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A bridge instead of the Canby Ferry? Clackamas County wants your opinion

Posted by on April 20th, 2018 at 3:42 pm

The Canby Ferry is a fun and scenic respite on a long ride.
(Photo: J. Maus)

If you’ve ever ventured south of Portland on your bike en route to Champoeg State Park or Salem, chances are you’ve used the Canby Ferry to cross the Willamette River. As the only (non-driving) way across the river between Oregon City and Newberg, the ferry is a part of some of Portland’s best road rides.

It used to be free until 2012 when Clackamas County commissioners adopted a $2 fee. With cities on all sides of the ferry growing, more changes could be afoot.

Clackamas County has launched a survey and feasibility study of new transportation options at the ferry location — some of which would end ferry service and replace it with a bridge. They’re considering the following six options:


Canby Ferry – continue service
Canby Ferry – discontinue service
Bridge (no toll) – continue ferry service
Bridge (no toll) – discontinue ferry service
Toll bridge – continue ferry service
Toll bridge – discontinue ferry service

Officials worry that the ferry isn’t reliable enough and doesn’t have enough capacity to handle demand. It only operates during daylight hours, it closes when the river runs high, it can only carry six motor vehicles at once, and it currently operates at a loss.

There’s an online survey to garner feedback about what the future of the crossing should be. The study is slated to be done by the end of 2018. Learn more at the Clackamas County website.

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

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37 thoughts on “A bridge instead of the Canby Ferry? Clackamas County wants your opinion”

  1. Avatar BradWagon says:

    Think city and suburban NIMBYs are bad?… Can’t wait to hear what the Vinyard owners, Equestrian Estates, Golf Clubs members and Country Mansion owners will have to say about this. (Disclosure: I grew up here, used ferry countless times, bridge just doesn’t make sense unless we plan on radical development)

    1. Avatar Mike Quigley says:

      Yes. Plan on radical development. Already in the works. Otherwise, Clackamas County wouldn’t be interested in a bridge.

      1. Avatar BradWagon says:

        Any info on growth boundarys expanding in this area? Last Boundry expansion was for new school in wilsonville that wouldn’t draw from Canby anyway. Doubt all that EFU and RRFF-5 are turning into developments any time soon. Especially on the fringes of suburbia where upping density of existing city zones makes far more sense. Point still stands which is that people in the area are going to fight this (and that spending money on increasing car use is a complete waste).

    2. Avatar Granpa says:

      From the tone of following comments, it seems Bike Portland is a sounding board for NIMBYs of a different stripe

      1. Avatar BradWagon says:

        Except they are advocating for less car use and safer cycling conditions. Pretty different merits than preserving parking or a big yard.

        1. Avatar Brian Maguire says:

          They want this to be a transportation corridor. The sleepy road will have thousands of cars per day on it. You don’t want a bridge.

      2. Avatar q says:

        I’m not sure you understand what NIMBY means. If people were saying they wanted a bridge–just not there–you’d have a point.

  2. Avatar hotrodder says:

    I love the ferry. I’m a fairly decent climber so I get to show off a little on Mountain Road, and then when the car traffic from the ferry has all passed, there’s a pretty decent amount of time of blissful, anxiety free pavement… So, for those two reasons, lets keep things the way they are! (Wish it was still gratis, but a cuppla bucks aint too bad

  3. John Liu John Liu says:

    Induced demand. Bridge -> easy drive -> more cars -> not such nice biking?

    1. Avatar soren says:

      Considering that this climate-change denying state just voted to massively expand fossil-fuel infrastructure (e.g. highways) this is almost certainly going to be what happens.

    2. Avatar Middle of the Road Guy says:

      It might not be much of an increase in VMT, but rather a redistribution.

      1. Avatar BradWagon says:

        You don’t think someone that lives and works in West Linn wouldn’t consider moving to Canby with the addition of this bridge? Longer commute = increased miles driven.

  4. Avatar matchupancakes says:

    The road leading up to the ferry is blissfully light on car traffic during the weekdays. The ferry is a major factor behind this. The current conditions contribute to an enjoyable bike ride. It would be unfortunate to change something good.

  5. Avatar B. Carfree says:

    From my vantage point, a bridge replacing the ferry would be truly awful. It would force me to bypass that entire region on my many rides into Portland since any increased traffic there would be unbearable. Sadly, someone’s going to make money getting it built and so now that the idea has been floated out there it is probably all but a done-deal.

    I guess it’s time for me to go study the maps again and find an alternative way in.

  6. Avatar Jim Lee says:

    Discovered the ferry on rides 40 years ago and would go out of my way to enjoy it. Have not been there for quite a while.

  7. Avatar Ken S says:

    If the ferry is eliminated in favor of a bridge, mountain rd, stafford and 65th must add full width bike lanes to safely accommodate both cars and bicycles.

    I’d also like to see a bike bridge next to I5 crossing south of Wilsonville.
    Currently, the Canby ferry and hwy 219 are the only safe river crossings in that region, for bikes.
    I5 is actually listed as a recommended crossing from Wilsonville towards Salem and it’s a joke.

    1. Avatar canuck says:

      Actually never had an issue using the Boone bridge to get south of Wilsonville. Nice wide shoulder and can’t say I’ve felt like I would ever be right hooked. And it’s a nice down hill ride to the exit. I’d say nicer than riding Wilsonville Rd east towards Newberg.

      1. Avatar Ken S says:

        Why would you bring up getting right hooked on a freeway? There aren’t any intersections.

        My gripe with routing bikes on highway shoulders is
        A) in my experience, the shoulders have always been strewn with sharp debris and sometimes large obstacles (gravel, glass, bolts/metal scrap, shredded tires, etc) and
        B) if you have traffic coming from behind at >50mph closing speed with zero physical protection, being struck by a vehicle that has drifted out of its lane will kill you.

    2. Avatar KristenT says:

      Don’t forget to add Pete’s Mountain Road to your list of roads that would need full-width bike lanes.

      1. Avatar Ken S says:

        Yes, I absolutely agree, Pete’s mountain needs bike lanes for the uphill portions!

  8. Avatar mark smith says:

    This would induce an incredible amount of traffic. Didn’t the county just pay a bit of money to rehab the old boat? There there is the fact that the bridge will need maintenance…..

    No, No and no!

  9. Avatar Martin Vandepas says:

    I find it a little strange that they mention that the ferry “costs the county considerably more money to operate than it receives in revenue.” Doesn’t every bridge and road cost more money than it brings in? We generally pay for roads and ferries with taxes. We shouldn’t expect them to turn a profit.

  10. Avatar JF says:

    That was the worst poll ever. They don’t actually want your input on the ferry alternatives. They just ask you if you have any questions about the study they are doing. Uh, what?

    The ferry is fun the first couple of times, but then just becomes a P.I.T.A. slowdown. That said, it does keep the traffic on the roads to and from it down quite a bit, which is sufficient reason to keep it in my book.

    1. Avatar DSJK says:

      This is clearly about opening up more rural lands for development.

  11. Avatar horseheel3 says:

    That’s a good point, re:Martin 5:11 pm

  12. Avatar Mike Sanders says:

    I’d vote for a ped/bike bridge over the river, so you can get across even if the ferry’s closed. This also applies to the two other ferries across the Willamette. The Dutch are really good at creating such crossings. Asking someone there to come up with possible designs would be a start. Remember, this coukd be a key location on the Willamette Valley Trail, which still has a gap between Champoeg and Oregon City/Portland that’s long needed to be filled in. Keep the ferry, but a ped/bike bridge would make sense.

  13. Avatar DSJK says:

    The survey is completely bogus–it does not actually ask our preference or opinion among the 6 options they claim are being considered! It sure looks like the fix is already in. But I encourage people to contact Clackamas County to complain. The project manager is Stephen Williams, 503-742-4696 or

  14. Avatar Todd Boulanger says:

    Jonathan – thanks for red flagging this topic…
    – readers of BikePortland in Clackamas should ask their county to reduce the ferry fee for cyclists and pedestrians (to a token $1) and request that a covered waiting shelter be added to each ferry dock (porta-potty and bike repair stand/ air pump too on the Canby side)

  15. Avatar Jeff Smith says:

    The Willamette River ferries – all 3 of them – are absolutely charming. I realize the bridge question is a practical, $ & cents consideration, but it would be really sad to loose this delightful little ferry.

    1. Avatar Todd Boulanger says:

      And do not forget the Columbia River ferry too: Wahkiakum County (Cathlament WA).

  16. Avatar Jeff Smith says:

    Yes, also an excellent ferry. And more ride for your money: the Columbia is a mighty big river.

  17. Avatar K Dennis says:

    I’ve used the Canby Ferry many times on organized rides and once on my way on a cross country tour. The ferry needs to remain in operation. I live in Canby now and the scuttle butt is that Clackamas County is looking for an excuse to close the ferry due to what some say is a $500K loss every year. A new bridge (of any kind) will cost millions and if it’s a vehicular bridge, several of the roads leading to and from that location will need significant improvements. Our worst fear is that the County will discontinue the ferry and no bridge will be built. I attended a meeting last night and someone suggested that all the Willamette ferry’s get Historic designation. That way State and Federal revenue could maintain them. I encourage that if you have an “opinion” concerning this feasibility survey/study, attend the public meetings the County is scheduling. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  18. Avatar PinotandIPA says:

    [Disclaimer: I live in the Canby Ferry area and self-identify as a Maybe in My Backyard (MIMBY)]

    Many folks on this thread have rightly focused on the County’s intentions behind this study and raised good questions. It’s possible there’s a business cabal manipulating the strings of government. Or it could be that conscientious civil servants are looking at the cost of the ferry and asking themselves if underwriting the cost of a nostalgic but highly inefficient means of crossing the river is a good use of taxpayer money. Pick your preconceived notion 😉

    The fact is, we don’t really know.

    I love the ferry. I also recognize that, from an economic standpoint, it’s hard to rationalize its cost. My guess (only a guess) is that if the County shut down the ferry the amount of incremental traffic added to the Oregon City and I-5 bridge would be unnoticeable. So, to my mind, framing the discussion about the future of the ferry in terms of economic utility or somehow relieving traffic congestion is a non-starter.

    I think it’s more useful (and accurate) to look at the ferry as a marvelous little government-supported “quality of life” extravagance. The car drivers don’t “need” it. The bicyclists don’t “need” it. It’s a government-provided convenience and fun experience. If it’s running a deficit, raise the price in order to reduce that deficit to a point at which the County (and its citizens) feel it’s worth its intangible value.

    But the economic justification I stated above assumes a “value” based on the ferry’s use as a means of transportation. If the County’s reason for pursuing this initiative is to create another form of “value” (i.e., development), then their economic calculations change and the folks in the “cabal” camp are right.

    Let’s continue to be vigilant.

  19. Avatar BradWagon says:

    My Favorite ferry moment of all time (I grew up riding it back and forth countless times) was this last summer riding back from viewing the eclipse. So many bikes, was surprised they even let the cars on it seeing that they could make way more $ filling the car spaces with the bikes waiting to get on.

  20. Avatar KristenT says:

    I grew up in the vicinity of the ferry and my parents still live up on top of “the hill”. We take the ferry every year to attend the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival. We’ve taken the ferry to attend the Clackamas County Fair. We’ve taken the ferry on backroads drives– I’ve never ridden my bike in that area, but have thought about it.

    I’ve never balked at paying the ferry fee– I’ve always marveled at how low it is and have offered to the operators to pay more, every time I use it! I think the county commissioners should consider raising the fees for cars (and create a lower tier fee for bikes). They should also explore historical designation, if there is a fund from the feds or state for maintenance, as there has been a ferry operating here for more than a hundred years and I think that qualifies as historical.

    It would certainly make traffic on the roads up there extra sucky if they put in a bridge– the traffic over Pete’s Mountain has gotten worse every year as congestion backs up the freeways, I can’t imagine it will get any better if there is a driving alternative to sitting on I-5 across the Willamette in Wilsonville. Add in blind corners and fast straights with driveways and rural farm traffic, and you’ve got a recipe for Bad.

  21. Avatar Brian Maguire says:

    Think city and suburban NIMBYs are bad?… Can’t wait to hear what the Vinyard owners, Equestrian Estates, Golf Clubs members and Country Mansion owners will have to say about this. (Disclosure: I grew up here, used ferry countless times, bridge just doesn’t make sense unless we plan on radical development)Recommended 10

    Well we are against it, and our voice is as equal as anyone’s. I don’t understand why it is a pejorative to be have a nice home in a nice area and why for some reason our voices would be shrill compared to any other voice.

  22. Avatar rita green says:

    please continue the ferry. if you had a bridge instead you’d be like any other place. just another boring place where there is not anything that makes it stand out, nor that makes it special. the highlight of my senior groups, my friends and I trips to Canby, Oregon is only because of your wonderfully delightful ferry. if you didn’t have the ferry we wouldn’t come there to spend our money. the people that run it are also a delight they are friendly and very helpful to everyone. they are a breath of fresh air in a world that has run amuck with destruction of anything that is part of history that brings joy into ones life we all need to stop the rat race of a greedy world that refuses to see the treasure it has in front of it like your ferry.

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