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Lengthy closures of Eastbank Esplanade for Burnside Bridge construction raise concerns

Posted by on January 21st, 2021 at 9:47 am

Cycling advocates raised major concerns about construction detours and closures that will be required for the Burnside Bridge replacement project.

“That’s not just a nice bit of recreational area. For many people, it’s their main route through the city.”
— Iain Mackenzie, Bicycle Advisory Committee member

Multnomah County planners and staff shared a presentation about the project at a joint meeting of the Portland Bureau of Transportation pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees Tuesday night. The county is nearing completion of their federally-mandated Draft Environmental Impact Statement. As part of that work they have to assess community impacts related to construction.

“We know that the eastbank Esplanade is going to be affected in a big way,” said Mike Pullen with the Multnomah County communications office. “We don’t know for how long yet, but kind of the minimum is about a year-and-a-half, and the maximum would be the full length [four-and-a-half years] and I don’t think any of us want to see that happen so we’ll be looking to reduce that closure as much as we can.”

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On the east side, the county has mapped out a detour (at right) that would route Esplanade users onto SE Water Avenue near the Morrison Bridge on the south end, then onto 3rd and over to 7th where riders would take the new Blumenauer Bridge onto Lloyd Avenue then back west to the Steel Bridge. County estimates say the detour would add a five to 12 minute delay for bicycle riders. Estimated delay for auto users is two to four minutes, people on foot would have a 10-18 minute delay, and the detour would delay bus riders by about five minutes.

Closure of the Esplanade would place users on this section of SE Water Ave.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) Chair David Stein spoke up in the meeting about the need for auto traffic diversion and upgrades to those surface streets to maintain rider safety. “We’re taking away very low-stress routes in the form of Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade and replacing them with something that at best is going to be, medium, and in some cases, high-stress [like the unprotected bike lanes on Water Avenue].”

BAC member Iain Mackenzie said he feels the planned closures of the Esplanade are “completely unacceptable.” “That’s not just a nice bit of recreational area. For many people, it’s their main route through the city.” In addition to fast-tracking already-planned protected bike lanes on SE Water Avenue (which were adopted with a “6-10 year” construction priority in the 2018 Central City in Motion plan), Mackenzie suggested that the county consider opening up an Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance access road between I-5 and the Willamette River to get people around the construction zone.

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County Project Manager Steve Drahota was appreciative of the feedback and clarified that the 18 month closure estimate would not be continuous. The closures would be “intermittent” and “six months here, six months there.”

“We know we will need to push hard to limit how long it is closed and look for ways to safely keep it open when possible.”
— Mike Pullen, Multnomah County

Reached after the meeting, Pullen said, “It’s clear that the proposed closure of the Esplanade is going to be a very big concern… We know we will need to push hard to limit how long it is closed and look for ways to safely keep it open when possible during construction of the bridge overhead.”

There’s still time to figure out this problem. The county plans to hire a contractor to build the bridge at the end of this year and construction isn’t going to start until 2024. Pullen said traffic planning and detour details will be finalized during the design phase of the project which will start early next year.

The Draft EIS will be published later this month and then a 45-day public comment period and online open house will begin. That’s the best place for more folks to share their concerns and ideas about this issue.

(Note: We’re also tracking a key decision about access from the new bridge to Naito Parkway and the Esplanade. As we reported back in October, the county is considering many options and those discussions are ongoing. The county did not share an update about it the meeting Tuesday.)

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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Carter
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Carter

Oh, well as long as the closures are only “six months here, six months there” it’s like nothing is happening at all! /s

Steve Drahota is using the word “intermittent” pretty generously.

eawriste
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eawriste

Excellent reason for an interim study on PBLs for Water Ave and MLK/Grand.

casual observer
Guest
casual observer

I might be missing something, but if you were traveling north along the esplanade, couldn’t you cross the Hawthorne, ride Naito, then cross the Steel and meet back up with the path? Seems easier and safer than the detour proposed. Again, I might be missing something, but it seems like no matter what way you were traveling, going across the Hawthorne and Steel and riding on the westside seems easiest.

dan
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dan

Quick googling indicates the project budget is around $800 million, and there’s not enough to build a floating path to detour around the construction? Could be a permanent addition to the Esplanade.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

If they cared about pedestrian/cyclist access during construction, they would at least attempt to contact Union Pacific about a temporary easement along the mainline between Stark and the Esplanade just north of the floating portion. There is sufficient ROW for an 8ft path, and a temporary fence could be installed to separate the trail from the tracks.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

This highlights the institutional disconnect in how many (if not most) US departments/ bureaus of transportation view dedicated bicycle and pedestrian facilities…as a “supplemental” or “recreational” facility and not the regional “bike/ pedestrian highway” that it functions as (and the agency PR highlights it as). This is sadly also reflected in how departments classify such on their arterial hierarchy maps that influence TIP, maintenance and work zone planning too.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

PS. This situation sadly reminds me of conversations I had with ODoT staff back during the long term Interstate Bridge closures for maintenance back in the 2000s…I asked them why they did not have one side opened and clear for bike and pedestrian traffic and they said that the alternative route was I-205 (40 mile loop)!

hamiramani
Subscriber

I think Iain’s recommendation to fast-track the CCIM build-out is on point. Since bridge construction will not begin until 2024 the appropriate government institutions will have plenty of time to quickly (but thoroughly) build the infrastructure laid out in the CCIM plan. And now that the Biden administration is in place with Mayor Pete in charge of transportation, it is time for PBOT and ODOT to work on securing the necessary funding.

bbcc
Guest
bbcc

I would be fine with this if they paired it with solid (permanent) improvements to the detour route, including all of 7th. I would rather have protected connections within the Inner Eastside than an interim route along the water, if that’s the choice. I hope shutting down the Esplanade will force PBOT & Metro to prioritize those improvements.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

There are quicker ways to get to the Steel Bridge without detouring all the way east to 7th, for example, crossing the Banfield and the RR tracks on the MLK sidewalk.

Scotchbreath
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Scotchbreath

Waaaaaaaaaaaaa. Babies need a bottle?

qqq
Guest
qqq

When Multnomah County built the Sellwood Bridge, as I recall people thought the bike detour on the west side was abysmal. After the bridge was built, the Greenway Trail on the west side associated with the bridge construction was delayed in opening, then opened for one day, then closed again for several weeks due to some problem the County hadn’t noticed.

So this seems like the County is continuing its pattern of being horrible at detours and ancillary aspects of its projects (and definitely views people walking and biking as ancillary).

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

$825 million to replace ONE bridge? I do not recall the robust public debate and public being buying in to that agenda item.

You people do realize money (especially local money) does not grow on trees. If big government progressives are to make people believe they are worthy of entrusting with the public’s hard earned money they have to be good stewards first.

If you asked 100 people in Portland to spend nearly a billion dollars, I would wager that precisely zero would suggest a new Burnside Bridge. It is a solution to a problem no one is asking in response to a theoretical event which may or may not happen in the next 100 years. You know what else may or may not happen? Runaway climate change or global thermonuclear war. We have some of the worst public schools in the nation, a pretty sad parks system, miles of unpaved streets and people living in squalor. So why is this the most pressing of all issues again?