Bridge alignment draws ire of Boones Ferry neighbors
When the Wilsonville City Council recently approved the alignment of a potential new bridge spanning the Willamette River near the end of Boones Ferry Road earlier this month, not everyone was pleased.
A contingent of residents who live near the intersection of Boones Ferry Road and Tauchman Street have concerns they feel the City and its French Prairie Bridge Task Force didn't take into consideration when choosing one of three possible alignments for the new bridge, which would serve pedestrians, bicycles and emergency vehicles.
On June 4, the Council voted unanimously to approve the alignment under the argument that it was the most practical of the three options.
City councilor and task force member Charlotte Lehan said the council believes aligning the proposed bridge at the closest point to the end of Boones Ferry Road makes the most sense because it provides a natural run-up to bridge.
"There was a strong consensus among the task force that this is the place it should be. History proves this was a popular place to cross (in both the placement of Alphonso Boone's ferry and Native American canoe crossings) being relatively even and accessible," Lehan said. "All of these things cross there because it's the logical place and as you go up or down river, you run into a variety of issues — whether it's more heavily wooded or uneven in slope."
The proposed bridge has no funding, design or timeline attached. It's expected to be at least a decade from fruition.
Neighbors Eric Winters, Amanda Hoffman and Michele and Rob Dempsey — who all live within about a few hundred yards of the bridge alignment and Boones Ferry Park — have misgivings about what kind of problems the bridge could bring with it.
"It's not going to convince anyone to use a bike to go south of the river — it's going to bring people on bikes and cars from other cities through our neighborhood, which is already clogged," Winters said. "This road here backs up sometimes just trying to get out, and we're on an island here. This is the only way in and only way out. We have no other way out at this point."
The City of Wilsonville is in the final design phase of building another connecting road from Boones Ferry to Wilsonville Road, with a goal of providing a secondary route for the neighborhood.
The group of four neighbors, some of whom have lived in the area for multiple decades, are concerned that increased traffic along Boones Ferry Road will create a nightmare. They point to the development of Fred Meyer along Boones Ferry Road as an example of how over the past four to five years their once sleepy neighborhood has become congested with vehicle traffic.
"It's not as if (the bridge) would be particularly used by a lot of people in the neighborhood, or even within the Wilsonville community, from what I see. I think this is being driven by biking interests in neighboring areas," Winters said. "Since the development of Fred Meyer and further development of Villebois, the roads in Wilsonville have been clogged, especially during rush hour. It's become horribly overburdened by more homes, more construction, more people on the roads."
With the potential improvements made to Boones Ferry Park, increased parking and a bridge welcoming pedestrians and cyclists alike, the group of neighbors is worried the very fabric of their quiet neighborhood will be destroyed.
They've already seen a marked increase in vandalism and vagrancy in their neighborhood. Just a few months ago the Dempseys' garage door was graffitied, and groups of tents have popped up in the field next to their house on several occasions.
"This is just opening up for more people to come on in. Right now, (the river) is the barrier. It's what keeps some of those people (wanting to camp illegally) out," Hoffman said.
The group explains that its first choice would be no bridge at all, but if it came down to it, they would have put their voices behind building the bridge near the first potential alignment that would have ran on the east side of Boones Ferry Park on city-owned land — and away from most homes. The alignment chosen by the task force and accepted by City Council will redevelop a small plot of natural area featuring wild grass and a small grove of trees that neighbors often use as a defacto dog park into a runway for the bridge to span the river. The alignment of the bridge would sit adjacent to the railroad bridge that currently crosses the Willamette at the far west end of the park.
Michele Dempsey applied for a position on the French Prairie Bridge Task Force, but was not selected. She feels that her opinion, along with that of her neighbors, was purposely neglected in favor of more bike-friendly interests.
"They prioritized this at a time when there are so many other infrastructure issues that aren't being addressed. We all back out of our driveways and it's a nightmare already," Michele Dempsey said. "We feel they're using the emergency vehicle argument to justify a means to an end."
Moving forward, the group plans to continue communicating with fellow neighbors in the area to feel out their opinion on the matter. According to Winters, the group is going to consider several courses of action, one being a potential ballot initiative fighting the City Council's decision.