ODOT may need to satisfy Metro concerns before new Boone Bridge is built
Metro councilors' questions about whether the Boone Bridge replacement project would lead to higher I-5 traffic volumes and contribute to urban sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions may need to be answered prior to the allocation of funding.
In a March meeting of the regional government related to the approval of more money for the Oregon Department of Transportation to study the project, Metro councilors expressed concerns about the proposal for a wider replacement bridge that would make room for an auxiliary lane running from the Wilsonville Road exit to the Highway 551 exit. Many of their qualms related to how an increase in I-5 capacity would impact areas south of the Willamette River including Canby, Donald and French Prairie.
"Those comprehensive impacts all boil down to what the impacts of a wider bridge are and how many more people are using a wider bridge," said Nick Christensen, a Metro communications staffer.
Advocating for an auxiliary lane to be built on the stretch of I-5 near Wilsonville as a way to alleviate the traffic bottleneck has been one of the Wilsonville government's biggest focuses over the past decade.
In January 2021, an ODOT report showed that the bridge needed to be replaced rather than retrofitted and that the project would cost between $450 million and $550 million .
The work would include making the bridge more sustainable in case of a large-scale earthquake or natural disaster, as well as adding the southbound auxiliary lane and extending the existing northbound auxiliary lane. ODOT is planning for construction to begin in 2027 and for the project to be completed by 2030. However, funding has not yet been determined.
Wilsonville had worked hard to lobby legislators to allocate money for the project and the Legislature doled out $3.7 million for an engineering study. ODOT has said the completion of the study would make the project more competitive for state and federal investment. However, the Metro council would need to approve the project's inclusion into the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program for it to receive funding, ODOT staffer Mandy Putney said. During the March meeting, Councilors Christine Lewis, Shirley Craddick and Mary Nolan, in particular, were not yet convinced about the merits of the project.
"This is such an important decision. This project really rises to a scary level. Metro was created to help contain this urban sprawl to keep it within a contained boundary for our livelihood, our economy, the Portland part of the state and our agricultural lands. … This project has a significant impact in putting all that at risk," Craddick said at the meeting. She later added: "We know the widening of these freeways leads to more traffic. What impact does that have to greenhouse gas emissions?"
They also wanted to ensure that the project had adequate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
However, Metro councilors agreed during the meeting to add more money for the engineering study with the idea that their questions would be addressed by ODOT.
Putney said the department plans to assess the impacts discussed by Metro during a study it will conduct starting in 2023, which will run for approximately one and a half years. Putney added that the department hopes to have a consultant for this study hired by the end of the year.
"We would do a mixture of looking at transportation, land use and environmental benefits and impacts, and be working on design assumptions related to seismic adjustments for the Boone Bridge itself," Putney said. "We know we need to replace the bridge in order to ensure a critical lifeline on I-5 so the bridge would be passable in case of a Cascadia (subduction zone earthquake) event."
Wilsonville Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad suggested that the Metro councilors' concerns are misplaced and that the city plans to educate them about the issue in the future. He noted that the city has long favored protecting areas south of the Willamette River from development and that advocating for the auxiliary lane is not contradictory to that stance.
"These are issues we generally agree with in terms of encouraging development south of the river, which we've had an issue with for some time. We don't see the auxiliary lanes as being a systemwide capacity expansion," Ottenad said, adding that decreasing traffic congestion is a way to reduce carbon emissions.
He also mentioned the I-5 Wilsonville Facility Plan ODOT and the city completed, which showed that an auxiliary lane would significantly decrease rush hour traffic and may reduce the number of accidents.
"That plan demonstrated a real benefit in terms of safety and improved traffic flow, which is why the auxiliary lane proposal advanced," he said.
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