Candidates should have facts about pedestrian bridge
The Oct.24 Spokesman included responses from City Council candidates on topics of local interest. Unfortunately, those responses clearly demonstrated the severe lack of information of some candidates on the topic of the proposed French Prairie pedestrian bridge. It is abhorrent that people run for office with this little information.
First, the concept of a pedestrian bridge has been around for 20-30 years. To say that the bridge is the "wrong priority" says that over a generation of Wilsonville residents are all "wrong." It has nothing to do with "Portland/Metro vision." Neither of those entities have had anything to do directly with the development of the plan. The bridge answers a need residents have voiced for years — probably longer than some city council candidates have even lived here. In 2002-03 the City's "Advisory Committee on Master Planning" brought the bridge to be a No. 1 priority. In the economic issues of 2008 Congress awarded the current $1.5 million grant currently being used for bridge planning. The grant was funneled through Metro, but the idea did not COME from Metro.
The interview responses included the statement that "most Old Town residents don't want the bridge." That's interesting! I have lived in Old Town for 32 years and I am for the bridge. I'm a two-time past president of the Old Town Historical Neighborhood Association. Although no official survey has been taken, I could probably make the exact same claim about Old Town residents WANTING the bridge. There are those who say "Not in MY neighborhood" — but what large project doesn't have these?
More congestion was mentioned. I suggest a little creative thinking can help. I've long been a proponent of a well-developed bike path from the WES Train station/Ice Age Trail to the Bridge staying completely west of the RR tracks and off Boones Ferry. Thus, bridge-related congestion issues would be easily addressed.
The Bridge will have a big price tag, but is that as far as the candidates are thinking? It is my claim that if done right the bridge will be the biggest economic engine the City could possibly ever have. Only the smallest thinking will make the bridge a "Wilsonville" affair. Being a huge piece of regional infrastructure, Wilsonville residents will use it, but no one has a clue how much it will be used by the generic "Seattle to San Francisco" bicycle riders. One phone call came from British Columbia asking how to cycle across the river south of Portland. Being a regional feature, the price tag should be shouldered by the 'Big Boys' — State, Federal, national bicycle foundations, etc. Also, Homeland Security is interested because of the danger of the Boone Bridge being taken out by a disaster. The state's Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway from Eugene dead-ends in Champoeg Park — because it can't get across the river. Bonneville Power has been a major funder of the five pedestrian bridges in Eugene. Funders ABOVE the City of Wilsonville should pick up the price tag. The City's responsibility is to adequately connect the bridge on the north end. The south end should ultimately be connected to Eugene/California, Salem, and the Cascading Rivers State Trail from Estacada to Detroit, and ultimately to Sisters.
It should also be noted that the bulk of the funding will come from sources dedicated to this specific purpose. They can't be transferred and used to fill potholes, or to put another lane on the freeway. Funding just doesn't work that way!
One candidate put out a price tag for the bridge — I've been involved with the bridge for over 15 years and I am quite aware that a price tag has not been established. There is no specified number out there.
Safety is another factor severely misunderstood. Have the candidates taken a bike ride across the Boone Bridge? Have you seen teenagers taking the RR bridge to get across the river? Have you seen the traffic tie-ups on the freeway preventing emergency vehicles from getting through?
The bridge will be a huge benefit to the status of Wilsonville. It will further position Wilsonville as a regional hub.It will be an economic engine, a safety factor — and be an answer for thousands of citizens and tourists wanting local access to the River.
Steve Van Wechel was a member of the Wilsonville Pedestrian Bridge Task Force and is co-founder of the Salmon Cycling Classic road bike event that launched in Wilsonville last summer.