Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 9th, 2018 at 12:32 pm
We finally have a bit more clarity around the future of the Vermont and Newbury bridges on Barbur Boulevard.
The bridges are notorious because the bike lane drops right before them and it forces bicycle users into a shared lane on a road where people often drive 45-50 mph. For years, activists and The Street Trust pressed the Oregon Department of Transportation to put that section of Barbur (north of SW Capitol Highway) on a road diet in order to add dedicated space for cycling on the bridges. In 2016 the agency finally embraced the idea and proposed a lane reconfiguration as part of their Barbur Road Safety Audit that would do just that. But that was just a proposal. Today the dangerous conditions remains.
With the SW Corridor light-rail mega-project rolling toward its planning conclusion (expected next year), conversations about these bridges are back in the spotlight.
When we looked at how the bikeways in the project were shaping up back in June, we were disappointed to learn that the fate of the bikeway in “The Woods” was unclear. The plan was for the light rail line to leave Barbur and use a new bridge that would be built to the east in order to avoid contact with the old and aging bridges (and any controversies about how to redesign the road across them). In the project’s planning documents this is known as, “Design Refinement 1, Barbur Wood East-Side Running.”
Without a promise of where bike facilities would be built, some activists worried they might be left off the table. Pushing for a path alongside the new light rail bridge was the new strategy.
Now the plan has changed and people who care about bike access on Barbur can feel a bit better about the prospects of this project.
Yesterday, Metro spokeswoman Eryn Kehe emailed project stakeholders with, “an important development… that has caused staff to reconsider its recommendation about Refinement 1 in Segment A [the Barbur Woods segment that includes the bridges].”
Here’s more from Kehe’s email (emphasis mine):
“Design Refinement 1, Barbur Wood East-Side Running, would transition light rail away from SW Barbur Boulevard onto a separate structure to the east for approximately one mile. This refinement was developed to avoid reconstruction of the Vermont and Newbury viaducts in order to reduce project costs, avoid cut-walls and parks on the west side of the viaducts, and to reduce short-term traffic impacts. However, the refinement as designed would include an at-grade crossing of the northbound SW Barbur Boulevard lanes, and introduce risks in adding new bridges over steep slopes near infrastructure associated with ODOT‘s retaining walls along I-5. It would leave the viaducts unchanged from their current condition.
ODOT and the City of Portland recently reached an agreement in which the state would contribute funding toward the replacement of both viaducts with new, modern bridges. This would provide a continuous route for light rail through The Woods area without an at-grade crossing of auto lanes, and allow for continuous improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities incorporated into the new bridges. With the ODOT contribution, the cost of the bridge replacements can be considered separate from overall project costs.”
This significant change came after the July 30th Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting where several people testified about the need for clarity and continuity for bicycle users.
And just so you can see it in writing, here’s how the Steering Committee describes the new proposal, which they plan to make part of their officially adopted Preferred Alternative at their meeting on August 13th:
… The alignment would continue running in the center of SW Barbur Boulevard into the Woods area. In this section, the existing Newbury and Vermont viaducts would be replaced by two new bridges that would carry four auto lanes, light rail, and improved bike and pedestrian facilities… Continuous bicycle and pedestrian facilities would be constructed along the light rail alignment through Segment A and into Segment B, between downtown Portland and the Barbur Transit Center.
Metro expects to adopt the Final Environmental Impact Statement for this project next year and construction could start by 2027 if all goes according to plan. While this assurance of bike access is a good thing, we hope people don’t have to wait another eight years before ODOT makes Barbur Blvd safer for cycling.
We’ve reached out to ODOT for comment and will update this story when we hear back.
UPDATE, 3:15 pm: ODOT Region 1 spokesman Don Hamilton says no official agreement has been made between ODOT and PBOT, but that both agencies agree the viaducts should be rebuilt. Here’s his full statement:
“There’s no agreement yet. It’s still under discussion.
That said, ODOT and PBOT believe the Southwest Corridor light rail should be built across rebuilt viaducts and not a separate light rail structure adjacent to the existing structures. Rebuilding those bridges presents an opportunity to optimize light rail travel times and improve the function of the structures for all modes.
The cost difference between building a separate light rail structure or rebuilding the existing structures to accommodate light rail is estimated to be $65 million. As a condition of the city accepting jurisdiction of Barbur Boulevard, which has been part of the discussion, ODOT would provide the City $65 million towards viaduct replacement.
We expect this to come before the Portland City Council in October.”
H/T to Phil Richman for sharing the Metro email that tipped us off to this story.
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