequently asked questions at the Oct. 2 meeting with commissioners. Some of these follow.

Traffic study results indicate 90 percent of trips across a new bridge would begin or end in the Canby area. Depending on the destination, those trips could be five or ten minutes faster than using I-5 or I-205 for the trip.

The study shows that getting off I-5 or I-205 to cross a bridge would take 10- to 20 minutes longer, even if the major highways are congested.

A cost of $50- to $55 million for a bridge seems low compared with the Sellwood Bridge, which cost $330 million. The latter bridge was significantly different than a proposed two lane bridge over the Willamette. First, it's more than twice the size of the potential new bridge and includes an expensive interchange. Sellwood included construction and demolition of a temporary detour bridge as well as demotion to the previous Sellwood Bridge. It also included major landslide stabilization.

A new bridge doesn't have to be in the exact location of the Canby ferry. To move forward, there would have to be additional study on the best location.

Roads don't make money, why should the ferry? Local governments receive funding for roads. The county pays for maintenance for its 1,400-mile road system through its share of the state's gas tax, vehicle registration fees and state weight-mile taxes on heavy trucks. There's no funding for the ferry, unless you count the fare. Most of the costs come from money that could be used to fix roads.

The ferry runs on electricity so it wouldn't be able to help during a major earthquake and its small capacity provides a limited response to emergencies. Obviously a major quake would affect the Willamette River on its banks or in its channels. A bridge could be built to meet current seismic standards and help get people across the river. Area bridges designed with the latest seismic standards are the Sellwood Bridge and Tillicum Crossing.

This feasibility study is NOT designed to get rid of the ferry in order to build a bridge. It's a study seeking data regarding costs, financial feasibility and traffic impacts for six different options, some with and without the ferry and others bridges with or without a toll. The final report will share this data with the Board of County Commissioners AND the public sometime this winter.

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