I'm advocating for funding to address the Abernethy Bridge for several reasons. It is not safe and needs seismic upgrades.
When we eventually experience a Cascadia earthquake, the bridge will collapse, bringing regional instability and hindering our emergency response effort for the entire region.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation website, the Abernethy Bridge is "vulnerable to severe damage or collapse in the event of a major earthquake. ODOT has designated Interstate 205 as a statewide north-south lifeline route, which means it must be operational quickly if an earthquake renders other roadways unusable or impassable. It will be a critical route in getting supplies and services to the region."
Frequently, there is traffic diversion due to the Abernethy bottleneck. Commuters often exit I-205 and use the residential roads of West Linn and the Stafford area in an attempt to avoid the bottleneck.
Based on ODOT's interchange traffic volume report, we have seen a 260% increase in traffic reentering the interstate at the Stafford Road exit.
This increase represents more than 4,100 vehicles diverting through the local community roads every day, not only placing a burden on roads not constructed for this type of heavy traffic, but creating a safety risk for the families who live there.
It is unavoidable for the residents of my community to meet their basic needs without being impacted by I-205 congestion and its resulting diversion. Regardless of where they live, my constituents are impacted by diversion traffic.
Willamette Falls Drive, Stafford Road, and Highway 43 are a few examples of two-lane roads that are impacted by overcrowding on I-205. There are no other options for my constituents.
You have all seen headlines about local concerns and increases in cost that are delaying the Rose Quarter project, but I'm concerned many people do not know ODOT is planning to toll my district years ahead of the rest of the region. This is concerning and an issue that my constituents reach out to me about frequently.
This past December, the Oregon Transportation Commission learned that ODOT has plans to toll Clackamas in 2023 and Interstate 5 in 2026. Setting aside the logistical nightmare of diversion traffic to the Rose Quarter, it is fundamentally unfair to have my community singled out for tolls while the rest of the region has years before entertaining any such cost.
I want to make this clear: I do not support ODOT's current tolling plan. It will add to local traffic as commuters look to not only avoid gridlock, but also avoid paying a new toll. We can fix the Abernethy Bridge by being better stewards of taxpayer money.
I appreciate and respect the work that went into the 2017 bill. Given the current challenges facing the Rose Quarter project, I'd like this Transportation Committee to reconsider how the money is allocated. There are real concerns that need to be addressed in the planning phases of the Rose Quarter project, and it is crucial we address the equity issues and hear the concerns of the impacted communities before moving forward.
In contrast, the Abernethy Bridge and I-205 project is near shovel-ready and has widespread community support. We have an opportunity to put people to work, save money and address infrastructure concerns.
I believe we must review every option to develop the best plan for Oregon. It is unacceptable that my community, and the residents of Clackamas County, should have to bear the burden of a regionwide issue.
From what I've seen and learned during the 2019-20 sessions, we, as a Legislature, need to be deliberate in our decision-making. I want to improve on the hard work of the 2017 architects and realize their vision of addressing these bottleneck projects.
As a nurse practitioner, I make assessments, I diagnose and I treat. At times, I have to reassess to ensure the highest quality of care for my patients. I believe Oregon is best served with the same careful consideration.
We need to get moving on what's ready and right for all communities, and that's the Abernethy Bridge/I-205 bottleneck.
Rachel Prusak has served as state representative for House District 37, representing Tualatin, West Linn, Durham and the Stafford area, since 2019. A Democrat, she lives in West Linn. This commentary is adapted from legislative testimony she provided before the Joint Transportation Committee in February.
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