Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 22nd, 2008 at 2:58 pm
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.
- A “no build” option which would have bikes and peds use the highway shoulder
- 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)
- 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)*
- 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