ODOT considers bike access options for Sandy River bridge project

Posted by on May 22nd, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Current bike access on I-84 over
the Sandy River is not so great.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A special unit within the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) — formed to manage their $3 billion Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA) State Bridge Delivery Program — is moving forward on a project to replace the I-84 highway bridges over the Sandy River.

As a popular recreation corridor that serves as the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the project has triggered discussions about how to best provide for human-powered traffic in the area.

Some advocates see this as a golden opportunity to improve bike access on the highway bridges and improve connections to popular riding areas — including the nearby 40-Mile Loop trail.

At issue is how to provide that access and stay within strict design guidelines, work within the bureaucratic process, and meet tight project budgets. Because the project lies is within special historic and scenic areas, it must adhere to strict construction standards put forth by the Columbia River Gorge Commission and state agencies.

Also looming in the minds of advocates is another ODOT bridge project — the St. Johns Bridge renovation — that ended up with no bike facilities at all (and is still considered an unsafe crossing by many).

So far, the conversation with this project has revolved around whether to improve access directly on the new I-84 highway bridges, or to build a completely separate, bicycle and pedestrian-only bridge south of I-84.

The 40-Mile Loop Land Trust (the advocacy group charged with completing the loop first envisioned by Charles Olmstead over 100 years ago) first proposed the separate bridge idea as a way to link the loop with the Sandy River delta and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Back in August of last year, ODOT applied for a $6 million grant to “evaluate all practicable alternatives” to a separate crossing, but the money did not come through. Also, according to ODOT Region 1 manager Jason Tell, building a new bridge would take an amendment to the National Scenic Area plan — something he says is “a major undertaking” that’s “not impossible but a rigorous process.”

Tim Wood, the director of Oregon State Parks says a separate bridge is, “a great opportunity…how better to get people into a scenic area?” But, he adds that besides funding, the Scenic Area plan amendment presents an “obstacle”. “The National Scenic Area plan sets a high standard,” he told me earlier this month, “and it would take some effort to amend it. It would be a real challenge and we’d need a lot of support to do it.”

Sensing that the bike/ped access decision was reaching a critical juncture, ODOT’s Jason Tell called together a working group to meet and discuss the issue. The group — which included representatives from Metro, Multnomah County, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), the Columbia River Gorge Commission, and others — met today and came up with four basic options.

    1. A “no build” option which would have bikes and peds use the highway shoulder
    2. A 14-16 foot wide, bi-directional path on the south side of the eastbound bridge span separated by a railing (estimated cost $3.5 million)
    3. A 16 foot wide path on a separate bridge running near the highway and still in ODOT right-of-way (estimated cost $7.5 million)*
    4. A completely separate bike/ped only crossing south of I-84, not in the ODOT right-of-way (as discussed above, no cost estimates yet)**

[*Since the separate bridge in option 3 is in the ODOT right-of-way, it would not require an amendment to the National Scenic Area plan.
**Option 4 would require an amendment to the National Scenic Area plan.]

Karl Rohde, the BTA’s government and public affairs director, attended today’s meeting and he says the group is leaning toward options 2 or 3. He also shared that ODOT says they’ll commit $2 million from the OTIA project budget for the bike/ped access component.

Rohde says at this point he favors option 2, because he is skeptical that a separate bridge would ever happen. Rohde says with the $2 million from ODOT, he can foresee finding the $1.3 million that remains — but the higher price of option 3 could be a major obstacle. “I would love to see a separate bridge [option 3], but my main concern is getting something at all.”

Would about option 4? At this point, barring a groundswell of support from the public and/or advocacy groups willing to take on a considerable risk and a lot of work, it is not likely to happen.

The bike/ped access working group will spend the next few weeks ironing out these options and working up cost estimates for a presentation to project decision makers expected the first week in June.

Mike Mason, a spokesperson with ODOT says tan open house will be held in late June or early July. For now, you can email your comments to Kalin [at] jlainvolve [dot] com

The total project (which also includes fixing two overpasses near I-84) is budgeted at $56 million and will go out to a bid in spring of 2009 with construction slated for completion by July of 2010 2012.

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Bjorn
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Bjorn

I am glad to see that the BTA is pushing back on option 1. If ODOT tries to move in that direction the BTA should sue. Saying it is legal for bikes to use the narrow shoulder that would exist regardless is not the same as funding bicycle facilities and does not meet the requirements of the bike bill.

bjorn

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

For me the best option would be simply enough room to ride on the shoulder in both directions. I have ridden the north (inbound to Portland) shoulder with a trailer a few times and it is too narrow: it’s at best 3’ wide–I had to time my dash across the bridge between trucks. If I recall, there is a sign telling bikes not to use this bridge. If a pleasant crossing was built to the south I would like to see access for the north side bike traffic.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

\”If ODOT tries to move in that direction the BTA should sue\”

Bjorn,

there\’s no way ODOT would move in that direction. it would not only fly in the face of what I feel is their renewed appreciation for bikes in general… but it would also be surely followed by a join lawsuit from the BTA and Metro.

Pete
Guest
Pete

It needs CRGC approval?? Lord help us. Unless it\’s a waterfront condo conversion that\’ll be an uphill battle.

Option #2 sounds most sensible to me, provided you could safely get to Halsey Street and safely under I-84 to the Reynolds Gap. Just west of this bridge high volumes of converging auto traffic pose quite a threat. A separated path on the bridge is fine unless it dumps you into the area where RVs, semis, trailers, and cars access the outlet mall, service stations, and fast food restaurants.

Metal Cowboy
Guest

Option #2 is a really good approach for the BTA to support. As KR points out, the funding is easier to obtain and it will happen in shorter span. Question, if option number is a nonstarter for fear of lawsuits and ODOT\’s renewedd appreciation for bikes – then why is it on the menu of options?

2GOAT
Guest
2GOAT

I am not intimately familiar with the location but didn\’t Cycle Oregon 17 ride part of a scenic byway (and I 84) along the Columbia Gorge with the intent of enlightening all participants to the hope of connecting the Dalles to Portland via a continuation of the route that perhaps might contain this Sandy passage???
If yes…could the CO board can help? I know they tend to pick more rural projects but maybe this time we can help Portland.

VC gal
Guest
VC gal

How about option 1a, A “no build” option which would have peds use the highway shoulder and bikes use the traffic lane like they are suppose to?

P.S. The St. Johns bridge does have \”bike facilities\”. They\’re called the right lane.

Ralph
Guest
Ralph

Is it so hard to get off the highway at Crown Point Rd and ride through Troutdale?

Yes it adds some distance, but that stretch is much more scenic than riding the highway.

I-84 is pretty much useless to ride west of the Sandy anyway.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

VC gal, this is I-84, automobile speeds are 70+ mph at this point. Vehicular cycling may be the safest way in many cases, this is clearly not one of them. The right lane is shared with semi-trucks which are travelling at speeds of 65+ mph that can not safely move over or slow down in time even if you are riding on the right hand side of the lane.

It would probably be considered a violation of the states minimum speed law to ride in the right hand lane of the interstate. A narrow shoulder is unacceptable because a wide load could easily hit a cyclist as it went by. The bridge needs a safe facility both for the safety of cyclists as well as a friendly facility to create an environment that encourages people to ride.

bjorn

Martha R
Guest
Martha R

Ralph (#8),
For far too long, \”planning\” for bicyclists has taken your kind of attitude: \”Those cyclists won\’t mind a few extra miles and a few extra hills if they have a pretty view.\” Indeed, cyclists out for a recreational ride may well enjoy those extra miles. However, some people ride bicycles to actually get places. There are even more people would LIKE to ride bicycles to get places, but when they figure out how far out of their way they have to detour in order to have a safe journey, they drive instead.

If you compare traffic volumes on I-84 vs. Crown Point Road, you\’d get your answer — yes, your suggested detour IS an inconvenience. If it weren\’t, then all those motorized vehicles would also be taking your scenic route. And those drivers are all sitting on lounge chairs; cyclists actually have to work at pedaling.

ODOT (the \”T\” stands for Transportation, not recreation)provides efficient through-movement across the Sandy for motorized vehicles. Designing the new bridge to accomodate an equally efficient transportation system for bicyclists (also vehicles under Oregon law) is a no-brainer.

Good bicycle facilities give cyclists the same kinds of choices afforded motor vehicilists: a more efficient/straighter/flatter but less pleasant route, or a longer/curvier/hillier scenic route.

Axe
Guest
Axe

I feel like VC gal\’s post is a joke meant to incite others. Who in their right mind would actually encourage riding on the freeway? Sounds like something the kind of person opposed to cyclists who cuts us off and only leaves a few inches when passing would say…

Zaphod
Guest

Riding on the shoulder is sketch under certain circumstances, especially this one. When the road debris are contained, i.e. there\’s a curb or similar, a cyclist on the shoulder is riding in rocks, glass, and misc crap. Beyond that, highway speeds make this a non-starter. Only separate safe facilities will be acceptable.

While I have opinions on the St. Johns route, I\’ll keep the to the original topic of the Sandy crossing.

Aaron
Guest

At first glance, I thought that ODOT was actually going to address the horrible bridges east of Multnomah Falls. One of the most terrifying rides I\’ve ever taken was from Multnomah Falls east to Bridge of the Gods. There are two bridges on I-84 where the shoulder dead ends and there is NO ALTERNATIVE.
Unlike this situation, there are two bike-friendly crossings of the Sandy River. Either south along the Stark St. Bridge, or near Troutdale at Crown Point Hwy near the fish restaurant. These are both very comfortable compared to the hwy. I support ODOT in reducing some of the damage done in their previous highway construction, but I would prefer focusing on difficult spots where there are no alternatives.

Molly
Guest
Molly

It would be great if the proposed bridge/path would connect up with the existing I-84 bike path (currently ending at 207th). Then on to connect to a new path through Sullivan\’s Gulch. One can dream!

ralph
Guest
ralph

Martha R,

My attitude is one of safe cycling. Riding that section of highway is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I regularly make decisions on the route to take based on safety over distance or speed. Sure it\’s legal to ride that section of I-84, but it sure isn\’t safe.

And don\’t profess to know me and my attitude. I\’ve been a cyclist for close to 40 years and work in the bicycle industry.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

VC gal…are you freaking serious?
taking the lane of I-84 eastbound would be suicide.

70-80+MPH traffic with heavy semi-truck use…with no intention of slowing down.

Not sure why the push to add bike lanes on that bridge, but I don\’t believe I\’ve seen a single cyclist on that part of I-84 in the thousands of times I\’ve driven over it..

Fordjam
Guest
Fordjam

See, this is exactly why we need to stop encouraging normal riders to get on their bicycles.

I take the lane on the freeways in Oregon all the time – if you are unable, for either physical or mental reasons, to do this, then you should really keep the bike at home, save it for the campgrounds, and leave the streets for the hardcore cyclists.

Remember – if you aren\’t part of the solution, you\’re part of the problem.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Maybe I-84 needs green painted lanes and traffic calming devices too? If we can\’t have a flat easy to pedal bike boulevard to Multnomah Falls then \”Safe, Sound, and Green\” is all for naught. Damned \”all about cars and trucks\” mentality. This keeps the hundreds of thousands of \”interested but concerned\” from routinely visiting Hood River on their bikes!

Alex
Guest
Alex

I work for a consulting firm that is helping ODOT with community outreach on this project. The project team is very intent on reaching a solution that is safe and meets bicycle/pedestrian needs. There is a lot of momentum building in this area. Also, the City of Troutdale is re-developing its waterfront on the Sandy River and has discussed adding a network of paths in the area as well as a riverfront esplanade. An open house for the I-84/Sandy River Bridge project will be held in June or July in Troutdale. To get on the project mailing list or to send comments, email kalin[at]jlainvolve[dot]com.

Aaron
Guest

I want to publicly state that the statements of Fordjam do not reflect the general cycling community. Most folks are inclusive and understand that there are many different skill levels and comfort levels. All should be embraced because any time a person uses a bike to make a trip that would otherwise be made in a car, the entire city benefits.

Martha R.
Guest
Martha R.

Ralph (#15) I agree that that section of I-84 is neither safe nor pleasant for bicycling. If this bridge project does a mediocre job of accommodating bicyclists, it will cement the status of I-84 as being not safe for bicyclists: bridges are designed to last decades, and all it takes is one narrow bridge to ruin a route. If, on the other hand, the bridge is designed to safely accommodate bikes, it will open the door to future projects that might facilitate bicycle passage in this area. Maybe not this year or next, but sometime in the future, it is possible that that route won\’t feel like \”cutting off your nose to spite your face.\”

Every cyclist is different — you say that you regularly make decisions based on safety over distance or speed. I know plenty of cyclists who choose routes based on speed. Heck, for one job a while ago, I chose a commute path with some severely sketchy spots because that route shaved 15 minutes off my commute. My current commute route varies–sometimes I take the faster but less pleasant route, sometimes I take the slower but scenic one.

By the way, I don\’t profess to know you or your attitude. I simply want to make the point that every person on a bike is different. Effective planning (and yes, I do work in the transportation planning industry) for bicycles involves providing a variety of route options because there are a variety of riders out there. Effective long-range planning involves seeing the big picture of what could be there, as opposed to what\’s there now.

JT
Guest
JT

The County has been a gret force ever since the OBDP took the bike ped element off the racks. They reopened the discussion and have been instrumental in keeping this on the books – it was very near not having any connection at all.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Ditto what Aaron said. I hope Fordjam doesn\’t wonder why people read this site and get the impression cyclists are elitist.

bahueh is right – taking that lane would be suicidal and irresponsible. There is a small walkway on that bridge that you can get across, but not ride across, and it\’s full of debris.

Yesterday in Mosier I talked to a couple from California who flew up with their Comotion tandem and rode east from PDX. I\’ve ridden I-84 a few times in the nine years I\’ve lived in Hood River and seen occasional cyclists, but don\’t forget that bridge also connects Troutdale with the east side of the Sandy. Putting bike/ped access on it would connect to swimming and fishing there, as well as to the park on the north side of 84.

With the physical connection in place, our job in the bike community would then be to encourage it\’s use with a non-judgmental attitude and responsible riding behavior.