BikePortland

Future of French Prairie Bridge hinges on Wilsonville City Council decision


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.

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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