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Future of French Prairie Bridge hinges on Wilsonville City Council decision

Posted by on April 13th, 2012 at 11:04 am

Cover of the French Prarie Bike-Ped Emergency
Bridge Briefing Booklet
(PDF).

[Patrick Croasdaile contributed reporting to this story.]

This coming Monday, the Wilsonville City Council will convene an important work session that could determine the future of the French Prairie Bike-Ped Emergency Bridge over the Willamette River.

The City of Wilsonville was awarded a $1.25 million federal grant in 2009 to develop a feasibility study and design alternatives for the bridge. At Monday’s meeting, the Council is expected to vote on whether to formally accept the grant and invest the required 10% local match ($125,000) to keep the project moving forward. Or, they could choose to hit the pause button.

Local tourism officials see the bridge — which would be for biking and walking only (along with emergency vehicle access) — as the lynchpin to the area’s future because it would connect Wilsonville to the Willamette Valley’s myriad wineries, Champoeg State Park, the Willamette Valley State Scenic Bikeway, and other tourist draws. Currently, the only way to cross the river is on the shoulder of Interstate 5. At a recent bicycle tourism workshop held in Wilsonville hosted by Travel Oregon, the bridge project dominated the proceedings.

According to Travel Oregon, 1.3 million tourists bicycle while in Oregon each year and they spend $223 million annually.

“Speaking purely from a tourism perspective, of course the bridge would make a big difference, but the city and her businesses and residents have to want it.”
— Jennifer Johnson, Wilsonville Visitor Center

Despite the need for the bridge (it’s been in City plans since 2006) and the potential economic benefits, there is consternation among project supporters that the City Council might get cold feet and pause the project. The estimated cost of the bridge is $20 million and even though the federal grant would only green-light a feasibility study, in today’s political climate any vote that supports a $20 million expenditure — especially a bridge that would not carry daily car and truck traffic — can be seen as a risk.

There’s a group of vocal citizens involved with Wilsonville’s Old Town Neighborhood that oppose the bridge and the agenda for Monday’s meeting includes the ominous passage: “There appears to be some conflicting points of view about the timeliness and prioritization of the project.”

If the City Council opts to not accept the grant, action on the bridge project would come to a screeching halt — as would the potential economic benefits from increased bicycle-related tourism in Wilsonville and this golden opportunity to build a safer river crossing for non-motorized traffic.

Bike camping at Champoeg St. Park-109
A family bike wagon train at Champoeg
State Park, which is just across the river from Wilsonville.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Jennifer Johnson of the Wilsonville Visitor Center recently spoke to BikePortland about the importance of the bridge and the need for public support:

“[Currently] we are unable to host any major cycling events currently as there is no safe, reliable transportation options (for bikes) across the river. I am always looking for events or activities to promote to visitors… Speaking purely from a tourism perspective, of course the bridge would make a big difference, but the city and her businesses and residents have to want it.”

Former Wilsonville City Councilwoman Michelle Labrie-Ripple echoes Johnson’s comments. She believes that it’s extremely important for, “the bridge’s [supporters] make themselves heard” on Monday and in the coming months. She added that the Council has so-far only heard from a “small, but vocal, minority of Old Town residents who are against the bridge.”

Following the bike tourism workshop in February, a group of citizens came together under the banner of the “Wilsonville French-Prairie Bridge Committee” and set up a website to advocate for the project at FrenchPrarieBridge.org. They’ve set up an online petition in support of the bridge that has been signed by nearly 400 people in just three days.

The leader Wilsonville French-Prarie Bridge Committee, Simon Springall, plans to deliver the petition to Mayor Knapp and the commissioners at the meeting on Monday.

— The Council work session is open to the public and will start at 5:15pm at Wilsonville City Hall (29799 SW Town Center Loop E). While there is no time set aside for public input during the work session, the City Council’s regular session immediately following will provide citizens and interested stakeholders an opportunity to voice their opinions. Stay tuned for a report from this meeting next week (thanks to Patrick Croasdaile who will be there.)

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  • 9watts April 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

    “in today’s political climate any vote that supports a $20 million expenditure — especially a bridge that would not carry cars and trucks — can be seen as a risk.”

    I like the use of the word ‘climate’ in that sentence. If one were to look into the future, without rose-colored glasses, I think building a piece of infrastructure that was not premised on the indefinite continued availability of cheap fossil fuels would look really forward looking.

    Interesting to contrast this project (and the ‘political feasibility’ language) with the CRC, eh?

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  • meh April 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

    “especially a bridge that would not carry cars and trucks’”

    Not a completely true statement.

    If you go to http://www.frenchprairiebridge.org/ you will see that the bridge is to be designed “to allow emergency vehicles like fire trucks, ambulances and tow trucks to cross over and respond to incidents when I-5 is closed in the vicinity of the Boone Bridge”.

    This is the information that needs to be presented to sway the naysayers, that the bridge will serve more than tourist concerns.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Meh, Perhaps you didn’t see in the story when I mention it will serve emergency vehicle access?

      but I hear you. I’ll make that particular more clear.

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    • Chris I April 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      The naysayers don’t really care about safety or emergency access. They care about tax dollars and driving themselves in their automobiles. Any project that doesn’t make that easier for them must die.

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  • Paul Souders April 13, 2012 at 11:31 am

    What about a ferry? If there were four ferries between PDX and Salem, you could make a perfect no-bridges wineries loop. Which would be awesome.

    Having said that, $20M seems like pocket change, infrastructure-spending-wise. Just compare to the CRC.

    And such a bridge would make Wilsonville a much more attractive place to live. Easy access to the east bank would make parks like Champoeg and Mollalla State Pk. de-facto city parks totally free for W’ville (in the same sense as Tryon or Sandy Delta for the towns that abut them)

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    • Patrick Croasdaile April 13, 2012 at 11:36 am

      As someone who uses the Canby Ferry regularly, I do not believe a ferry is the right option. Considering the amount of rainfall we’ve had recently, the ferry has been shut down for some time now. Additionally, in the City of Wilsonville Master plan, you can see that Alta didn’t think a ferry was as advantageous as a stand-alone bridge.

      I agree that the concept of ferries is ‘cool’, but they’re not as reliable as bridges and unfortunately have operating hours… maybe we could staff them with robots though ;)

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      • Paul Souders April 13, 2012 at 11:39 am

        Heh, humor fail. I’m in favor of this bridge, just trying to make a Funny. I agree ferries are a poor infrastructure solution for most river crossings.

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    • Joseph E April 13, 2012 at 11:43 am

      A ferry would be cheaper to build, but even if they were able to run all year round, the long-term cost might be higher. A ferry needs an operator, so that’s about $200,000 a year if you want it to run 16 hours a day, 7 days a week (, with salary and benefits, and then there is the cost of fuel, the cost of the boat and maintenance. Over the next 50 to 100 years (the lifetime of a bridge), the ferry would cost at least 20 million. I say build the bridge, which will be open 24 hours in all weather, and which will be a one-time infrastructure cost instead a continued drain on tax revenue.

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  • Laurent April 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

    The petition just passed the 400 signature mark. Keep them coming!

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  • Anthony SF April 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    The I-5 bridge was part of my daily commute for almost three years (lived in Wilsonville and worked near Aurora). That river crossing was like a suicide run, made even worse now heading North. Having safe passage would be great for tourists/commuters alike. Maybe with the bridge there would be less car traffic and the great “Wilsonville Slowdown” would no longer happen and steel cage drivers could mindlessly continue talking on their phones and not worry about a sudden slowdown.

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  • GlowBoy April 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    This bridge would be fantastic. But if it’s dependent on support of the majority of Wilsonville’s citizenry, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    Right now your best option, if you don’t want to tackle the monster hill up from the Canby ferry, is not I-5 … but OR 219, about 13 miles to the west. It’s fairly busy, but even the bridge has a usable if narrow-ish shoulder. When I took my son camping at Champoeg last summer, we returned via that route and it was OK.

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    • Patrick Croasdaile April 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      I believe you would be surprised by amount of support Wilsonville citizens are lending to the bridge effort. Additionally, from my perspective, it would seem as though this bridge hasn’t been given due coverage in news sources that Wilsonville residents read regularly. This has given opponents of the bridge the opportunity to present their views as the only voice heard. This is changing as we speak.

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  • Joe April 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Awesome I’m really happy this is getting so much attn: much needed for Wilsonville and other areas around the ” Remote Island ” boones bridge is scary to ride NOW and the ferry is not always the best choice for transport modes. keep signing ppl pls!

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  • Todd April 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I own property in SW Wilsonville and signed the online petition. It would be a great addition to the City and the non-auto transportation and recreation system.

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  • Chris I April 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I can’t help but think it would be smarter to work a deal with the railroad and rebuild that bridge. A double-tracked railroad and pedestrian bridge would be a great investment for future commuter/freight rail to Salem/Eugene and would provide a safe bike crossing.

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  • Joe April 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Chris I
    I can’t help but think it would be smarter to work a deal with the railroad and rebuild that bridge. A double-tracked railroad and pedestrian bridge would be a great investment for future commuter/freight rail to Salem/Eugene and would provide a safe bike crossing.
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    Chris, RR tracks near the old boat ramp already and its not wide enuff, thats why they desided to build this out. plus EMT can get to ppl when I-5 is backed up. This will be great for Wilsonville and linking around the area.

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  • Andy K April 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    The pic on page 1-6 from the briefing booklet shows it at around 930 feet long. That would be an awesome bridge to see and ride on! Unfortunately that estimate is about $10-20M shy. The environmental impacts, multiple in-water piers, and approach fills will be sizeable.

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    • RonC April 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      Just wondering how much did the bike/pedestrian bridge in downtown Salem cost? Could it be used to extrapolate costs for this project, or is it too much of a different animal?

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      • Andy K April 17, 2012 at 11:50 am

        Ron – now that I look at the numbers more closely I don’t think $20M is out of the picture. Structure cost is roughly $250/SF at this stage.

        I see two design options. Option 1: Keep it very simple, 10 feet wide, cheap, and don’t try to sell it as an I-5 emergency alternate. Option 2: Make ODOT part of the project, and allow emergency vehicles to use it (in emergencies only). This will likely widen the bridge to 16 feet minimum but will have a better chance of succeeding, unless the City of Wilsonville already has a funding plan.

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        • RonC April 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

          Thanks Andy. I like the way you think. I’m still struggling a bit with the math though.

          960′ X 16′ wide = 14880 sq. ft.
          14880 sq. ft. x $250.00/sq. ft. = $3,720,000.00

          At $250.00/sq. ft. even 20′ wide would be under 5 mil. I do not have a handle on what a realistic price per sq. ft. is, but if I were to guess I’d think $250.00/ sq. ft. was maybe a bit low? Did you use this number based on other similar projects? That said, even if planning and administration doubled the cost, this seems do-able.

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          • Andy K April 20, 2012 at 8:24 pm

            Ron that is just for the bridge. I spent about 15 minutes putting together a basic “planning level” estimate but I’d rather not send it out to the whole group. Email me [kutanskm (at) gmail (dot) com]and I’ll reply back with the entire cost broken down by pieces, based on what I know.

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  • wsbob April 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Assuming Wilsonville goes ahead and authorizes the matching funds to conduct the study and move forward with the project, where might the estimated $20 million to actually build the bridge, come from?

    Apparently, Wilsonville would be the owner of the bridge; logically the city would have to raise at least part of the construction costs as well as maintenance over coming years. The bridge is a great idea, has a lot of support from neighboring cities and various groups, but I can imagine people feeling a need to seriously considering whether the city can afford the bridge, and how.

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    • Andrew Seger April 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

      Metro should think about asking for a trail levy that could help complete trails and connect all the parkland they’ve been buying since that parks levy passed in 2008. They have great plans for the eastside and westside now it’s time to ask for the money. I agree expecting Wilsonville to pony up $20 million without region wide help is going to be an uphill sell. As part of a larger region wide levy to build out the park property and link them with trails it might actually garner majority support.

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  • Ashik Khan April 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I own property in SW Wilsonville and signed the online petition. It would be a great addition to the City and the non-auto transportation and recreation system Thankyou

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