New freight (and bike!) bridge considered north of St. Johns

“Any such bridge would also include separated pedestrian and bicycle facilities.”

– Hannah Schafer, PBOT

Initial talks have begun on what could be a very exciting project: A new crossing of the Willamette River north of the St. Johns Bridge between Highway 30 and the Rivergate Industrial District.

At a recent meeting of the Portland’s Freight Advisory Committee, we heard an update about the 2040 Freight Plan. This is a major effort from the Portland Bureau of Transportation to update the city’s Freight Master Plan that was last updated in 2006. On a slide with a list of projects that would be late additions to an action list, I saw an item that read: “Conduct a study of a freight-only or freight-priority bridge over the Willamette River from Highway 30 to Rivergate.”

Why would this bridge be a such a big deal? Let me count the ways…

First, the state’s main justification for not putting bike lanes on the St. Johns Bridge is that they need all the space for large freight trucks. A new bridge would remove that excuse from their quiver. But even larger than that, in terms of impacts to Portlanders lives, is if we had a way to get trucks off the St. Johns Bridge it would remove thousands of toxic, dangerous vehicles from neighborhoods along the Lombard and Columbia corridors. People have fought for decades to tame truck traffic in St. Johns. Removing it from those streets would also free up space for more things like buses, bike lanes, or even light rail.

Then there’s the lesser important, but selfish dream I’ve held for years: A better cycling connection between Kelley Point Park and Sauvie Island that would remove (most of) Highway 30 from the route. This would push an already nice route into world-class territory.

Eager to know more about this, I asked our friends at PBOT to share more about it.

Slide from Westside Multimodal Improvement Study presentation.

Turns out this idea has been bouncing around since at least 2007 when it was mentioned in PBOT’s Transportation System Plan (TSP) as a “future study.” For some reason however, the study didn’t make it into the recent TSP update in 2018. Despite that, PBOT Interim Communications Director Hannah Schafer assured me that, “There is still strong community desire,” for the project. She pointed to public feedback heard during PBOT’s Columbia Lombard Mobility Corridor and North Portland in Motion planning processes. Even freight advocates have expressed concerns about the current trucking routes over the St. Johns Bridge during 2040 Freight Plan discussions.

Another place this project is being discussed is in the Westside Multimodal Improvements Study, a process we covered back in June. Led by Metro and Oregon Department of Transportation, this study is establishing priorities for investment along the Highway 26 corridor in Washington County. One of their specific goals is to speed up trucks carrying freight from Beaverton and Hillsboro to the Portland Airport. (Given the folks around the table, it’s likely this could be the place where talks of a new “Westside Bypass” freeway takes root once again, but I digress.)

“Based on all this, we think it is appropriate to recommend [the new bridge idea] be included in 2040 Freight and the TSP as a future study,” Schafer shared in an email today.

Schafer also wanted me to know that Portland would not support a bridge that serves standard car traffic and that the idea would be for a new bridge to focus solely on moving goods. That’s why they plan to frame any talk of a new bridge around “freight-only” or “freight-priority.” This could mean the bridge would require special permits for use, or it could have tolls for non-truck users, truck-only lanes, and so on. Those things would need to be studied in more detail.

One very pleasing thing Schafer wrote about a potential bridge was that, “Any such bridge would also include separated pedestrian and bicycle facilities, so it would not be truly ‘freight-only’ when you consider uses outside the curb-to-curb area.”

Imagine a situation where bicycle riders and freight haulers are considered default users of a major new bridge and car users have to organize and advocate to justify access for their vehicles!

Suffice it to say I’m eager for this idea to gain a toehold in local funding and planning conversations.

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eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago

How about routing interstate traffic around the center of the city instead of through it? This could be a step in that direction. There’s a reason why the Eiffel Tower, Brandenburger Tor etc etc are nice places to visit. Central Portland is not a great place to visit, primarily because of its freeways through the center of town.

kernals12
kernals12
2 months ago
Reply to  eawriste

The Boulevard Peripherique does exist

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  eawriste

That was the idea with I205. You can see how that worked out. There were even signs directing through traffic to use it. The reality is that most of the traffic on I5 is trying to get to the center city, or out of it, not through it.

eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Is this based on any data? I’d love to see that.

blumdrew
blumdrew
2 months ago

There already is a freight only bridge in the vicinity of Saint John’s, the BNSF bridge! Okay, well not freight only because of the 8ish Amtrak trains per day that go over it but certainly freight-priority. Portland & Western unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any trackage that extends past the BNSF Lake Yard, so wouldn’t be able to provide any Port traffic (even if they wanted to). Realistically, providing P&W with trackage to serve industrial clients directly near Rivergate and into the airport area would probably be a boon for both the industrial clients and P&W – and would probably be much less expensive than a new bridge. Plus, since the BNSF bridge is over a navigable waterway so P&W could presumably run trains over it without any extra shenanigans – the issue would be a line from the bridge to the industrial area if UP and BNSF don’t want to play nice with trackage rights.

Mandatory railroad reference aside, I think this plan is pretty misguided. It’s basically all standard highway department widening projects! It’s pretty farcical that ODOT calls it the “Westside Multimodal Improvement Study” while only entertaining one mode. With all the being said, while I do think it would be nice to have this new bridge – something like congestion pricing and tolling on US 26 to reduce car traffic would probably benefit freight interests more, and would be much less expensive to maintain long term.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago

I have not clicked through all the links, but I am not seeing where this bridge would connect to Sauvie Island. It sounds like a bridge from Rivergate to Hwy 30 over the Willamette, with nice views of Sauvie Island (also cool, but not what Jonathan is dreaming of). Am I missing something?

EP
EP
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Just guessing on the proposed alignments here, but it’s possible the bridge span may be so long that it makes sense for part of it to connect to Sauvie, and possibly allow for a bike ramp and stairs down to the island. That would be cool, I always dream of a I-205 bike path connection to government island.

Buster
Buster
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

It would dramatically shorten the amount of Hwy 30 you would have to ride on to get to Sauvie Island. I assume that’s what Jonathan means.

Maybe it’s a short enough stretch that a two-way bike path could be on the east side of Hwy 30 just to get from this new bridge to the Sauvie Island Bridge! That would be really cool.

Joe Adamski
Joe Adamski
2 months ago

This idea of a ‘ third bridge’ has been floated for decades. Trying to site in and through wetlands and estuary seems a non starter. Why stop there and lets include a replacement for the RR bridge near the I-5 bridges that is rail and freight.While we dream..

eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Adamski

So it doesn’t actually need to pass through the Smith and Bybee wetlands. It could easily follow the current 501 or Marine Drive ROW.

Douglas K
Douglas K
2 months ago

My daydream: by the time this is built, there is a new multi-use path along the Willamette from the new freight bridge to Scappoose.

Picture the bike trip that could someday be possible: starting in the Dalles, ride the Historic Columbia River State Trail to Troutdale (I imagine a new freeway-flanking segment from Multnomah Falls to Troutdale), then follow the Marine Drive Trail across Portland to the new freight bridge, then follow the hypothetical new Scappoose trail to the Crown Z which takes you to Vernonia, then ride the Banks-Vernonia Trail to the Salmonberry Trail, then continue all the way to the coast.

Wouldn’t that be a ride to remember?

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  Douglas K

A great idea, except you need to start with a bike trail along the coast if you want a traffic free ride. Pacific Coast Bike Trail from Canada to Mexico like the PCT for hiking..

eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago
Reply to  Douglas K

There is also an abandoned rail line starting near Rainier to Astoria (The Astoria path is part of this). I share this dream.

Champs
Champs
2 months ago

I feel like I’ve been lobbying for this idea on this very website for years with accusations that I just want to build the Westside “Bypass.”

As I’ve said before, it makes no sense to run freight through downtown St. Johns or invest in bike lanes on the St. Johns Bridge because they’d go nowhere. The piece I was missing is that a bike lane on this new bridge could solve the latter problem, at least for recreation and some light commerce.

Micromobility to employment in NW Industrial will remain a problem, though…

FDUP
FDUP
2 months ago

I like this idea, it would provide better access to Suavie Island and get truck traffic off Lombard and other local streets in St Johns. Highway 30 is already a truck/car sewer, just send the trucks a bit further north before they cross the river; Sauvie Island access is a bonus, as long as it survives project budget cuts.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

I would fund the bridge by having freight haulers pay a toll to use it, and also I as a cyclist would be glad to pay a toll to use it.

Douglas K
Douglas K
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I’d go the “freight-priority” route and open the bridge to private cars, but charge a really steep toll to use it. It would get only light auto traffic, keeping it mostly clear for freight. The bridge thus would be funded in part by “north-to-north” drivers willing to pay for a shortcut instead of going all the way to the St. Johns bridge.

Buster
Buster
2 months ago
Reply to  Douglas K

I agree with this. It makes no sense to charge a toll to freight haulers if the whole point is to encourage trucks to use it instead of the St Johns Bridge. A steep toll should be levied on regular car drivers who are using it as a convenient shortcut.

FDUP
FDUP
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

If they build a new bridge the bridge to toll the trucks on would be the St. Johns Bridge, to discourage freight from using it.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago

That entry is a placeholder for the Western Bypass. It revives one segment of that 1990’s plan into a planning process that bypass proponents will morph into their long desired bybass around the west side of the region.

The notion that a “freight only” bridge will fly politically is ludicrous and won’t survive as anything other than a fig leaf. You can see people are already talking about allowing those who can afford the toll to use it. A new bridge linking to Vancouver, a new highway to 26 in Washington County and a link to I5 south of Wilsonville will soon follow. The fact that they will all have bike lanes hardly makes it a beneficial project.

eawriste
eawriste
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

It’s certainly not either or, but would you rather have a functional arterial freeway around Portland (like most cities around the world), or continue to route interstate traffic through the center, making a large part of the city unlivable?