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State Parks: Do you want a new bike/walk only bridge on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail?

Posted by on April 29th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The Tophill Trestle above Highway 47 south of Vernonia.
(Image: State of Oregon)

The 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail is a gem. This former railway route makes a vital connection in our regional bikeway network and the path has become a huge success, drawing thousands of adventure seekers and weekend warriors on sunny weekends. But if there’s one thing about it that could be improved, it’s the crossings — especially where it crosses Highway 47.

Now Oregon State Parks is embarking on a project that could make one key crossing better — and possibly lay the groundwork for a new biking/walking bridge over the highway.

The old Tophill Trestle sits just east of where the B-V Trail crosses Highway 47 about nine miles south of Vernonia at the Tophill parking lot and trailhead. It’s at mile 12 or about the half-way point of the path. On either side of the highway crossing the path descends and then climbs very steeply through a series of switchbacks. It’s so steep and windy that the state has signs encouraging people to walk their bikes. (Confession: On one foggy wintry morning a few years ago I crashed going down the south side!)

It’s easy to see why the railroad’s original route avoided this canyon by making a gradual and level turn high above where the highway runs today. The graphic below shows the two routes. The railway trestle is in yellow and the B-V Trail is blue.

The existing path is blue, the old railroad route is in yellow.
(Graphic: Google Maps/BikePortland)

The reason State Parks detours away from the old railroad route at this spot is because the trestle has been irreparably damaged by fire and old age. The pilings and supports are so rotten that the state says it must be demolished and removed in the next 1-2 years.

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Chris Havel, associate director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, contacted us last week to share a new online survey about what they should do at this crossing. In the short-term, Havel said they will focus efforts on making the highway crossing safer; but in the long-term they just might consider going back to the old route. There are no solid plans to build a new bridge, but Havel says, “If people really want a bike/ped bridge over the highway, we could do some design work as part of the project to demolish the old one.”

From the survey.

Once the old bridge is removed, Oregon Parks, the City of Vernonia, Columbia and Washington counties, and the Oregon Department of Transportation will come up with a set of proposals for how to improve the crossing. The online survey will be the first step in developing those proposals.

If you bike on the Banks-Vernonia Trail, make sure to fill out the short survey and let the State of Oregon know what you think. Who knows, if enough people speak up in support of a new bridge we could end up with another one of these wonderful wooden bridges, like the Buxton Trestle over Mendenhall Creek:

Family trip to Stub Stewart State Park-3-70

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) April 29, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Keep in mind the current ‘detour’ has signs that tell cyclists to walk their bikes down the grade. So aside from being intimidating, it’s also problematic.

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  • JL April 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Better signage and facilities would be great at this location. It’s a great shorter round trip to Vernonia, and you only need to encourage yourself and riding partner for a short steep hill at the beginning and that’s it.

    I would rather use the Stub Stewart parking for shorter rides with a friend but that hill is too steep to have some people end a ride on, or want to do it again. I recommended spending the money on less severe route to Stub.

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  • todd boulanger April 29, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Yes – this current detour is a “pain in the ass” when loaded with touring gear…versus an overcrossing.

    I do love the similar trestle on the trail near by…especially when crossing late a night ….gliding on the boards and its all quiet…one can hear all sorts of regional sounds and get a landscape perspective that one does not on most of the trail when enclosed in a tunnel of tree limbs.

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  • todd boulanger April 29, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    PS, OSP – please consider improving the trail crossings with the arterials…like adding cross walks etc.

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  • Jason H April 29, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Yeah, too bad some idiot motorist left their burning car under the trestle in the mid 80’s, it would have been in much better shape to be used during the building of the BV instead of ending up like this. I dont mind the switchbacks, but my family hates them, voted for a new bridge in a similar trestle design.

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    • Dan A April 29, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Yep, my family has gone down the switchbacks before, and now they won’t go past them anymore. We just turn around at that point.

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  • Bjorn April 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I let them know that one way to improve the trail would be to extend it all the way to the coast via the Salmonberry Corridor.

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  • Charley April 29, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I wish that, if the region is going to spend money on bridges to enhance trial connectivity, we’d get on with missing link on the Cazadero Trail. Right now, from Boring, at the terminus of the Springwater, one can ride down the Cazadero Trail to Barton, and from there on down to Estacada on a wide shoulder. EXCEPT the trail ends at some private property a few hundred yards from the highway, because of a missing bridge. SO CLOSE!!!! I’ve tried bushwacking around the fencing, but it’s impossible. The detour is a steep, busy, narrow road with no shoulders. Not so bad on the way down, but impossible on the way back up to Boring. 🙁

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  • Dwaine Dibbly April 29, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    It would be cool if they could make a new bridge look similar to a railroad trestle, as an homage to the history of the route.

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  • Daniel April 29, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Yeah the hills are steep but they aren’t long, not sure what the big deal is. In saying that though, bridges are fun and it would make crossing that highway easier and safer.

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    • bjorn April 29, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      No big deal for me, but a decent amount of struggle for my dad who is 72 and an amputee. One nice thing about a rail to trail normally is it is never super steep, this is the only place where the trail has a gradient that is unridable for my dad.

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      • Ted Timmons (Contributor) April 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

        Exactly. Not everyone is a fit rider. Think about people who choose to walk their bike up Tilikum bridge.

        Not a judgement that there are “less fit riders” or anything, just.. they exist. And I’d much rather we design for them than for fit riders.

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        • bjorn April 29, 2016 at 9:47 pm

          This is especially important in a rail to trail like this where people are travelling to the trail because they feel safe riding it. Banks vernonia is a tourist destination and that will only increase as the trail is extended in both directions. I think this break in the rail trail is worth fixing.

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          • EmilyG May 1, 2016 at 10:59 am

            I am a fit rider in my 30s who bikes every day and I hate these switchbacks, especially downhill. It feels like I’m going to crash at any second, so I just walk it now. It’s also very difficult to pass other people at this spot due to the tight turns and skinny path. 100% support a bridge at this spot, it would improve the trail immensely.

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    • dmc April 30, 2016 at 1:53 am

      I feel the same way. However, I am an athletic guy in my early 30s. I think a bridge would be more suitable for the 8-80 crowd.

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      • Dan A April 30, 2016 at 7:27 am

        This trail itself is suited to the 8-80 crowd — the switchbacks are an odd outlier.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 30, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    How much would a bridge cost?

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    • wsbob May 1, 2016 at 11:07 am

      Exactly one of the thoughts I was thinking about this project idea: What kind of money are we talking about?

      Most likely, travel by foot, and with bikes, a bridge similar in height to the Tophill Trestle would require a wider deck with sides, that this trestle for rail crossing didn’t need.

      Wouldn’t need to be built for the weight capacity of a rail bridge, but given the design requirements obliged by the location, for general stability, the bridge would need to be substantial. In short…looks like a lot of money, quite a few millions…to replace the trestle with a bridge for crossing on foot, and with bikes.

      Definitely a good idea though, if it can be done within somewhat of a reasonable budget. From both an aesthetic and an engineering perspective, many old rail trestles have a beauty to them. Judging only from the map, it looks like the old rail route would be a nicer ride.

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  • JeffS May 1, 2016 at 9:59 am

    Yes, but given that amount of money to spend, I don’t think this is where I’d put it.

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    • Dan A May 1, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Colorado is investing $100 million in bike infrastructure. Hopefully someday we’ll rise to the challenge.

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  • Doug Rosser May 2, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Simply put, the switchbacks are dangerous. I took a (thankfully harmless) tumble on my first way through the BV and while I don’t walk my bike up and down them, I treat them with the utmost respect. Like an angry velociraptor…

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  • Pete S. May 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I like the switchbacks but understand why others don’t.

    If they do rebuild the bridge, I hope they leave the old path intact.

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