A victory for bike tourism in Wilsonville: French Prairie Bridge grant approved

Councilors listen to a staff presentation on the project.
(Words and photos by Patrick Croasdaile)

At their work session last night, the Wilsonville City Council voted to accept a $1.25 million federal grant to perform a feasibility study on the French Prairie Bike-Ped Emergency Bridge over the Willamette River. As we shared last week, this was a crucial step in this project’s evolution and it wasn’t a sure thing. In the end, it seems like the potential bike tourism this bridge would make possible is what made councilors comfortable with voting yes.

When the topic of tourism came up at the meeting, Councilor Richard Goddard said that it had changed the conversation about the bridge and allowed him to think about the bridge as a different kind of asset. Council President Celia Nuñez was also supportive of the grant. “[This bridge] gives us an economic development opportunity,” she said, “and allows tourism dollars to pour into the community”. She continued, “if we can be visionary enough to expand transportation options for the city, then that is right on spot.”

“We have the potential to make Wilsonville a destination for bike tourism.”
— Tim Knapp, Mayor

As a strong proponent of the bridge, Mayor Tim Knapp’s comments supported those of Nuñez. “This is an investment in our community in a way that would create an opportunity for economic factors that wouldn’t otherwise come here. We have the potential to make Wilsonville a destination for bike tourism.” To the matter of the unknown details of the bridge, Mayor Knapp believed that the council could not accurately quantify the return: “Let’s see what it looks like after the study.”

Councilor Scott Starr pushed the needle in favor of accepting the grant funds when he commented that, “geography is [Wilsonville’s] strength” and that “transportation is at the heart of all of that. I want to leverage our geography.” To councilor Starr, the way forward seemed to be exploring the feasibility of building a bridge for people who bike and walk. Following Starr’s comments, the council members came to consensus and agreed to accept the grant funds for the feasibility study.

A healthy crowd turned out.

Following the work session, Laurent Rochette, a member of the grassroots Wilsonville-French Prairie Bridge Advisory Committee thanked the city council for its consent to move forward with the bridge feasibility study. Laurent was one of the citizen activists behind the online petition that has so far gathered over 680 signatures. Commenting on the petition, he informed the City Council that around 43% of all respondents were Wilsonville citizens. According to Laurent, “this shows that there is a huge interest [in Wilsonville] for this bridge. The 57% of signatures coming from outside of Wilsonville shows us that people want to come here to walk, [and] to bike. This group of people will spend money in this community that they would not otherwise without a bridge.”

Now that the council has agreed to move forward with the feasibility study, it is up to the Committee to continuing building support in Wilsonville, especially amongst the small business community. As Jennifer Johnson of the Wilsonville visitor center put it: “the City and her businesses and residents have to want it.”

While there is still a long time to go before a bridge will appear on the banks of the Willamette River, the road forward has officially begun. According to Neamtzu, money for the study will be available in mid-2013 and the report would be completed in 2015. This gives community stakeholders plenty of time to prepare for the next steps and continue to build support for this important project. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition. It’s clear that our voices helped educate city council members.

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Patrick Croasdaile for his reporting on this story.]

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