The Classic - Cycle Oregon

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:

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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 jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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

38 Comments
  • John Lascurettes April 20, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Isn’t Clackamas County one of the ones that didn’t want to pay for any Ross Island Bridge or Sellwood Bridge improvements, even though they represented a significant portion of the traffic? Good luck funding a new bridge down there.

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  • BradWagon April 20, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    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)

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    • Mike Quigley April 21, 2018 at 5:30 am

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

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      • BradWagon April 21, 2018 at 6:18 pm

        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).

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    • Granpa April 21, 2018 at 6:44 am

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

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      • BradWagon April 21, 2018 at 6:20 pm

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

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        • Brian Maguire May 4, 2018 at 12:51 pm

          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.

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      • q April 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

        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.

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  • hotrodder April 20, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    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

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 20, 2018 at 7:04 pm

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

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    • John Lascurettes April 20, 2018 at 11:58 pm

      Really good point.

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    • soren April 21, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      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.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy April 22, 2018 at 10:03 am

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

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      • BradWagon April 25, 2018 at 11:54 am

        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.

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  • matchupancakes April 20, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    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.

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  • B. Carfree April 20, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    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.

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  • Jim Lee April 21, 2018 at 7:25 am

    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.

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  • Ken S April 21, 2018 at 9:56 am

    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.

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    • canuck April 23, 2018 at 6:44 am

      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.

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      • Ken S April 27, 2018 at 10:09 am

        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.

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    • KristenT April 27, 2018 at 8:59 am

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

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      • Ken S April 27, 2018 at 10:02 am

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

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  • mark smith April 21, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    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!

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  • Martin Vandepas April 22, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    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.

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  • JF April 23, 2018 at 9:07 am

    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.

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    • DSJK April 24, 2018 at 11:36 am

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

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  • horseheel3 April 23, 2018 at 9:16 am

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

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  • Mike Sanders April 23, 2018 at 9:22 am

    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.

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  • DSJK April 23, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    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 swilliams@clackamas.us

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  • Todd Boulanger April 23, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    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)

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  • Jeff Smith April 23, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    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.

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    • Todd Boulanger April 24, 2018 at 1:13 pm

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

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  • Jeff Smith April 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm

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

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  • K Dennis April 25, 2018 at 6:37 am

    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!

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  • PinotandIPA April 25, 2018 at 11:06 am

    [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.

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  • BradWagon April 25, 2018 at 11:57 am

    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.

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  • KristenT April 27, 2018 at 9:39 am

    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.

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  • Brian Maguire May 31, 2018 at 12:05 am

    BradWagon
    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.

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