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City officials discuss contextual significance of adopting the long-term project into formal plans

Oregon City and West Linn's elected officials are weighing the pros and cons of adding an Oregon Department of Transportation-proposed bike and pedestrian bridge crossing the Willamette River to their Transportation System Plans, thereby codifying their intent to fund the project in the future.

West Linn councilors and Oregon City commissioners ultimately agreed during a joint meeting on Thursday, May 26, that before they can decide, further answers will be needed from ODOT regarding how their endorsement will, if at all, impact the eventual construction of the bridge. ODOT's proposal currently has no secured funding source, and according to city officials, likely won't for many years.COURTESY PHOTO: ODOT - Construction of the Arch Bridge between Oregon City and West Linn in 1922 required special equipment in the Willamette River.

A project advisory team of a dozen stakeholders working with the two cities, Metro, Clackamas County and the Oregon Department of Transportation selected two possible alignments for the bridge: one between the falls and the 1922 Arch Bridge with narrow sidewalks, and the other between the Arch Bridge and Interstate 205's Abernethy Bridge.

Because neither Abernethy nor the Arch Bridge is fit for bikers and pedestrians, there is a significant gap in the bike-pedestrian system of the Willamette south of Portland. The Arch Bridge is 9 miles south of the Sellwood Bridge; the next possible crossing is 20 miles upriver: the Canby Ferry, which is not always operating. A bike-ped crossing between West Linn and Oregon City would significantly reduce this gap.

ODOT has already identified potential sources of funding though none have been secured, nor has an overall project budget been set, because the project is still in its preliminary stages. If the concept is adopted into agency transportation plans, the agencies will begin looking at securing funding for an environmental review and permit process as well as the design and construction phase.

Multiple city officials during the May 26 meeting raised concerns about adopting the bridge proposal into their Transportation System Plans when a number of other projects that are a priority to residents are not in the plans. They worried that inclusion of the bridge proposal would make the project take precedent over others.COURTESY GRAPHIC: OREGON CITY COMMISSION - Two sites have been selected for a possible bike-pedestrian bridge between West Linn and Oregon CIty.

"If we ask our citizens in each city if they want a pedestrian bridge, the answer is yes. But if we compare that with the other needs that we have, the answer might not be yes," said Rocky Smith, Oregon City commissioner. "I think putting it in the TSP is a step to have it on our radar, but it also says, to me at least as a citizen, this is something that takes precedent over things that I think also should be on our radar that aren't in the TSP."

Among the potential upsides of the bridge, as noted by West Linn City Council President Rory Bialostosky is that it could offer an alternative mode of transportation in the event of future tolls expected to be implemented on I-205.

Oregon City Commission President Denyse McGriff raised discussion of whether or not ODOT could proceed with the project by adding it to the Regional Transportation Plan, even if cities do not add it to their plans.

Todd Jones, city councilor for West Linn, later asked: "Is it important to ODOT that this bridge is in our transportation plan, and is it problematic for them if it is not?" COURTESY PHOTO: ODOT - Oregon Department of Transportation completed the Arch Bridge between Oregon City and West Linn in 1922, restoring the structure in 2012.

McGriff said that while ODOT cannot force cities to amend their TSPs, adding the project to the department's regional plan may remain "an option" for them.

"I think we are at least all on the same page with regard to: We know what we don't know, and we're not ready to do any adoptions, or even suggest we do any adoptions at this point in time," said McGriff, adding that staff for both cities will compile further questions for ODOT's review.

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