BikePortland

Lengthy closures of Eastbank Esplanade for Burnside Bridge construction raise concerns


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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