Officials ponder bike/pedestrian bridge from Lake Oswego
Clackamas County officials are scheduled to vote March 1 on whether to support 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."
County planners say the 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 says. "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 subcommittee, which is comprised of C4 members representing areas within Metro's Urban Growth Boundary, chose to advance the bridge project to the full C4 meeting next week.
"We are advancing the project because someone has to own the project," Savas told The Review. "Someone has to be the jurisdiction that says, 'We're applying, we will build it and, in this case, we'll administer the feasibility study.'"
The bridge idea dates back years, Savas says. 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.
If the study is approved by C4 next week, it 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.
"We'll be making that pitch to have it included in the regional effort," says Savas, who represents Clackamas County on JPACT. "The feasibility study, that's the easy part — the lowest-cost part. I think we'll be successful."
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.
One detail about the project would already be decided before the study begins: The bridge and its approach structures would be exclusively for bike and pedestrian use, with no vehicular traffic. The project is listed as bike-only in both the Lake Oswego and Clackamas County TSPs, and the county commissioners are also seeking to fund the study using a Metro grant that is only available for "active transportation" projects, Savas says.
However, Savas says 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 the project would cost roughly $21.5 million to build. For comparison, Savas says the planned expansion of the I-205 bridge in Oregon City is expected to cost around $250 million.