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New bridge over Willamette River would connect Lake Oswego to Milwaukie

(Graphic: BikePortland)

A cycling and walking bridge over the Willamette River between Lake Oswego and the Milwaukie/Oak Grove area has been dreamt about for decades. But now, in part due to completion of the Portland-Milwaukie MAX light rail line and the success of the Trolley Trail, there’s new momentum to actually build it.

“I can’t think of a project that serves more people potentially.”
— Paul Savas, Clackamas County Commissioner

Today at a meeting of the Clackamas County Commission, county planners received approval to apply for a $306,000 Metro grant for the Willamette River Bridge Feasibility Study. The grant is part of a $2 million pot of “regional flexible funds” to be doled be doled out by Metro that aims to get more active transportation projects up to shovel-ready status.

Amazingly, the commissioner who spoke most highly of a new, carfree Willamette River bridge was none other than Paul Savas. This is notable because it was Savas who, during a debate at Metro Council in 2016, tried to pass an amendment that would have wiped out this pot of funding and instead put more money into developing freeway projects. Now his tune has changed. Noting that there are large populations on both sides of the river where this bridge will likely be built, Savas said, “What makes this concept so viable is that… Bar none, I can’t think of a project that serves more people potentially.”

Savas is right. The concept is tantalizing.

The inspiration for the project is the existing Union Pacific Railroad bridge that currently stretches between the beginning of N State Street (near the southern terminus of the path through Tryon Creek Park) and Rivervilla Park in Oak Grove. In 2009 Metro studied the possibility of a cantilevered path on that bridge. When UPRR balked, advocates and planners realized a new bridge was the only alternative.

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When Lake Oswego adopted the bridge concept in its 2014 Transportation System Plan it received dozens of positive comments.

Since then, Clackamas County has been plotting a low-car transportation system that is shaping up nicely. The six-mile Trolley Trail (which comes within just a half-mile of a potential future bridge alignment) opened in 2012, the Orange MAX line connected Milwaukie to Portland in 2015, and a separated bike path between Sellwood and Milwaukie opened just last year.

Combine that existing infrastructure with a carfree bridge that would be the only crossing of the Willamette in a 10-mile gap between the Sellwood and Oregon City bridges, and you can see why this project is so popular.

Currently there’s just one other project from Clackamas County that’s competing for these funds: protected bike lanes on Highway 43 between Mary S. Young Park in West Linn and I-205. While also an exciting project, advocates we spoke to for this story said it won’t compete as well for this specific grant because it doesn’t connect to existing trails or boost regional connectivity (a key criteria for the funds).

Oak Grove resident and Clackamas County Pedestrian-Bikeway Advisory Committee member Joseph Edge has been pushing for this project for two years now by testifying at public meetings and talking it up to elected officials. “The bridge is by far the most uniformly popular project with the PBAC members,” he shared with us via email today.

From here the project will move to the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) who will make the final funding decision on March 1st.

UPDATE, 2/14: Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba emailed us to say he “gave an impassioned speech” in support of the bridge project at the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) Metro subcommittee meeting and they voted unanimously to move it forward. “This is critical,” he wrote, “because I will be fighting to get this project listed on the transportation bond measure in 2020 which is the only way it’s likely to be funded.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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